Daily Archives: February 26, 2008

Gideon Rachman

Even his most bitter opponents grant Barack Obama one thing – he makes great speeches. The senator from Illinois is generally held to be a competent debater and an electrifying orator.

The notion that Mr Obama is the new Demosthenes has even made it across the Atlantic. On BBC radio the other day, there was a long discussion of the art of rhetoric, illustrated with clips of the best of Barack. William Rees-Mogg, a venerable former editor of UK newspaper The Times, asserts that Mr Obama is the most inspirational presidential candidate since John F. Kennedy and that “he is, in my view, a better speaker than Kennedy”.

All this leaves me baffled. I have watched Mr Obama speak live; I have watched him speak on television; I have even watched his speeches set to music on a video made by celebrity supporters (www.dipdive.com). But I find myself strangely unmoved – and this is disconcerting. It feels like admitting to falling asleep during Winston Churchill’s “fight them on the beaches” speech.

I will admit one thing. Mr Obama has a nice, gravelly voice – which is perhaps a legacy of his days as a heavy smoker. But his most famous phrases are vacuous. The “audacity of hope”? It would be genuinely audacious to run for the White House on a platform of despair. Promising hope is simply good sense. “The fierce urgency of now”? It is hard to see what Mr Obama means when he says this – other than that some inner voice has told him to run for president. Read more