Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Top 100 Speeches


Okay, one more and then I’m done with this particular line (at least for now!).  So here’s the 10th – LBJ’s “We Shall Overcome,” which I do think should be up here.

Here is a piece on its legacy:
Finally, studying Johnson's speech should encourage reflection on the nature of presidential rhetoric, especially on matters perceived to have a moral dimension. That presidents will use their office as a bully pulpit to serve as the nation's moral leader and spokesperson is a common assumption of the modern presidency. Like all orators, presidents are susceptible to misusing of the power of moral leadership: They may reduce complex problems to simple questions of right or wrong, demonize those who oppose them, assert moral consensus when none exists, appeal to listeners' base motives in the language of virtue, or enact the role of moral spokesperson with arrogance rather than humility. Even so, the nation sometimes needs its president to ascend to the bully pulpit to exhort it toward a public good that would not be realized without moving, inspiring oratory. But finding a shared moral language out of which a president can fashion a persuasive appeal is difficult. President Johnson effectively grounded his appeals in a potent narrative that focused on public morality--his listeners' civic duty to keep and fulfill the sacred American Promise. But as the citizenry continues to become more religiously and culturally diverse, less schooled in the narratives of the nation's history, more aware of how such narratives can be used to justify depraved causes as well as honorable ones, and perhaps less influenced by the moral authority of the presidency, presidents may find it especially tricky to build moral consensus through oratory. Consider this problem from a perspective afforded by studying Johnson's speech. He used oratory to help secure the significant public good of equal voting rights, primarily by appealing to the American Promise--of which the Constitution is one expression--rather than the Constitution itself. But could Johnson have crafted such a stirring, persuasive appeal on the basis of constitutional guarantees alone? Would his listeners have found it as moving, meaningful, and motivational? Would we find it as eloquent today?

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