A Speech Circa 1985

by Conor Friedersdorf

Is it just me or do American presidents not give speeches like this one anymore? Since Ronald Reagan left office we've had two Bushes, neither of whom were particularly enjoyable in oratory, and two Democratic presidents, both of them deservedly known for captivating a crowd. I did enjoy some Bill Clinton speeches in the moment, though I cannot recall any that struck a chord on substance as well as delivery, and I say that setting aside political disagreements. As for Barack Obama, I've missed it if he's said anything since taking office that measures up to his best speaking performances during or even prior to the campaign.

I'm always wary of the sentiment that "things used to be better in politics." Obviously the speeches of presidents past are remembered now insofar as they were exceptional. Nor would I want the country to face circumstances as dire as the divide over slavery and the Civil War merely to see another Abraham Lincoln match rhetoric to a moment. But can't someone at least match the density and substance of that Ronald Reagan speech if not the Gipper's delivery? I'm surprised on reading it that he gave such speeches on occasions so comparatively minor. Is it that changes in media have rendered those kids of speeches untenable? Or is it simply that a speechwriter as talented as Peggy Noonan hasn't graced the White House since she left it?