Text below is the “as delivered” version, from the official White House.gov web site, here.
Before the speech, we knew that it would be another in the impressively-long series of “make or break” rhetorical performances for Barack Obama. The speech that first got him national attention, at the Democratic Convention in Boston in 2004, obviously made a huge difference for him but was not high-stakes in quite the same sense. No one outside Illinois had heard of Barack Obama at that point, and he was cruising to victory in the Senate race anyway, so if the speech had gone badly the only difference it would have made is … well, he wouldn’t be president now. But apart from that, he didn’t have much to lose.
But in the sequence that probably began with his late-night speech at the Jefferson-Jackson day dinner in Iowa, when it wasn’t clear that he could win the caucuses there; to his famous speech on race in Philadelphia in March, 2008, that rescued him from the Rev. Wright “God Damn America!” controversy; to his debate performance against John McCain in the summer of 2008, when McCain appeared to have made a shrewd choice by picking Sarah Palin; to his Joint-Session address about health care last fall that, for a while, reversed the poll numbers on his health plan – in that sequence, this was the next important entry. The previous two months and especially the previous two weeks had been very bad for Obama. Was it conceivable that, one more time, he could say something in a speech that would again get him (re-)started and give his initiatives another chance? Just on probabilities, weren’t we due for the big rhetorical flop, which would compound the “White House in crisis” / “What was all this ‘Yes we can!’ nonsense about anyway?” round of talk shows?