Comparing Two Masters

The parallels between Clinton’s State of the Union address versus Obama’s speech

It’s an intriguing thought.  In January 1988, President Bill Clinton’s delivery of his State of The Union Speech managed to re-establish his credentials with the people of the US – no mean feat and this at a critical time of his presidency – being embroiled in the Lewinsky scandal.

Fast forward to January 2012, President Obama, under pressure to ignite support for his re-election, delivers his State of the Union Speech, with great power, to serve his aims in being re-elected

The parallels between the two speeches are intriguing and educational for anyone who wishes to deliver a great speech.  Let’s examine the parallels:

Clinton was able to use the power of words to galvanise public opinion and shape the national agenda.
Why are words important? In their own right, words are not powerful, they are indeed illusory and ephemeral, however, when you use words in an appropriate context combined with powerful delivery you have dynamite!
  1. The power of Clinton’s speech was made up of three essential components:
    The delicate use of understatement.
  2. The liberal inclusion of facts to back up his case.
  3. The careful interplay between stated and understood meaning.

So, his phrase “Ladies and Gentlemen, the state of our union is strong”, was preceded by this “We have more than 14 million new jobs, the lowest unemployment in 24 years, the lowest core inflation in 30 years. Incomes are rising and we have the highest home ownership in history. Crime has dropped for a record five years in a row and the welfare rolls are at their lowest levels in 27 years. Our leadership in the world is unrivalled”

Obama’s tone was confident and optimistic “If the playing field is level, America will win. Recovery was on the way, 3 million jobs had been created, 160 000 in the auto industry saved” Obama’s rhetoric was plain and powerful, it reiterated that America is not in decline neither are its powers waning.

His use of delicate understatement also echoed Clintons. When Obama confronted the wealthy to pay higher taxes, he did it in a way that was subtler than suggesting a direct rate hike.

Consider the use of facts to back up his case and the use of the careful interplay between stated and understood meaning in a speech that was not so much about policy as it was about patriotism. He exploited the fact that he had ordered Navy SEALS to bill Osama bin Laden and brilliantly used the SEAL ethos of total teamwork as a metaphor for his vision of government.
He had been given a flag by the SEALS who eliminated bin Laden. Each member of the team had signed the flag “Each time I look at that flag, I am reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those 50 stars and those 13 stripes” He added “No-one built this country on their own. This nation is great because we built it together. This nation is great because we have each other’s backs. It was a reminder that the Constitution was a stitching device, written to unify and control the states, not merely to liberate them.

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