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10 Modern Presidential Speeches Every American Should Know

By: Allison McNearney

Updated: October 18, 2023 | Original: February 16, 2018

The presidential podium.

Presidential speeches reveal the United States’ challenges, hopes, dreams and temperature of the nation, as much as they do the wisdom and perspective of the leader speaking them. Even in the age of Twitter, the formal, spoken word from the White House carries great weight and can move, anger or inspire at home and around the world.

Here are the 10 most important modern presidential speeches selected by scholars at the Miller Center —a nonpartisan affiliate of the University of Virginia that specializes in presidential scholarship—and professors from other universities, as well.

1. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address

Franklin Delano Roosevelt making his inaugural address as 32nd President of the United States, 1933. (Credit: Keystone/Getty Images)

When: 1933, during the Great Depression

What Roosevelt Said: “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself… Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the Government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war.”

Why It Was Important: Roosevelt is embarking on something audacious, proposing that the national government has an obligation to provide an economic safety net for its citizens to protect them from the unpredictability of the market. In making a case for bold intervention in markets, he’s also making a case for a stronger executive at the top. But for all the disruptive talk in this speech, Roosevelt delivers reassurance. I think a hallmark of the speeches that we remember the most by presidents from both parties are ones that not only address the circumstances at hand, but also give people some hope.

— Margaret O’Mara, professor of history, University of Washington

2. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Fireside Chat 'On Banking'

Franklin Roosevelt preparing for his first "fireside chat" in which he explained the measures he was taking to reform the nation's banking system. (Credit: Corbis/Getty Images)

When: March 1933

What Roosevelt Said: “My friends, I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking…confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith. You must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system, and it is up to you to support and make it work. It is your problem, my friends. Your problem no less than it is mine. Together, we cannot fail.”

Why It Was Important: Beginning with the simple phrase, “My friends,” the stage was set for the personalization of the presidency that continued throughout FDR’s administration. Roosevelt received an outpouring of support from the public and used the power of media to connect with his constituents. Recognizing publicity as essential to policymaking, he crafted a very intricate public relations plan for all of his New Deal legislation. The media allowed him to present a very carefully crafted message that was unfiltered and unchallenged by the press. Many newspapers were critical of his New Deal programs, so turning to radio and motion pictures allowed him to present his version of a particular policy directly to the people. Today, we see parallels in the use of Twitter to bypass opponents and critics of the administration to appeal directly to the American people. And that all started with FDR and his first fireside chat.

— Kathryn Cramer Brownell, Assistant Professor of History, Purdue University

3. Dwight Eisenhower’s 'Atoms for Peace' Speech to the United Nations

President Eisenhower addressing the United Nations concerning the Atom Bomb Plan, 1953. (Credit: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

What Eisenhower Said: “I feel impelled to speak today in a language that, in a sense, is new. One which I, who have spent so much of my life in the military profession, would have preferred never to use: That new language is the language of atomic warfare…Against the dark background of the atomic bomb, the United States does not wish merely to present strength, but also the desire and the hope for peace. To the makers of these fateful decisions, the United States pledges before you, and therefore before the world, its determination to help solve the fearful atomic dilemma. To devote its entire heart and mind to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.”

Why It Was Important: Eisenhower believed in the political power of nuclear weapons, but in this speech, he talks about their dangers. He speaks about the importance of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and proposes that the U.S. and Soviet Union cooperate to reduce their nuclear stockpiles. Keep in mind that there were just 1,300 nuclear weapons in the world in 1953 compared with more than seven times that number today. But Eisenhower is also a realist. He understands the importance of nuclear deterrence and he reminds his audience that his proposal comes from a position of American strength, not weakness.

— Todd Sechser, Professor of Politics, University of Virginia and Senior Fellow, Miller Center

4. Dwight Eisenhower’s Farewell Address

President Dwight D. Eisenhower presenting his farewell address to the nation. (Credit: Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

What Eisenhower Said: “Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportion…In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic process.”

Why It Was Important: That speech gave a name to our modern era. Eisenhower was telling us that we now live in a time when government, the military and the corporate world all have joined together into a powerful alliance that shapes the basic democratic functioning of the country. Eisenhower understood that Americans wanted both security and liberty, and it’s a fundamental paradox of the American experiment. In order to have security, we need to have a large defense establishment. But he asks, who is going to be the guardian of our freedoms in a world where we have to have a permanent arms industry? What he was saying in the speech is that we have to learn how to live with it, and control it, rather than having it control us.

— Will Hitchcock, Randolph P. Compton Professor at the Miller Center and professor of history, University of Virginia

5. Lyndon B. Johnson’s 'Great Society' Speech at the University of Michigan

President Lyndon B. Johnson before his commencement address delivered to graduates of the University of Michigan. (Credit: Corbis/Getty Images)

When: May 22, 1964

What Johnson Said: “For a century, we labored to settle and to subdue a continent. For half a century, we called upon unbounded invention and untiring industry to create an order of plenty for all of our people. The challenge of the next half-century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization. Your imagination and your initiative and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For, in your time, we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society. “

Why It Was Important: LBJ called on all Americans to move upward to a Great Society in which wealth is used for more than personal enrichment and is instead used to improve communities, protect the natural world, and allow all Americans, regardless of race or class, to fully develop their innate talents and abilities. The message of Johnson’s speech resonates today because we have lost not only that self-confidence and that idealism but also the vision to recognize that prosperity can be used for something greater than the self.

— Guian McKee, Associate Professor of Presidential Studies, the Miller Center

6. John F. Kennedy’s Address on the Space Effort

President Kennedy gives his 'Race for Space' speech at Houston's Rice University, 1962. (Credit: Corbis/Getty Images)

When: September 1962

What Kennedy Said: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the Industrial Revolution, the first waves of modern invention and the first wave of nuclear power. And this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space, we mean to be a part of it, we mean to lead it.”

Why It Was Important: We were in a new age of technology and space exploration. President Kennedy made Americans feel that there was nothing that we couldn’t do, no challenge we couldn’t conquer. It was before Vietnam, before Watergate, before the deaths of our heroes like Jack and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King —when we had a sense in this country that if we all joined together we could fulfill our loftiest goals.

— Barbara Perry, Director of Presidential Studies, the Miller Center

7. Ronald Reagan’s Speech Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of D-Day

One of two speeches U.S. President Ronald Reagan gave commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the 1944 D-Day Invasion. (Credit: David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

When: June 6, 1984

What Reagan Said: “The rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers at the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades, and the American rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs they began to seize back the continent of Europe… (to veterans) You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and Democracy is worth dying for because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.

Why It’s Important: That day in June of 1984, before  Band of Brothers  and  Saving Private Ryan  ever came to be, President Reagan paid tribute to the heroism of those we now call the Greatest Generation, the men and women who liberated Europe and ensured freedom for generations to come.  But for the first time, he also tied resistance to totalitarianism in World War II to opposition to the Soviet Union during the Cold War . President Reagan’s words at the end of that speech, again in the second person, to our Allies that “we were with you then, and we are with you now,” when he called upon the West to “renew our commitment to each other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it” kept the coalition in place that later defeated the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War. The “boys of Pointe du Hoc” saved the world, and, in many ways, they did so more than once.

— Mary Kate Cary, Senior Fellow, the Miller Center

8. Ronald Reagan’s Address on the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office addressing the nation on the space shuttle Challenger disaster. (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

When: January 1986

What Reagan Said: “The future doesn’t belong to the faint-hearted but to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them…The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.”

Why It Was Important: In our current era of political divisiveness, we tend to think of presidents as partisan leaders. But the president’s role as “comforter in chief” is one of the most important functions. The great presidents are distinguished by their ability to set aside partisanship in times of tragedy to speak words that comfort a nation and remind us that, despite our differences, we are all, in the end, Americans.

— Chris Lu, Senior Fellow, the Miller Center

9. George W. Bush’s 'Get On Board' Speech

US President George W. Bush waving to thousands of airline employees before his speech to announce expanded US aviation security procedures which include more Air Marshals, aircraft cockpit modifications and new standards for ground security operations at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. (Credit: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

When: After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks

What Bush Said: “When they struck they wanted to create an atmosphere of fear, and one of the great goals of this war is…to tell the traveling public: Get on board. Do your business around the country. Fly and enjoy America’s great destination spots. Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed.”

Why It Was Important: In short, Bush was saying don’t let the terrorists deter you from spending—the economy needs you. More specifically, Bush’s remarks demonstrated the importance that consumption had come to play in the economy by the twenty-first century. He was carrying out what had become an essential responsibility of the 21st-century president. Even as Bush modeled what it meant to be a strong commander in chief, he juggled another role that had become almost as important: “consumer in chief.”

— Brian Balogh, Dorothy Compton Professor of History, the Miller Center

10. Barack Obama’s 'A More Perfect Union' Speech

Former President Barack Obama speaking during a major address on race and politics at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Credit: William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

What Obama Said: “Contrary to the claim of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve to think as to believe we can get beyond our racial divisions on a single election cycle or with a single candidate, particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own. But I have asserted a firm conviction, a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people, that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice. We have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union…What we know, what we have seen, is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope, the audacity to hope, for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.”

Why It Was Important: Conventional wisdom wouldn’t recommend a speech on race. But Obama ran to the challenge, not away from it. Uniquely positioned to do so, he welcomed listeners to places many have never experienced—a predominantly black church, a cringe-worthy conversation with a beloved relative of a different race, the kitchen tables of white Americans who feel resentful and left behind—and he recounted Americans often divergent perspectives. He asked us to be honest about our past while connecting it to the structural barriers faced by African Americans and other people of color today…Direct, honest, but nuanced, Obama believed that most Americans were ready to hear the truth and make a choice, to move beyond racial stalemate, face our challenges, and act accordingly.

 — Melody Barnes, a Senior Fellow, the Miller Center

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The Speeches 2022

July-August 2022

President Lawrence S. Bacow at Commencement May 26, 2022

President Lawrence S. Bacow at the 371st Commencement, May 26

“Save a Seat for Others”

During his welcoming remarks at the 371st Commencement , on May 26, President Lawrence S. Bacow drew on pandemic-influenced conditions to send a message about the candidates’ future comportment, and truths not always associated with Veritas.

Something very inconvenient happens when you combine a nation’s worth of graduations with a global supply-chain shortage.

There are not enough folding chairs to go around.

I am not kidding—half of you almost had to sit on blankets today.…

Fortunately…our amazing staff…are creative, resilient, and resourceful. So now you know about the Great Seat Scramble of 2022.

I am telling you this because it is likely the last time you almost didn’t get a seat. Soon you will have a degree in hand from an institution whose name is known no matter where you go in the world, whose name is synonymous with excellence, ambition, and achievement—and maybe some other modifiers on which we needn’t dwell today.

With your degree…you may often find yourself invited to sit and stay awhile, invited to share your thoughts and ideas, invited to participate, to contribute, to lead. You may end up sitting on a board or occupying a seat of power.…

And what are you to make of that—of the fact that people will make room for you , find a seat for you ?

You could take it for granted. You could assume that you deserved it all along.

But what a waste that would be.

Today, I want to challenge you—members of the Harvard class of 2022—to save a seat for others, to make room for others, to ensure that the opportunities afforded by your education do not enrich your life alone. You will have more chances than most to make a difference in the world, more opportunities to give others a chance at a better life. Take advantage of these opportunities when they arise. Whatever you do with your Harvard education, please be known at least as much for your humility, kindness, and concern for others as for your professional accomplishments. Recognize the role that good fortune and circumstance have played in your life, and please work to extend opportunity to others just as it has been extended to you.

That is how you will sustain the pride and joy you feel today. And that’s the truth.

“Let Us Reclaim the Space in Between”

best political speeches of 2022

Citing the Commencement address by Benazir Bhutto ’73, LL.D. ’89, then prime minister of Pakistan , this year’s guest speaker, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, LL.D. ’22, recalled her warning that “democracy…can be fragile.” Ardern then explained:

This imperfect but precious way that we organize ourselves, that has been created to give equal voice to the weak and to the strong, that is designed to help drive consensus—it is fragile.

For years it feels as though we have assumed that the fragility of democracy was determined by duration. That somehow the strength of your democracy was like a marriage—the longer you’d been in it, the more likely it was to stick.

But that takes so much for granted.

It ignores the fact that the foundation of a strong democracy includes trust in institutions, experts, and government—and that this can be built up over decades but torn down in mere years.

It ignores that a strong democracy relies on debate and dialogue, and that even the oldest regimes can seek to control these forums, and the youngest can seek to liberate them.

It ignores what happens, when regardless of how long your democracy has been tried and tested—when facts are turned into fiction, and fiction turned into fact, you stop debating ideas and you start debating conspiracy.

It ignores the reality of what we are now being confronted by every single day.

Ardern recalled growing up in a rural town of 5,000 where “I lived in that important space that sits between difference and division.” She was “raised a Mormon in a town where the dominant religions were Catholic, Anglican, and Rugby. I was a woman interested in…left-wing politics, in a region that had never in its entire democratic history, elected anyone other than a conservative candidate.” Yet those differences were “a part of my identity, but never a source of isolation.” But now, in an era of social media, she said:

[A]s the opportunities to connect expanded, humans did what we have always done. We organised ourselves.…

We logged on in our billions, forming tribes and sub tribes. We published our thoughts, feelings, and ideas freely. We found a place to share information, facts, fiction dressed up as facts, memes, and more cat videos than you ever thought possible.

We found a place to experience new ways of thinking and to celebrate our difference.

But increasingly, we use it to do neither of those things.

I doubt anyone has ever created a group titled “political views I disagree with, but choose to enter into respectful dialogue with to better understand alternative perspectives.”

As humans, we are naturally predisposed to reinforce our own views, to gather with people like us and avoid the dreaded sense of cognitive dissonance. We seek validation, confirmation, reinforcement. And increasingly with the help of algorithms, what we seek, we are served, sometimes before we even know we’re looking.


The time has come for social media companies and other online providers to recognise their power and to act on it.

That means upholding their own basic terms of service.

That means recognising the role they play in constantly curating and shaping the online environments that we’re in. That algorithmic processes make choices and decisions for us—what we see and where we are directed —and that at best this means the user experience is personalised and at worst it means it can be radicalised.

It means, that there is a pressing and urgent need for responsible algorithm development and deployment.

We have the forums for online providers and social media companies to work on these issues alongside civil society and governments. And we have every reason to do it…because the time has come.

At the same time, she told the graduates not to “overlook the impact of simple steps that are right in front of us”:

To make a choice to treat difference with empathy and kindness.

Those values that exist in the space between difference and division. The very things we teach our children, but then view as weakness in our leaders.

The issues we navigate as a society will only intensify. The disinformation will only increase. The pull into the comfort of our tribes will be magnified. But we have it within us to ensure that this doesn’t mean we fracture.

We are the richer for our difference, and poorer for our division. Through genuine debate and dialogue, through rebuilding trust in information and one another, through empathy—let us reclaim the space in between.

  Read the full address at .

“The Urgent Need to Defend Democracy”

best political speeches of 2022

Speaking at the May 29 celebration for the classes of 2020 and 2021, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland ’74, J.D. ’77 (who declined an honorary degree, in light of his current responsibilities), talked seriously about what citizens owe one another at a time of rising political violence and threats of violence, unwillingness to accept the peaceful transfer of power, and acts of racially motivated terrorism and mass murders.

There is one particular reason that makes my call to public service especially urgent for your generation. It is an urgency that should move each of you, regardless of the career you choose. It is the urgent need to defend democracy.

Both at home and abroad, we are seeing the many ways in which democracy is under threat.

I want to start with democracy abroad, as I am well aware of the international students in this audience.…

When I was graduating from college, there were many things to worry about in the outside world, including the threat of another land war in Europe. But with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, that threat seemed to recede from the possible to the improbable.

Now that land war is upon us. Russia’s unprovoked and unjust invasion of Ukraine this February has been accompanied by heartbreaking atrocities…

[I]f anything can pull us together as a country and as an international community—and make clear the stake we all have in the success of democracy both at home and abroad—this heinous invasion by an authoritarian government is it.

At home, we are also facing threats to democracy—different in kind, but threats, nonetheless.

We see them in efforts to undermine the right to vote.

We see them in the violence and threats of violence that are directed at people because of who they are or how they serve the public.

We saw them when a violent mob stormed the United States Capitol in an attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.

First, I want to talk about the right to vote.

Shortly before I started high school, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, thanks to the persistent calls to action of the Civil Rights Movement. That Act gave the Justice Department important tools to protect the cornerstone of our democracy—the right of all eligible citizens to vote.

But while many of you were in high school, the Supreme Court significantly weakened those protections. And while you were in college or graduate school, Court decisions weakened them even further.

Following those decisions, there has been a dramatic increase in legislative efforts that make it harder for millions of eligible voters to vote and to elect representatives of their own choice.

Those efforts threaten the foundation of our system of government. And there may be worse to come.

Some have even suggested giving state legislatures the power to set aside the choice of the voters themselves.

That is not the way a representative democracy is supposed to work.

As I said before, when I was sitting where you are sitting today, there were many things to worry about. But it never occurred to me that the right to vote would again be threatened in this country.

Garland also spoke about the threats against public officials, and the January 6, 2021, attempt to disrupt Congress as it met to certify the Electoral College vote. “Like the threat to voting rights, this kind of direct attack on an American institution is something I never worried about as I was graduating from college,” he said. “There had been such attacks on foreign capitals in foreign lands. But a storming of the U.S. Capitol itself had not taken place since the War of 1812.” As the Department of Justice defends democracy, he continued, it cannot proceed alone. Beyond exhorting the recent graduates to pursue public service, he said:

Finally, the preservation of democracy requires our willingness to tell the truth. Together, we must ensure that the magnitude of an event like January 6th is not downplayed or understated. The commitment to the peaceful transfer of power must be respected by every American. Our democracy depends upon it.

Read the full address at .

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The Most Important U.N. Speeches This Year

Fp columnists and contributors break down the good, the bad, and the ugly from the 76th u.n. general assembly..

  • Foreign & Public Diplomacy
  • United Nations

The 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, with high-level meetings wrapping up in New York this week, was dominated by the major crises facing our world today: climate change, COVID-19, and conflict. 

The 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, with high-level meetings wrapping up in New York this week, was dominated by the major crises facing our world today: climate change, COVID-19, and conflict.  

World leaders came together, some in person and some virtually, to deliver speeches in which they explained their countries’ plans to tackle these crises and aired their political grievances. The result was a mix of bold declarations and petty squabbling, calls for unity and calls for condemnation.  

Foreign Policy asked several of our columnists and contributors to weigh in on the speeches they found most compelling—or most concerning.  

Biden tried to reassure allies with rhetoric.

By Elise Labott , adjunct professor at American University’s School of International Service and columnist at Foreign Policy

Declaring the world to be at an “inflection point” in history during his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly, U.S. President Joe Biden laid out an ambitious global agenda.

He urged nations to join forces in tackling the challenges that “hold the keys to our collective future: ending this pandemic; addressing the climate crisis; managing the shifts in global power dynamics; shaping the rules of the world on vital issues like trade, cyber, and emerging technologies; and facing the threat of terrorism as it stands today.”

The speech sounded all the right notes in Biden’s effort to rebuild trust and confidence in America’s global leadership after four tumultuous years with Donald Trump on the world stage. Yet diplomats from several countries told me that it failed to resonate with them, largely due to the disconnect between Biden’s words and his actions since taking office.

After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, Biden announced a “new era of relentless diplomacy.” Yet some European allies thought diplomacy was lacking in Biden’s handling of the U.S. troop pullout from that conflict, which they found hasty and devoid of consultation with allies, resulting in a chaotic withdrawal and humiliating Taliban takeover.

Without naming China, Biden said the United States was “not seeking a new Cold War.” Yet the majority of his foreign-policy decisions to date seem designed to create a standoff with Beijing, particularly the recent security pact, negotiated in secret, with the United Kingdom and Australia. France, meanwhile, was ousted from a multibillion-dollar submarine deal with Australia and cut out of a key strategic partnership in the Indo-Pacific, prompting Paris to briefly recall its ambassador.

For the European Union, the snub belied Biden’s argument that he had “prioritized rebuilding our alliances, revitalizing our partnerships, and recognizing they’re essential and central to America’s enduring security and prosperity.”

Biden received applause for his closing line that world leaders must decide what they wanted to leave for “our children and our grandchildren.” But to truly reassure allies that America, in Biden’s words, is back, he must match his lofty rhetoric with policies that deliver.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro brought his full firebrand self to the world stage.

By Catherine Osborn , writer of FP’s Latin America Brief

As Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro began speaking at the United Nations Tuesday morning, shouts of “Assassin!” and “Out with Bolsonaro!” rang out from my Rio de Janeiro neighborhood. Most residents here voted for Bolsonaro in the 2018 presidential runoff, but his approval has dropped to 22 percent amid a sluggish economy , abysmal pandemic management, and corruption accusations against his government and sons .

Brazilian foreign ministry officials reportedly hoped the far-right populist firebrand and COVID-19 denier would project a more sober, statesmanlike image to the world than he is typically known for, and supervised an original draft of his speech that would have announced Brazilian vaccine donations to neighboring countries.

But it seems Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo, a devotee of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s messaging style, helped rewrite parts of his father’s speech, and the final version was heavily geared toward energizing Bolsonaro’s base.

Bolsonaro touted unproven COVID-19 remedies; railed against pandemic control measures such as isolation, lockdowns, and vaccine mandates; falsely stated that “there has been not a single case of corruption [in Brazil] in the past two years and eight months”; insisted the country’s economy was fertile for business; and offered a deceptively sunny portrayal of his government’s environmental policies in the Amazon.

In an attempt to appease countries and business leaders pressuring him to do more to fight deforestation, Bolsonaro cited Brazilian government findings that the rate of Amazon deforestation was lower in August this year than in August 2020. But environmental analysts say federal plans suggest no pathway to a sustained, significant drop in Amazon deforestation under Bolsonaro’s leadership, which clocked an average of 4,050 square miles of annual forest loss in the first two years of his term, versus 2,594 square miles annually in the five years before he took office.

Following the U.N. address, pro-Bolsonaro social media channels pushed out praiseful claims that the president had defended Brazilian “freedom,” along with memes vilifying the mainstream media and doctored videos of Bolsonaro being embraced by crowds in New York.

Since January, the Biden administration has engaged in energetic but low-profile diplomacy with Bolsonaro with at least two big aims: reducing deforestation and barring Chinese tech firm Huawei from building Brazil’s 5G mobile network. So far, Brasília has made no public commitments about bans related to its upcoming 5G contracting process—a process Bolsonaro mentioned in his U.N. address, saying it would officially begin in the next few days.

Bolsonaro by no means demonstrated the statesmanlike turn that his foreign ministry had designed. But in between the COVID-19 misinformation, his comments on the Amazon and 5G were a reminder of why Brazil still matters to Washington, Beijing, and those concerned about climate change.

As for Bolsonaro’s goal of projecting confidence to investors, they by now have learned to look past his words to the limping pace of his economic reform agenda.

China’s Xi made a surprising climate announcement.

By James Palmer , deputy editor at  Foreign Policy and writer of FP’s China Brief

Chinese President Xi Jinping hasn’t left his nation’s borders since the pandemic began, and he wasn’t going to make an exception for the United Nations. It’s not clear whether it’s fear of the disease or worries about political rivals at home that has kept Xi, once a regular traveler, confined, but even by video link he still managed to make a stir at this year’s General Assembly.

Most of his speech was boilerplate Chinese rhetoric, but one commitment stood out: no new construction of overseas coal plants.

That’s a big deal. China is the largest public financier of coal projects in the world—although that’s just 13 percent of total global investment, the rest of which is mostly private. Chinese politics is very much a game of follow the leader at the moment, and it would be politically toxic for any domestic institution, public or private, to finance coal overseas right now. That may change if the scope of the new rules becomes clearer.

And it’s significant that Beijing, which has become increasingly resistant to any form of outside pressure, felt it needed to make this move in advance of November’s major U.N. climate change conference, COP26, in Glasgow. There have been regular complaints about China’s role in financing dirty energy abroad , especially when such deals are lumped in with the Belt and Road Initiative. If China worries about reputational damage on this issue, that bodes well for climate change efforts.

But there are still some caveats. First, Xi’s wording wasn’t clear on whether existing projects, which include about 40 gigawatts of coal-fueled energy across 20 countries, would be allowed to continue or whether those deals would be shut off. I’d bet on the first, given the potential damage of breaking off existing investments in developing countries.

And while leadership abroad is good, home is where China’s climate impact really matters. China is already the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide and the second biggest historical emitter (though it’s far below many others per capita). According to the Chinese government’s current Five-Year Plan, the country’s coal power isn’t set to peak until 2025—and emissions in 2030 . Environmental regulations have been tightened this year—but with grim times ahead for the Chinese economy, they may end up being weakened, especially at the local level, to try to boost GDP figures or alleviate growing power shortages .

That’s a recurring pattern in Chinese environmental controls: When the economy falters, green limits get scrapped, and the smog comes back.

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Lebanon’s president displayed a typical lack of self-awareness.

By Steven A. Cook , Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and columnist at Foreign Policy

Of all the Middle Eastern leaders I wanted to hear from at this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting, it wasn’t Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or even Saudi Arabia’s King Salman—it was Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

What does a leader of a country that has collapsed say to the world body?

Like many speeches during UNGA, Aoun’s did not break new ground. Most of the 17 minutes and 31 seconds of his prerecorded remarks were devoted to repeating the message that he and other Lebanese politicians have been repeating over the last year: Europe, the United States, wealthy Arab states, international financial institutions, and virtually everyone else must act to rescue Lebanon.

He emphasized that the new Lebanese government had already taken steps—such as ordering the forensic accounting of Lebanon’s central bank—to convince international donors that they would not be throwing resources away.

This is what one might expect, but there was one passage that struck me as lacking in self-awareness. About four minutes into his speech, Aoun denounced a “decades-long rentier-style financial and economic policy, coupled with corruption and waste and driven by financial mismanagement and lack of accountability,” that had “led Lebanon into an unprecedented financial and monetary crisis.”

For the last half-decade, Aoun has been president of Lebanon. When he was sworn in in 2016, he promised political and economic reform. Before he became head of state, Aoun was one of Lebanon’s political heavyweights through his Free Patriotic Movement.

At a moment of ongoing crisis, when Lebanon needs vast amounts of help in almost every area, was it wise for Aoun to present himself as somehow either above the fray or unaware of the shenanigans that have been going on around him?

Governments around the world have expressed a desire to help the Lebanese people—but not if their generosity is cycled through a political class responsible for Lebanon’s tribulations. If anyone was listening to Aoun’s speech carefully, the well-known concerns of international donors could not have been mollified. It seems as though, once again, a leading Lebanese politician did his country no favors.

The new Iranian president’s first U.N. speech was a letdown.

By Kourosh Ziabari , journalist and Asia Times correspondent

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s virtual address to the 76th U.N. General Assembly was his first serious international appearance since being sworn in in August. Yet other than a litany of anti-U.S. attacks, Raisi’s speech didn’t impart any compelling message to the world.

Raisi said either “America” or “the United States” 17 times in his 15-minute speech, suggesting Iran is still struggling to wean itself off its contemporary obsession with the United States as a dominant power with which it has failed, or been reluctant, to forge cordial ties since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

While the General Assembly session was preoccupied with such pressing challenges as climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the brewing catastrophe in Afghanistan—at Iran’s eastern doorstep—Raisi didn’t articulate any vision for how his government plans to tackle these cataclysms or how Iran wishes to be part of global efforts to address them.

But what was most worrying was the Iranian leader’s refusal to comment on his country’s plan to reengage in talks to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the atrophying nuclear accord the Biden administration is eager to rejoin. That refusal leaves room for continued speculation and ambiguity over Tehran’s commitment to the nuclear talks that had seemed close to a breakthrough when Raisi’s predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, was steering them, before his term in office expired.

Overall, Raisi’s first U.N. speech failed to ease tensions between Iran and the international community and sent a pretty clear sign that neither a restoration of the JCPOA nor the truncation of Iran’s chronic isolation is at all imminent.

India’s Modi congratulated himself for a job well done.

By Sumit Ganguly , professor of political science at Indiana University Bloomington and columnist at Foreign Policy

In keeping with his nativist sentiments as well as his ease with the language, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered his speech in Hindi. The speech was notable for its number of allusions to India’s adversaries, most notably China and Pakistan. The imputation to China was evident from his call for a “rule-based world order” while his appeal for a clear international stance against governments that use terrorism as a policy tool was a not-so-veiled swipe at Pakistan.

Interestingly enough, given that his government has faced its fair share of criticism for its democratic deficits, Modi explicitly underscored the success of India’s democracy. And in an unusually self-referential move, he alluded to his own rise from modest origins to the premiership of India as emblematic of that success.

Curiously absent from his speech was India’s customary demand for the expansion of the United Nations Security Council to include a seat for India. He did, however, emphasize the United Nations’ need to remain effective as an organization, citing the challenges that the climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and global terrorism pose for humanity’s future.

In that context, Modi faulted two U.N. organs: the World Health Organization (WHO) for its failure to trace the origins of COVID-19 and the World Bank for the recently revealed flaws in its “ease of doing business” rankings. The former was also an indirect jab at China for its refusal to let the WHO conduct a full, unfettered investigation of the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China.

A final striking feature of Modi’s speech was his overly self-congratulatory view of his stewardship of India during his term in office. Citing a range of achievements extending from greater access to health care to the expansion of banking for the poor, Modi claimed India was now on the path to rapid development. And at a time when India is far from out of the woods as far as the COVID-19 pandemic goes, he touted India’s willingness and ability to provide vaccines to countries in need.

His speech was a curious amalgam of the unpredictable as well as the bold. For once, while calling for U.N. reform, he avoided India’s standard demand for a U.N. Security Council seat. The not-so-hidden knocks against Pakistan and especially China, however, represented an audacious departure in a United Nations General Assembly speech.

Tanzania’s first female president stepped onto the scene.

By Laurie Garrett , Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer and columnist at Foreign Policy

When Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan finally took the stage to deliver her speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday afternoon, she presented a distinctive contrast to the endless stream of all-male speakers who had preceded her to the podium on the third day of the General Debate. Even more sharply, she stood in clear contrast with the man who preceded her as president of Tanzania.

Suluhu previously served as vice president under President John “ The Bulldozer ” Magufuli, a man who brooked no disobedience, including on his insistence that COVID-19 didn’t exist in Tanzania . Under his presidency, data on the country’s mounting death toll was suppressed, doctors were gagged, and all coronavirus-related drugs and vaccines were banned .

Then, in February, Magufuli abruptly disappeared from public view—and for the first time, on Feb. 27 , a physician gave a nationally broadcast speech warning Tanzanians of the new plague. On March 17, Magufuli died .

Suluhu acceded to the presidency, telling the nation her predecessor had “died of a heart condition”—a statement she has not amended despite it being widely suspected that his cause of death was COVID-19 . Days later, South African scientists reported discovery of a “ super-mutant” strain of the novel coronavirus unlike any other circulating in Africa, carried by three Tanzanian travelers to Angola. Regional political pressure on Suluhu rose, and over the next several months, she created a COVID-19 scientific advisory council and joined global efforts to obtain vaccines and drugs for her nation.

In her U.N. remarks, Suluhu repeatedly praised multilateralism and the United Nations system. She noted her nation’s dependency on technical and financial support from external sources and admonished that “multilateralism cannot and should not succumb to the virus.”

Far from following Magufuli in denying the presence of the virus in the country, Suluhu acknowledged that “Tanzania has not been spared by COVID-19” and said the pandemic had already radically reduced Tanzania’s economic growth, from 6.9 percent a year to 5.4 percent , primarily due to loss of tourism. This, in turn, has wiped out the country’s ability to finance climate change adaptation.

As the first female leader of her nation, Suluhu pointedly noted that “COVID-19 is threatening to roll back the gains that we have made” in gender equity and said she plans to implement policies aimed at female economic development and political and social advancement.

The world still lacks verifiable COVID-19 data from Tanzania, including on cases and death tolls. But Suluhu started vaccination efforts in July, and with her U.N. speech, she joined the majority of her African peers in strongly denouncing the inequities in global vaccine distribution, with merely 245 million doses distributed as of earlier this month to poorer nations through the U.N.’s COVAX mechanism and 81 percent of all doses having been administered in the wealthiest nations.

Even looking to 2022, the wealthy world is backtracking on promised vaccine donations to COVAX, and nearly 80 percent of African nations will miss not only their short-term COVID-19 control targets but also those set for attainment next year.

World leaders weren’t in the mood to be “good neighbors.”

By Caroline de Gruyter , writer for the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad and columnist at Foreign Policy

In April 1945, amid the ravages of World War II, U.S. President Harry S. Truman addressed hundreds of delegates from 50 countries who had gathered in San Francisco to create the United Nations. “You members of this conference,” Truman said from the White House , “are to be the architects of the better world. In your hands rests our future.”

He meant that if world leaders wanted peace and justice, they had to bring it about themselves. Just having the United Nations as an institution would not suffice— they had to make the U.N. work. All depended on the will of each and every one: “In order to have good neighbors, we must also be good neighbors.”

With these words in mind, it was particularly depressing to watch world leaders address the U.N. General Assembly this month. Pakistan accused India of carrying out “a reign of terror” against Muslims; India accused Pakistan of “spew[ing] falsehoods on the world stage.”

Russia’s foreign minister blasted France for opposing the deployment of Russian mercenaries in Mali and criticized the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Israel’s prime minister urged the world to act against Iran.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson—the only one showing some humor (saying he had seriously contemplated changing his name to “Boreas Johnson, in honor of the North Wind” that could save his country from an energy crisis)—used his entire speech as a marketing pitch for the upcoming U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, meanwhile, had to do his own ritual dance, warning that on climate change and other major global problems it is five minutes to midnight: “Our world has never been more threatened or more divided.” But, of course, he added that he still has “hope.”

Guterres was perhaps the only speaker we cannot blame for being unsurprising. The U.N. was made for that purpose; its secretary-general can only utter platitudes.

The only one with real passion in her voice was the prime minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley. She spoke spontaneously, from bullet points on her mobile phone, asking why heads of state come to New York every year to give the same speeches about peace and development and justice for all, then go home and forget everything they just said.

But then, someone had to say that, too.

This year’s General Assembly speeches did not get much media attention, except U.S. President Joe Biden’s first U.N. speech, and some others that touched on long-running international disputes such as Cyprus and Jammu and Kashmir. At some point, even journalists get tired of their role as critical outsiders on the moral high ground.

And the citizens? As of last Friday , the speech delivered by the K-pop group BTS at the U.N. General Assembly received 6.4 million views on YouTube, while Guterres’s speech was viewed just 5,300 times and Johnson’s 3,500 times.

The U.N. is as strong as its members want it to be. All depends on their willingness to be “good neighbors.” This year, they were clearly not in the mood. Hopefully next year it will be better.

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Illustration by Steven Gregor of an orator at a lectern, with speechwriters working behind the scenes

Lend me your ears! The art of political speechwriting

The politicians deliver the words but who writes them? We talk to the experts whose job is to come up with the memorable phrases

E ven her fiercest supporters would acknowledge that one aspect of the new prime minister Liz Truss’s political skillset that requires urgent improvement is that of communication. She wasn’t called upon to put it to the test in winning the Conservative leadership contest, where she only had to demonstrate that she was not Rishi Sunak and avoid any challenging media interviews. But from now on she has to speak for, and most importantly to, the nation at large.

One way that politicians attempt to look as if they know what they’re talking about is by delivering a set-piece speech. If her speeches on the leadership hustings are anything to go by, Truss, who came across as if she was running for the sixth-form prefect’s office, is no Winston Churchill. She’s not even her idol, Margaret Thatcher , or indeed David Cameron, who famously won the Conservative party leadership on the strength of a speech.

As the party conference season heaves into view, it’s worth remembering that most speeches tend to be concerned with the announcement of a new tax rebate system or the like, and all but a tiny fraction are forgotten as soon they have been delivered, if not before. But if only a handful of speeches achieve a kind of immortality, countless numbers are written with the hope that they’ll capture the public’s imagination, even if the public constitutes only those gathered at the opening of a provincial bypass. To this end, a semi-hidden profession has mushroomed to produce these aspiring works of political glory – that of the speechwriter. Unlike most other forms of writing, it doesn’t offer a credit or a byline. In this country it’s a behind-the-scenes sort of occupation, unsung and uncelebrated.

Jess Cunniffe was a local newspaper reporter working in Luton and Leighton Buzzard when she covered a 2010 election event at which then Tory leader Cameron gave a speech. “It was a really good speech,” recalls Cunniffe, who describes herself as a “ Cameroon Conservative ”. “And I thought: ‘Rather than reporting on speeches, I’d quite like to be writing them.’” But it seemed a fanciful idea to her, akin to joining the MCC or MI5, until she read a profile of Clare Foges , who was working as a Conservative speechwriter. “And I thought: ‘She’s not Oxbridge, she didn’t go to private school, she’s not male and old. She’s a bit like me and maybe this is a career option.’”

Liz Truss giving her acceptance speech at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in London last week.

So she quit journalism and started working for Tory MP Mark Lancaster, got some experience writing speeches and applied for a job at Conservative central office. Cunniffe became Sayeeda Warsi’s special adviser, or spad – a political appointee with the status of a temporary civil servant – before landing a job as a speechwriter at No 10 with the man who originally inspired her. She says that Cameron, who had a background as a speechwriter himself, was unusual among senior politicians in being quick to acknowledge their input: “He would introduce me as his speechwriter and want people to meet me and know that I’d help write his speeches.”

As Tony Blair’s former speechwriter Philip Collins notes in his book on the subject, When They Go Low, We Go High , in the 19th century, politicians such as William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli would only make three polished speeches a year. Nowadays their equivalents can get through that number in a week. It’s not feasible, or at least not sensible, to be in high office and spend half your time honing fine rhetorical phrases.

Yet perhaps as a hangover from the 19th- and early 20th-century idea of politicians as orators, they can risk being seen as inauthentic – a mere actor reading a script – if it’s known that the words they speak are someone else’s. So with one or two exceptions, speechwriters tend to maintain a low profile and keep shtum about their efforts. “Some of the biggest things I’ve worked on I can’t talk about,” says Daniel Finkelstein, Times columnist, Conservative peer and one-time speechwriter for William Hague, among others. “Some of my best lines I can’t boast about. That’s just the way it is in this country.”

Philip Collins, who has broken cover, now runs a speechwriting website called the Draft and has arguably done more than anyone else to shed light on the shadowy business of writing for politicians. “Speechwriting is a bit like comedy writing,” he says. “The British do it alone while the Americans employ a whole battalion. So, as a writer, you are the only one, but that is not to say that plenty of people are not involved.” If it’s a big set-piece speech, such as the leader’s speech at a party conference, preparations can start months beforehand and the number of people who want an input can grow to an unruly amount. But it usually starts off in a room with several people shooting ideas around.

“You will be the one holding the pen,” says Michael Lea, a former speechwriter for Gordon Brown. And the first task, he says, is to get down all the information and chatter that’s going on in the room and then try to establish a general overarching theme. But once that’s established, the other voices don’t suddenly fade away. During the drafting process, various ministers and interested parties will want to share their thoughts and try to get their particular concerns included in the final document.

“It is a curiosity of the job,” Collins has written, “that people seem to believe that if they send in a few lines with no context then the speech can be assembled from all these bits, like flat-pack furniture comprised of the parts from different chairs.” There will, at least, be plenty of opportunities for revision. “You’re talking 20-plus drafts, possibly,” says Lea. “Obviously some are major rewrites and some are minor tweaks. It depends on how your principal likes to work.”

Some of the principals are talented speechwriters themselves. Finkelstein says that George Osborne used to call writing speeches for Hague “taking free kicks for Beckham”. But using that analogy, not all free kicks are 30-yard scorchers into the top corner of the goal. It’s no good seeking an epic register if your audience are wanting something more down to earth. As Collins has noted, Churchill spent most of his political career making speeches that were far too grand for their context. It took a world war to transform his sumptuously turned sentences into spirit-rousing classics guaranteed a place in collections of great speeches.

Winston Churchill giving a speech at County Hall, London, in 1941.

For students of speechwriting such as Finkelstein, there is an ever-present danger, he acknowledges, of going too large. “William Hague once expressed the problem to me. He said: ‘Your speech will often read as if it’s meant to be delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, when I’m actually giving it at the Durham Conservative party Christmas dinner.’” Hague had two golden rules of speechmaking, says Finkelstein. “First of all, every half-sentence has got to be useful. And second, never use a joke unless you’re absolutely certain that it’s funny.”

Finkelstein has a reputation for being something of a joke-meister. Sometimes politicians have come to him just to insert a little humour into their rather dry proclamations. But the only test for whether a joke is funny, he says, is if someone laughs. So he says it’s vital to tell it to someone beforehand and see what the response is. “If they don’t laugh,” he notes, “there’s no point arguing that it’s funny.” Jokes are valued because they help break the tension in the audience, but also show politicians as more “human” – a quality they all want to be seen to possess but most often struggle to convey. It should go without saying that laughter is dependent not just on the funniness of the joke but also the manner in which it is delivered. Former prime minister Theresa May, for example, was never going to enjoy a second career as a standup. Finkelstein has written jokes for her but says they work best if they are kept simple with an immediate punchline, whereas with Hague he could allow for a more nuanced build-up.

Brown is another politician who no one has ever looked to for belly laughs. Much more at home with the “post neo-classical endogenous growth theory” of economics than comic banter, he tended to come across on the podium as an austerely serious man. So Lea is rightly proud of once persuading him, against the then prime minister’s better judgment, to tell a joke playing on some snowstorms that had hindered travel, but whose subtext referred to the rumours circulating of a plot to overthrow him as Labour leader. What it amounted to was Brown opening a speech by saying that he had thought he wasn’t going to be there that day. But it brought the house down and was positively referred to in the news coverage. “It’s small victories,” Lea says. “Perhaps no one else remembers it but there is no greater feeling than seeing something you’ve written read out by someone really important on TV, and even more so if you’re there.”

At this current anxious juncture of history, any speechwriter who could come up with a joke that the perennially stiff Truss was able to deliver and was actually funny would certainly command the respect, not to say amazement, of his or her fellow professionals.

W hat every speechwriter dreams of, though, is writing something that enters the history books and becomes part of common language. Such an outcome, as Collins has argued, depends largely on external factors and how much the speech matters. “We shall fight on the beaches … We shall never surrender” was a momentous peroration by any reckoning, but that’s in no small part because Britain was under threat of a Nazi invasion in June 1940 when Churchill uttered those deathless words.

In When They Go Low, We Go High, Collins picks out Neil Kinnock’s 1987 Welsh Labour party conference speech as an example of a great speech made in peacetime. “Why,” Kinnock famously asked, “am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university?” The answer could be that the oldest British university is only a little over a thousand years old, so it’s only about 30 generations of Kinnocks who were shortchanged on their education. But he was using a rhetorical device that proved successfully emotive. So much so, indeed, that later in 1987, during his first run for the US presidency, Joe Biden borrowed heavily from Kinnock’s speech and was forced to withdraw from the race having been accused of plagiarism. What made Biden’s mistake particularly hard to understand is that he would have been surrounded by a small army of speechwriters, who either sourced the original material or failed to stop him from using it without attribution.

Neil Kinnock addresses the Welsh Labour party Conference, Llandudno, May 1987.

Ever since Ted Sorensen became known for helping to craft John F Kennedy’s inaugural address – “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” – the role of speechwriter in US politics has grown steadily more important. The White House has its own director of speechwriting and a team of about seven or eight writers. Barack Obama’s first director of speechwriting, Jon Favreau , has gone on to become a media star with his own podcast, Pod Save America .

Clare Foges was in No 10 when Obama’s entourage, including several speechwriters, were part of a state visit in 2011. “They were very nice,” she recalls. “But they took what they did so incredibly seriously, to the point where one of them stood in our offices and started declaiming one of his speeches, you know, ‘From the plains of Ohio to the canyons of New Mexico’ sort of thing. And we were all looking at each other trying not to laugh. Obviously, Britain doesn’t have the same canvas on which to paint words. You can’t really say: ‘From the Peak District to Salisbury Plain.’ So you can be a bit grander as an American speechwriter, and they are grander.”

Foges started out working for Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London, before graduating to No 10 and Cameron. What were the differences in writing speeches for them? “Boris would be full of praise: ‘This is appallingly good!’ And then never use a word of what I’d written. Whereas Cameron was not so effusive, more exacting, but he would actually use it and, I felt, consider my opinion, which was better for the professional self-esteem, ultimately.”

If speechwriters are to an extent off-stage ventriloquists, they have to adapt their voice to that of the speechmaker. “You have to vary your tone and pace,” says Finkelstein and failure to do so can lead to formulaic or confused speeches. But what about your politics – can they be adapted to suit the speaker? Cunniffe says she couldn’t write for a Labour politician such as Keir Starmer, although she noted that he had been looking for a speechwriter.

David Cameron speaking in front of a portrait of Winston Churchill

“You can’t stretch it too far,” agrees Collins. “You need to be comfortable making the case. There were occasions I wrote speeches I disagreed with – the case for ID cards, for example – but that turned out to be one of the best things I ever wrote, probably because I was so acutely aware of the arguments against.”

Collins has brilliantly dissected many political speeches for the Times , a task, one speechwriter told me, that “breaks the speechwriters’ code of honour”. Collins dismisses that accusation, saying that he has merely made “the art of speechwriting in Britain a tiny bit more prominent, and I would stress the word ‘tiny’”. In any case, he has some advice for speechwriters, which they may care to take note of as the conference season nears. “I found the attention of the press office helpful in the sense that they imposed the discipline of the headline: ‘What do you want to say, in a nutshell?’ is a good question to ask of a writer, and the press office is condemned to ask it.”

Which raises the question: if a speech can be condensed into a nutshell, why does it require half an hour? Perhaps because, in spite of our supposed soundbite culture, the limited characters of Twitter and our allegedly ever-shrinking span of attention, there remains something quite impressive about a politician holding and rousing an audience over an extended period of time. There is the belief that if they can take a room with them, perhaps they can inspire the country too. It’s a belief that unfortunately is repeatedly punctured by experience, but that shouldn’t deter the ranks of unheralded speechwriters when they sit down in front of an empty screen and prepare to make rhetorical history.

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The 15 most inspiring presidential speeches in american history.

  • By Tara Kibler
  • February 15, 2021
  • History , Political Science

Over the centuries, millions upon millions of words have been used by U.S. presidents to motivate, caution, reassure, and guide the American people. Whether written in the news, spoken at a podium, or shared on Twitter, all of these words have carried weight, each with the potential to impact the trajectory of our nation. Only a handful of times, however, has the particular arrangement and context of these words been considered truly inspiring.

This Presidents’ Day, join HeinOnline in rediscovering some of the greatest presidential speeches in American history using our   U.S. Presidential Library  and other sources.

1. Washington’s Farewell Address

Date:  September 17th, 1796

Context:  Toward the end of his second term as the first U.S. president, George Washington announced his retirement from office in a letter addressed to the American people. Though many feared for a United States without Washington, the address reassured the young nation that it no longer required his leadership. Washington also used the opportunity to offer advice for the prosperity of the country. After witnessing the growing division between the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties, much of his advice was to warn against political parties, factions, and other animosities (domestic and foreign) that would eventually undermine the integrity and efficacy of the American government.

Notable Quote:  “This spirit [of party], unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind … [but] the disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

“Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it. It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions … A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”

2. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Date:  November 19, 1863

Context:  Four months after Union armies defeated Confederates at Gettysburg during the American Civil War, President Lincoln visited the site to dedicate the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. In what were intended to be brief, appropriate remarks for the situation, Lincoln used the moment to offer his take on the war and its meaning. The ten sentences he spoke would ultimately become one of the most famous speeches in American history, an inspiration for notable remarks centuries later, and even a foundation for the wording of other countries’ constitutions.

Notable Quote:  “… from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they heregave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain; that the Nation shall under God have a new birth of freedom, and that Governments of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

3. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Inaugural Address

Date:  March 4, 1933

Context:  The inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt was held as the country was in the throes of the Great Depression, and as such, America anxiously awaited what he had to say. Roosevelt did not disappoint, offering 20 minutes of reassurance, hope, and promises for urgent action.

Notable Quote:  “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is … fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”

4. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Fireside Chat

Date:  March 12, 1933

Context:  Just a few days after his inauguration, Roosevelt instituted what he called “fireside chats,” using the relatively new technology of radio to enter the living rooms of Americans and discuss current issues. In these moments, he could speak at length, unfiltered and uninterrupted by the press, while also offering a reassuring, optimistic tone that might otherwise have been lost in the written word. In this first fireside chat, he crafted a message to explain the American banking process (and its current difficulties) in a way that the average listener could understand.

Notable Quote:  “Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith. You must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system, and it is up to you to support and make it work. It is your problem, my friends. Your problem no less than it is mine. Together, we cannot fail.”

5. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” Speech

Date:  January 6, 1941

Context:  By 1941, many affected by the Great Depression had experienced economic recovery, but another world-changing phenomenon had reared its head—Hitler and his Nazi regime. World War II was raging in Europe and the Pacific, but the United States had thus far remained largely neutral. In light of the atrocities occurring overseas, Roosevelt sought to change that. He crafted his State of the Union address that January to highlight four freedoms which are deserved by all humans everywhere. The “Four Freedoms” speech, as it was ultimately known, later became the basis for  America’s intervention in World War II  and significantly influenced American values, life, and politics moving forward.

Notable Quote:  “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peace of time life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction, armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.”

6. Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” Speech

Date:  December 8, 1953

Context:  During World War II, Roosevelt formally authorized the Manhattan Project, a top-secret U.S. effort to weaponize nuclear energy. By 1945,  America had successfully created the atomic bomb , and President Truman had authorized its detonation in Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leveling the two cities and killing hundreds of thousands of people. Following the end of World War II, political and economic differences between the United States and Soviet Union drove the two countries to another war soon after, but this time, the Soviet Union had their own atomic bomb as well. The world was teetering on a frightening ledge built by access to nuclear power, causing President Eisenhower to launch an “emotion management” campaign with this speech to the United Nations about the very real risks but also peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Notable Quote:  “… the whole book of history reveals mankind’s never-ending quest for peace and mankind’s God-given capacity to build. It is with the book of history, and not with isolated pages, that the United States will ever wish to be identified. My country wants to be constructive, not destructive. It wants agreements, not wars, among nations. It wants itself to live in freedom and in the confidence that the peoples of every other nation enjoy equally the right of choosing their own way of life. … The United States knows that if the fearful trend of atomic military build-up can be reversed, this greatest of destructive forces can be developed into a great boon, for the benefit of all mankind.”

7. Eisenhower’s Farewell Address

Date:  January 17, 1961

Context:  As he came to the end of his term, President Eisenhower found himself in a nation much stronger, much richer, and much more advanced than when he began. Prepared as early as two years in advance, his farewell address acknowledged the pride all should have in these achievements, but also served to ground the American people in sobering reality—that how the United States uses this power and standing will ultimately determine its fate. Like Washington, his address was one of caution against dangers such as massive spending, an overpowered military industry, and Federal domination of scientific progress (or vice versa, the scientific-technological domination of public policy). In all things, he stressed the need to maintain balance as the country moves forward, for the preservation of liberty.

Notable Quote:  “Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.”

8. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address

Date:  January 20, 1961

Context:  A few days after Eisenhower’s farewell speech, he turned over his office to the youngest-ever elected president, John F. Kennedy. Kennedy now found himself faced with the monumental task of strengthening the United States while also quelling American anxieties about the Cold War and avoiding nuclear warfare. His speech thus focused on unity, togetherness, and collaboration both domestically and abroad.

Notable Quote:  “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

9. Kennedy’s “We Choose to Go to the Moon” Speech

Date:  September 12, 1962

Context:  In the name of national security, the United States and USSR set their sights on spaceflight as a top priority during the Cold War. To the surprise (and fear) of people around the globe, the Soviet Union launched the first-ever artificial satellite in 1957, then sent the first human being into space in 1961, signaling to onlookers that its nation was a technological force to be reckoned with. Kennedy was determined to come up with a challenge in space technology that the United States actually stood a chance to win. In the early ’60s, he proposed that America focus on putting a man on the moon. In an uplifting speech at Rice University, Kennedy reminded his listeners of the country’s technological progress so far and of his administration’s determination to continue the pioneering spirit of early America into the new frontier of space.

Notable Quote:  “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Read about America’s successful moon landing in this blog post.

10. Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” Speech

Date:  May 22, 1964

Context:  Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President in 1963, immediately following  Kennedy’s assassination . Johnson vowed to continue the former president’s work on poverty, civil rights, and other issues. Inspired in part by FDR’s New Deal, he devised a set of programs intended to completely eliminate poverty and racial injustice. In 1964, he formally proposed some specific goals in a speech to the University of Michigan, where he coined the lofty ideal of a “Great Society.”

Notable Quote:  “Your imagination, your initiative, and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.”

11. Lyndon B. Johnson’s “We Shall Overcome” Speech

Date:  March 15, 1965

Context:  By the 1960s, blacks in areas of the Deep South found themselves disenfranchised by state voting laws, such as those requiring a poll tax, literacy tests, or knowledge of the U.S. constitution. Furthermore, these laws were sometimes applied subjectively, leading to the prevention of even educated blacks from voting or registering to vote. Inspired (and sometimes joined) by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., protests were planned throughout the region. Eight days after racial violence erupted around one of these protests in Selma, Alabama, President Johnson addressed Congress to declare that “every American citizen must have an equal right to vote” and that discriminatory policies were denying African-Americans that right.

Notable Quote:  “What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause too. Because it’s not just Negroes, but really it’s all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome …

“This great, rich, restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all, all black and white, all North and South, sharecropper and city dweller. These are the enemies: poverty, ignorance, disease. They’re our enemies, not our fellow man, not our neighbor. And these enemies too—poverty, disease, and ignorance: we shall overcome.”

12. Reagan’s D-Day Anniversary Address

Date:  June 6, 1984

Context:  During World War II, the Allied forces attacked German troops on the coast of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. A turning point for the war, the day came to be known as D-Day, and its anniversary is forever acknowledged. On its 40th anniversary, President Ronald Reagan honored the heroes of that day in a speech that also invoked a comparison of World War II’s Axis dictators to the Soviet Union during the ongoing Cold War. This reminder to the Allies that they once fought together against totalitarianism and must continue the fight now helped contribute to the ultimate dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Notable Quote:  “We look for some sign from the Soviet Union that they are willing to move forward, that they share our desire and love for peace, and that they will give up the ways of conquest. There must be a changing there that will allow us to turn our hope into action. We will pray forever that some day that changing will come. But for now, particularly today, it is good and fitting to renew our commitment to each other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it. We are bound today by what bound us 40 years ago, the same loyalties, traditions, and beliefs. We’re bound by reality. The strength of America’s allies is vital to the United States, and the American security guarantee is essential to the continued freedom of Europe’s democracies. We were with you then; we are with you now. Your hopes are our hopes, and your destiny is our destiny.”

13. Reagan’s Berlin Wall Speech

Date:  June 12, 1987

Context:  With the fall of Nazi Germany at the end of World War II, Western powers and the Soviet Union sought to establish systems of government in their respective occupied regions. West Germany developed into a Western capitalist country, with a democratic parliamentary government, while East Germany became a socialist workers’ state (though it was often referred to as communist in the English-speaking world). Many experiencing hunger, poverty, and repression in the Soviet-influenced East Germany attempted to move west, with the City of Berlin their main point of crossing. Ultimately, the Soviet Union advised East Germany to build a wall on the inner German border, restricting movement and emigration by threat of execution for attempted emigrants. Seen as a symbol of Communist tyranny by Western nations, the Berlin Wall persisted for nearly three decades. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan visited West Berlin and called upon Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to take down the wall as a symbol of moving forward.

Notable Quote:  “We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

14. George W. Bush’s Post-9/11 Speech

Date:  September 11, 2001

Context:  On September 11, 2001, the United States experienced  the single worst terrorist attack in human history , where four American planes were hijacked and flown into American buildings, killing nearly 3,000 people. Viewers around the world watched the news as five stories of the Pentagon fell and the World Trade Center buildings collapsed entirely. Later that evening, President George W. Bush addressed the nation with a brief but powerful message that chose to focus not on fear, but on America’s strength in unity.

Notable Quote:

“These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.”

15. Obama’s “More Perfect Union” Speech

Date:  March 18, 2008

Context:  While campaigning for the presidency in 2008, Barack Obama came under fire for his relationship with pastor Jeremiah Wright, who had been heard to denounce the United States and accuse the government of racial crimes. To officially address the relationship and condemn Wright’s inflammatory remarks, Obama crafted a speech that discussed the history of racial inequality in America as well as the dissonance between that history and America’s ideals of human liberty. Importantly, however, he also highlighted the necessity for a unified American people to effectively combat those issues, rather than more racial division.

Notable Quote:  “[T]he remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country—a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America ….

“[These] comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems—two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all ….

“The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through—a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.”

Read about Barack Obama’s presidency in this blog post.

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The 12 Most Memorable Political Convention Speeches

best political speeches of 2022

Brown Bros | AP Photo

William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold,” 1896

When former Rep. William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska addressed the Democratic convention the major issue of the day was whether silver as well as gold should be minted as U.S. currency. Silver coinage would be inflationary and help, for example, debt-impoverished farmers. The 36-year old Bryan was an avowed bimetallist, placed himself in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson against moneyed interests and in favor of “hardy pioneers who braved all the dangers of the wilderness, who have made the desert to blossom as the rose … out there where they have erected schoolhouses for the education of their children and churches where they praise their Creator and the cemeteries where sleep the ashes of their dead.” His peroration has gone down in history: “Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign .]

Those words, the New York Times reported the next day, were “the signal for an avalanche of cheers which speedily developed into a measureless outburst.” This 14-minute demonstration, the paper added, was a “perfect Niagara of sound,” and “struck terror to the hearts” of the pro gold forces in the hall.

The Democrats nominated Bryan for the presidency the following day. The Bryan speech has echoed in U.S. history. According to William Safire’s Political Dictionary , it inspired 1930s Louisiana Gov. Huey Long’s “every man a king” slogan, and had the earliest criticism of what is now known as “trickle-down economics,” attacking the belief “that if you just legislate to make the well-to-prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below.”

best political speeches of 2022

FDR’s “New Deal,” 1932

When Franklin D. Roosevelt took to the podium at Chicago Stadium to address the Democratic Party as its nominee, he was doing something unprecedented: giving an acceptance speech. By tradition, presidential nominees waited in feigned ignorance for a convention delegation to inform them of their selection. But upon learning that he had secured the nomination FDR announced that he would fly—then still a novel and risky way to travel—from Albany to Chicago to deliver the address, displaying “theatrics that he was going to show his physicality,” says historian Robert Dallek, as well as illustrating the vigor with which he would tackle the Great Depression.”

The speech itself was the subject of staff infighting with longtime aide Louis Howe proffering an entirely rewritten draft on Roosevelt moments after he landed. FDR used the first page of the new speech but then transitioned to the one he had brought with him, which included the historic peroration that, “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.” The phrase had come from the pen of FDR speechwriter Samuel Rosenman, but neither man realized that it would become a historic catchphrase. “It was simply one of those phrases that catch public fancy and survive—short, concise, and yet comprehensive enough to cover a great many different concepts,” Rosenman later wrote.

The first clue of the phrase’s potency came the next day when New York-based newspaper cartoonist Rollin Kirby published a cartoon showing a man leaning on his hoe, watching an airplane fly overhead adorned with the words “New Deal.”

best political speeches of 2022

Hubert Humphrey and the “Bright Sunshine of Human Rights,” 1948

At issue when Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey addressed the Democratic convention was whether the party should adopt a minority plank to the platform advocating for civil rights for black Americans—an issue Southern Democrats viewed as an affront. “He spoke,” biographer Albert Eisele later wrote, “with a fervor that brought sweat pouring from his face and spattering on the pages of his speech.” He declared that “the time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.” The address lasted less than 10 minutes and prompted wild applause in the convention hall that lasted nearly as long. ”

The speech and the convention’s adoption of the civil rights plank also marked the beginning of the fracturing of the New Deal coalition, which had included the Democrats’ “solid South.” The entire Mississippi delegation walked out, as did half the Alabama delegates. “The South is no longer going to be the whipping boy of the Democratic Party,” Alabama delegate Handy Ellis said. “And you know that without the votes of the South you cannot elect the president of the United States.” On that he was wrong. While South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond, a Democrat, mounted an independent bid for the White House on the Dixiecrat ticket, incumbent President Harry Truman completed the most famous comeback in American history—thanks, critically, to overwhelming black support in Ohio and Illinois.

best political speeches of 2022

Dick Strobel | AP Photo

JFK’s “New Frontier,” 1960

John F. Kennedy ran for president with a campaign message that he would “get this country moving again” after a somnambulant near decade of Republican control. “After eight years of drugged and fitful sleep, this nation needs strong, creative Democratic leadership in the White House,” Kennedy said in his acceptance speech.

He also laid out where he wanted to get the country moving to. “We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier—the frontier of the 1960s—a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats,” he said, addressing a crowd of 80,000 in Los Angeles’s Memorial Coliseum. He went on that “the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises—it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook—it holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.””

The idea sacrifice as well as the declaration that it was time “for a new generation of leadership” foreshadowed JFK’s inaugural address declaration that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans” and its injunction that citizens should “ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

The acceptance address “set the tone for the campaign,” says former Clinton speechwriter Ted Widmer, who has edited a collection of memorable political speeches. “And it was a good coinage.” That coinage became the theme of the Kennedy years. “Kennedy generally shrank from slogans, and would use this one sparingly, but he liked the idea of a successor to the New Deal and Fair Deal,” his speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, later wrote.

best political speeches of 2022

AP File Photo |

Barry Goldwater’s “Extremism in the Defense of Liberty,” 1964

By the time he was ready to accept the Republican nomination, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater was fed up with being labeled by his primary campaign opponents as an extremist. “I had been branded as a fascist, a racist, a trigger-happy warmonger, a nuclear madman and the candidate who couldn’t win,” he wrote in his memoirs. During the campaign he had dismissed the charges of extremism as representing a “sour grapes attitude,” but by the time he gave his speech he had decided to embrace it.

The speech was closely held—even Goldwater’s running mate, New York Rep. William Miller, didn’t see an advance copy. Goldwater’s aides knew that “this wasn’t a political speech” biographer Rick Perlstein later wrote. “It was a cultural call to arms.””

It was a clarion call, and a politically toxic one: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” he said. “And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

The line had come from conservative historian Harry Jaffa, who was working on the campaign. Though Goldwater later credited it to Cicero, Jaffa said that it was an allusion to Thomas Paine. Goldwater had had it double underlined in his reading text, for emphasis. “In their campaign for Lyndon Johnson, Democratic speakers underlined it as well,” Safire wrote in Political Dictionary . They drove the “extremism” theme relentlessly, even suggesting in the aired-once “Daisy” ad that a Goldwater presidency would lead to nuclear oblivion.

While Johnson won 44 states and more than 60 percent of the vote, Goldwater’s conservative movement would find victorious expression in both the Reagan Revolution in 1980 and today’s Tea Party. In fact his famous speech is striking today for how, with a few tweaks, it could come from a contemporary conservative without raising eyebrows.

best political speeches of 2022

Ronald Reagan’s “Challenge,” 1976

The last Republican presidential nomination to be decided at the convention was the 1976 battle between President Gerald Ford and former California Gov. Ronald Reagan. Their primary had been brutal: Reagan charged Ford was soft on the Soviets while the incumbent painted his challenger as dangerous. “When you vote Tuesday, remember, Governor Ronald Reagan couldn’t start a war. President Ronald Reagan could,” one Ford ad intoned.

The two candidates arrived in Kansas City, where the convention was being held, three days early to lobby delegates. Ford ultimately won the nomination after a tough floor fight.”

After he had given his acceptance speech, Ford aimed for a unity moment by inviting Reagan to appear on the platform with him and say a few words. Walking from his skybox through the labyrinthine passages of the convention hall, Reagan asked aide Mike Deaver, what he should say. Governor, Deaver replied, you’ll think of something.

He did. “I believe the Republican Party has a platform that is a banner of bold, unmistakable colors, with no pastel shades,” Reagan told the crowd in very brief, off the cuff remarks. “We have just heard a call to arms based on that platform.” He went to recount how he had been asked to write a letter for a time capsule to be opened in 2076. It dawned on him, he said, that those reading the letter “will know whether we met our challenge” to avoid nuclear war and preserve liberty. “Whether they have the freedoms that we have known up until now will depend on what we do here.”

What Reagan didn’t do was explicitly endorse Ford, whom he “utterly and completely” overshadowed, says Reagan biographer Craig Shirley. “If you watch the speech he’s not conceding the nomination to Ford,” Shirley says. “It’s a call to arms; it’s a battle cry for conservatives.”

best political speeches of 2022

Ted Kennedy’s Undying “Dream,” 1980

Four years after the Reagan-Ford fight, the Democrats had their own knock down, drag out primary battle as Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy sought to unseat incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter. Kennedy took the fight to the convention in Madison Square Garden in New York even though the president had enough delegates to win. Kennedy hoped to overturn a rule requiring that delegates vote for the candidate to whom they were pledged during the primaries. After they won the rules fight, the Carter team gave Kennedy a speaking slot as part of the deal to get him to concede.

Kennedy’s conclusion is probably the best remembered sound bite of his career: “For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end,” he said. “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

Sitting at his desk, working on Carter’s acceptance address, chief speechwriter Hendrik Hertzberg watched the dramatic conclusion and muttered allowed, “Uh-oh.” Hertzberg, now at the New Yorker , recalls that the Carter people were not annoyed by the speech as much as by Kennedy’s running in the first place when Chappaquiddick had made him unelectable. “As for the convention, the speech was OK,” he says. “What was not was Ted’s petulant, unpleasant demeanor during the closing ‘unity’ tableau.”

The speech had lasted for 33 minutes and provoked a floor demonstration that lasted for 40 more with some delegates literally dancing in the aisles. “Finally, [Kennedy delegates] felt, the last of the Kennedy brothers had delivered ‘a Kennedy speech,’ well-paced, well-written, with the humor and sense of history worthy of a candidate still in the fray,” the New York Times reported the next day.

best political speeches of 2022

Mario Cuomo’s “Tale of Two Cities,” 1984

Democrats gathering in San Francisco in 1984 had a tough test. In addition to having to unite after a tough primary which had produced an uninspiring nominee (former Vice President Walter Mondale) they faced a president who was enjoying an expanding economy and rising approval ratings. To keynote their quadrennial convocation, Democrats selected Mario Cuomo, the first term governor of New York. Cuomo was known as eloquent, but he had not been tested nationally.

Cuomo seized on one of Reagan’s favorite similes—the United States as a shining city on a hill—and eloquently reworked it into an indictment of Reaganism.

“The hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city’s splendor and glory,” Cuomo said. “A shining city is perhaps all the president sees from the portico of the White House and veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well. But there’s another city; there’s another part to the shining city … There are people who sleep in the city streets, in the gutter, where the glitter doesn’t show. There are ghettos where thousands of young people, without a job or an education, give their lives away to drug dealers every day. There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces that you don’t see, in the places that you don’t visit in your shining city.”

It was a masterly summation of the liberal governing philosophy and animating ideas of the Democratic Party. “He had delivered a memorable and beautiful speech in the booming and insistent voice for which Cuomo was well known,” political historian Michael Cohen wrote in his history of great campaign speeches, noting that even conservative icon Barry Goldwater thought it was “one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard.”

best political speeches of 2022

(J. Scott Applewhite | AP, File)

George H.W. Bush’s “1,000 Points of Light”—and His Lips, 1988

After eight years as Ronald Reagan’s number two, Vice President George H. W. Bush was one of the best known figures in American politics but he was indistinct, the sheriff’s deputy rather than a leader in his own right.

An acceptance address, says Jeff Shesol, a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton, requires “some kind of unity between your story and America’s story. It is very much about positing yourself as the man of the moment.” In New Orleans Bush did that effectively. “People don’t see their experience as symbolic of an era—but of course we were,” Bush told the crowd, recounting his postwar experience as a Texas oilman.”

But while he was trying to carve out his own political identity, he had enlisted Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan. During the summer of 1988, he sent her thoughts and notes for the big address. One was a list of words that had special meaning for him, including “kindness,” “caring,” and “decency.” She wrote in a draft that he wanted a “kinder nation” and Bush himself added “gentler.”

Some of Bush’s top aides fought that phrase (they weren’t alone: first lady Nancy Reagan reportedly commented, “kinder and gentler than whom?”) as well as a passage describing American civic organizations as “a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.” It was, Noonan later wrote, her favorite line of the speech, though she bemoaned that “people around Bush” weakened it by “shoehorning in groups that were, well, interest groups” into the paragraph.

Along with those lines Bush’s admonition to congressional Democrats to “read my lips: no new taxes” are better remembered than virtually any utterance he made as president. Of course, the memory of the taxes line ultimately blew back on Bush four years later in the wake of his 1990 agreement to raise taxes.

best political speeches of 2022

Ron Edmonds | AP Photo

Pat Buchanan’s “Cultural War,” 1992

Pat Buchanan’s longshot presidential bid had given incumbent Bush the political equivalent of a near death experience in the New Hampshire primary (where Buchanan won 38 percent of the vote). And while his speech at the 1992 convention in Houston was a much stronger embrace of the president (whom he called an “American patriot and war hero”) than Reagan’s in 1976 or Kennedy’s in 1980, that proved to be a problem in and of itself. Buchanan thundered against the Democrats as a party of “unrestricted abortion on demand” intent on “tearing down America” and on the wrong side of a “religious war going on in this country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war … And in that struggle for the soul of America, Clinton and Clinton are on the other side and George Bush is on our side,” he said referring not only to Democratic nominee Bill Clinton, but his to wife Hillary.”

“This was the type of political attack that had rarely before appeared in 20th century political oratory,” Michael Cohen wrote in Live From the Campaign Trail and, in concert with similar pronouncements from convention podium (televangelist Pat Robertson called the Democrats an “insidious plague” on the nation) it ended up far overshadowing what Bush said.

Buchanan has long disputed the idea that his speech helped drag Bush down. He points to polling data showing Bush got a boost after the night when Buchanan spoke. But while that night may have given the incumbent a boost, it also set the tenor for a gathering that seemed militantly out of touch. At a time when most Americans were worried about a soft economy, a declaration of a culture war seemed incongruous and discordant and Buchanan became the lingering face of that cumulative disconnect.

best political speeches of 2022

Barack Obama’s "One America," 2004

When state Sen. Barack Obama learned he would give the keynote at the 2004 Democratic convention, he knew very quickly what he wanted to do. “Almost immediately, he said to me, ‘I know what I want to do—I want to talk about my story as part of the American story.’ He had a very clear concept in his head,” aide David Axelrod later told Chicago magazine. Obama wrote it on a yellow legal pad in snatches of free time—sometimes ducking into the men’s room to get some quiet—while legislating in Springfield, Ill. Other challenges included learning to read a speech from a Teleprompter.

In both speech, and delivery, however, Obama rose to the occasion in a way that stunned and captivated the nation.”

“Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us—the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of ‘anything goes,’” he said. “Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America—there is the United States of America.” He continued about how “we worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states.”

While he originally had a passage about all Americans standing together for the red, white, and blue, convention speechwriters took it out because Democratic nominee John Kerry had a similar line in his address, according to Chicago, prompting Obama to complain that the nominee—he used an earthier term—“is trying to steal a line from my speech.”

In the end the line was not missed. “On Tuesday, at about 9 p.m., Barack Obama was an Illinois state legislator running for the Senate,” The New York Times wrote days later. “A half-hour later … he was the party’s hot ticket. Pundits even predicted he would be the first black president.”

best political speeches of 2022

(Lynne Sladky | AP)

Clint Eastwood's Empty Chair, 2012

Some might argue that actor Clint Eastwood's surprise appearance at the GOP convention wasn't a speech so much as a "performance"—to use the word favored by Republican nominee Mitt Romney's spin team—or a train wreck, as virtually every political commentator put it. Either way it became an instant classic, if for the wrong reasons.

Eastwood had made a surprise endorsement of Romney at a Sun Valley, Idaho fundraiser in early August, giving a "powerful and typically gruff/charming performance," according to Time's Mark Halperin. Romney campaign officials thought that having him appear at the convention as a surprise guest could bring some spontaneity to the highly scripted event. They gave him a five minute time slot at the top of the TV networks' hour of coverage and some talking points but, inexplicably, "did not conduct rehearsals or insist on a script or communicate guidelines for the style or format of his remarks," the New York Times reported. Shortly before going on, the actor asked to have a chair onstage with him; no one apparently thought to ask why.

Convention attendees gave him warm applause throughout, but his rambling, mumbled remarks, mostly directed at the empty chair, which was supposed to represent President Obama, prompted the Internet to light up with puzzlement and scorn. "What do you mean, shut up?" Eastwood asked the Obama only he could see and hear. And then later: "What do you want me to tell Romney? I can't tell him to do that—can't do that to himself. You're crazy. You're absolutely crazy."

By the time Eastwood was finished, he had—ignoring the blinking red light signaling that he was over his limit—stretched his five minutes into 12, spawned an Internet meme, "Eastwooding," and earned himself an unwanted place in convention history.

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The best, worst, and just plain dumb of American politics in 2022

From dinner with Kanye West to orating about werewolves, 2022 was strange.

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best political speeches of 2022

From the State of the Union to the midterm elections , Vox’s politics team has noted many political winners and losers throughout 2022.

With the year almost in the rearview, we want to take a moment to single out some of the most noteworthy achievements by current and aspiring public servants, and revisit some of their biggest flops and failures. Here are the best, worst, and weirdest political moments and phenomena of the year.

Worst dinner

One of the more recent innovations in holiday celebrations is “Friendsgiving,” wherein millennials have a Thanksgiving-style dinner with their friends in advance of the holiday, which they celebrate with their family. The day before Thanksgiving, former President Donald Trump partook in something like this at Mar-a-Lago, his private Florida club: He had a Thanksgiving-style dinner with two prominent antisemites, rapper Kanye West and white supremacist Nick Fuentes.

The meal was apparently good enough that West had a second helping of the stuffing , but it produced a lot of tough headlines for Trump to digest. It came only weeks after Trump-backed candidates had disappointing results in the midterm elections and shortly after he announced his third presidential bid in a desultory speech at Mar-a-Lago. The news of the dinner leaking out only made things worse for Trump.

The former president equivocated for days about having dined with the two but could not bring himself to condemn them (he denied even knowing who Fuentes was). In the meantime, West and Fuentes gloried in the attention and afterward went on an alt-right media tour together, where West repeatedly praised Adolf Hitler .

Most deliberate political martyrdom

Liz Cheney set her political career on fire this year and never seemed to bat an eye. The Wyoming Republican made herself the face of the January 6 committee and burned every last bridge she had to the Republican Party. Cheney’s continued ardent opposition to Trump after January 6 led to her eventual removal as the No. 3 Republican in the House, and her decision to join the committee made her a virtual pariah within the House Republican Conference. Cheney didn’t mind. She lost her primary in a landslide, without even really trying to win .

Instead, she became a guided missile, pointed directly at Donald Trump and the MAGA wing of the Republican Party. She even endorsed select Democrats in the 2022 midterms. Like Samson, she was fine bringing the temple down on her head as long as it took down Trump and his acolytes as well.

best political speeches of 2022

Cheney will never be completely irrelevant in American politics. Her last name, her former position as the No. 3 House Republican, and her transformation into the GOP’s most ardent Trump opponent after January 6 ensure that. But, barring any Sunday show greenrooms being admitted as states by Congress, her electoral career is over for the foreseeable future.

Worst political speech

There were a lot of reasons that Herschel Walker lost his Senate race to incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock this year. Pundits could point to the fact that he ran a flawed campaign while Warnock ran a good one. They could also point out the plethora of scandals swirling around Walker’s personal life, including what seemed to be a regularly increasing number of children he fathered and a regularly increasing number of times he allegedly paid for a partner’s abortion. There were also fresh allegations of domestic violence, in addition to those he chronicled in a memoir that described his struggles with mental illness.

In comparison to these, his oratory wasn’t his biggest issue. But Walker encapsulated all his political challenges in a speech he gave in November during the Senate runoff, where he discussed the various merits of vampires versus those of werewolves in combat.

The Republican Senate hopeful and former college football star proclaimed to a crowd, “I don’t know if you know, but vampires are some cool people, are they not? But let me tell you something that I found out: A werewolf can kill a vampire. Did you know that? I never knew that.”

Walker continued, “So I don’t want to be a vampire anymore. I want to be a werewolf.”

The clip was used in a closing ad by Warnock , mocked by Barack Obama when he stumped in the Peach State, and became a lasting part of Walker’s political legacy.

Best rap video

Linda Paulson, an octogenarian running for state Senate in Utah, went viral for releasing a campaign video of herself rapping — or at least performing something vaguely resembling hip-hop — in September. Paulson was running as a Republican against an incumbent Democrat in suburban Salt Lake City. She lost by 15 percent but at least got a lot more attention than most losing state legislative candidates do.

Most bizarre sex scandal

An ISIS bride falling for a backbench member of Congress wouldn’t make a good romantic comedy. It did, however, make an interesting political story this year.

best political speeches of 2022

Van Taylor was a two-term Republican from the Dallas suburbs with a pedigree that was seemingly perfect for an establishment Republican: two degrees from Harvard and one tour in Iraq as an officer in the Marines. However, despite a strong conservative voting record, Taylor faced a primary challenge for heresies such as voting to uphold the 2020 election and to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate January 6.

Taylor looked like he was going to edge through the primary — where a candidate needed 50 percent to avoid a runoff — until only two days before, when a fringe far-right website published allegations that Taylor had had an extramarital affair with Tania Joya, a woman who was previously known for being the widow of a prominent member of ISIS and received ample coverage in British tabloids as an “ISIS Bride.” She eventually fled the Islamic State and moved to Texas, where she met Taylor and an affair ensued.

As a result of the allegations, which had been stoked by one of his opponents, Taylor finished just shy of the 50 percent mark needed to avoid a runoff and two days later dropped out of the race after publicly confessing to the affair. The result essentially handed his congressional seat to Keith Self, who finished a distant second place in the primary.

Most bizarre food scandal

New York Mayor Eric Adams has long touted a vegan diet, which he claimed has had innumerable health benefits for him, including reversing blindness in one eye brought on by diabetes. It was something he repeatedly talked up during his 2021 mayoral campaign and even wrote a book about.

It turned out Adams wasn’t actually a vegan — he was eating fish quite frequently. Although a spokesperson for the New York mayor originally lied and claimed that Adams never touched seafood, eventually Adams confessed and admitted his private pescetarianism.

Best work-life balance

Democratic Congress member Kai Kahele had a very long commute from his home in Hawaii to the Capitol in Washington, DC, but he made it much easier by simply not showing up.

The first-term Hawaii Democrat stopped showing up for work in late 2021 and used proxy voting instead of going to the Capitol. As Civil Beat reported at the time , in the first few months of 2022, he only cast five in-person votes as he explored a gubernatorial bid. Kahele eventually decided to run and lost in a blowout . In the meantime, his concentration on his gubernatorial campaign prompted a House Ethics Committee investigation into whether he misused official resources for his campaign.

Most bizarre corruption scandal

The late Baltimore businessman Russell “Stringer” Bell once famously expressed shock that a colleague was “taking notes on a criminal conspiracy.” Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL) didn’t just take notes on a criminal conspiracy. She entered into a formal contract to do so.

Marie Newman smiles.

Newman promised a job to a political rival during her 2020 primary campaign against incumbent Democrat Dan Lipinski so that he would not run against her and split the anti-Lipinski vote. She entered into a contract with Iymen Chehade in which she promised to hire him and pay him a six-figure salary to be a “foreign policy advisor” in exchange for him not running against her. During the negotiations, she also agreed to take anti-Israel positions at Chehade’s behest, although that language was not written into the final contract. After she beat Lipinski, she didn’t hire Chehade, so he sued her.

Newman defended herself by citing an opinion from the House general counsel that the contract was unenforceable because it was “contrary to public policy.” Eventually a settlement was reached, and Chehade appeared on her campaign payroll with the title of “foreign policy advisor.” The effort was nonetheless referred to the Office of Congressional Ethics, which found in its investigation “substantial reason to believe that Rep. Newman may have promised federal employment to a primary opponent for the purpose of procuring political support.”

The entire imbroglio has sparked an ongoing investigation by the House Ethics Committee. However, the investigation won’t continue into 2023. After all that, Newman suffered a blowout defeat to Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL) after the two were redistricted together.

Best alliterative fish advocacy

In both her win in Alaska’s September special election for Congress and in the November election that followed, Mary Peltola had a lot of luck winning as a Democrat in the Last Frontier.

Peltola benefited from the state’s ranked choice voting system as well as a divided Republican field with both former reality television star Sarah Palin and businessman Nick Begich running against her.

But she also had one key advantage: fish. Peltola ran on a three-pronged platform of “Fish, Family, and Freedom” and made her advocacy for Alaska’s salmon fisheries one of the bases of her campaign. It worked, and Peltola will represent the most pro-Trump district (according to the 2020 election results) of any Democrat in the next Congress.

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Best Oscar Speeches of 2022

The moments that were speechy keen.

The 2022 Academy Awards had a little of everything: comedy, drama, action – and that was during the live portion of the ceremony itself. It was a welcome return to a hosted event, the three and a half hours didn’t feel like three and a half hours, and, overall, it was one of the best Oscar telecasts in some time. There were a few quirks: playing ‘ Africa’ by Toto when Daniel Kaluuya and H.E.R. came out to present was an odd choice, to put it politely. However, as a celebration of film and the casts and crews of the year’s nominations, it succeeded, with acceptance speeches that were inspirational, joyful, and simply great. Here’s the best of the night.

RELATED: 10 Great Actors Who Have Never Been Nominated For An Oscar

Opening Monologue: Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes, Regina Hall

After the success of a no-host format in 2020, and the lackluster no-host format of 2021, 2022 opted for not one but three hosts: Amy Schumer , Wanda Sykes , and Regina Hall . And it worked. Their opening monologue was practically flawless: truly witty, playful digs at the honored films, and thinly veiled shots at the industry (and a great one at Florida). The best quips: “This year the Academy hired three women to host, because it’s cheaper than one man.”; how tough Covid has been on people, with Timothee Chalamet looking particularly rough (cue shot of J.K. Simmons ); "This is kind of sad. You know what's in the in memoriam package this year? The Golden Globes."; “After years of Hollywood ignoring women’s stories, we finally got a movie about the Williams sisters’... dad.”

Best Supporting Actress: Ariana DeBose (West Side Story)

The first award of the evening would present one of the best speeches of the night. Ariana DeBose was inspirational, a proudly queer woman of color expressing her gratitude for finding a home in the arts. You believed her when she said that dreams do come true in America.

Best Cinematography: Greig Fraser (Dune)

It wasn't stirring, but it was genuine, and sweet. Greig Fraser started by expressing his appreciation that the award was early in the show, so he could "get out and get to the bar." A promise to his mum that he'd return her call, and a thank you to his wife and kids for letting him play in sand dunes with his friends for six months.

Best Animated Feature: Byron Howard, Jared Bush, Yvett Merino and Clark Spencer (Encanto)

Acknowledging the diversity of the characters in their film, and how all people could find someone they could relate to, was nice, and true. What set this speech apart, though, was how all four people respected each other enough to give equal time for them to thank their families, when most group winners have one or two that speak for everyone.

Best Supporting Actor: Troy Kotsur (CODA)

A historical win, a moment that was special before Troy Kotsur even got onstage, with attendees waving their hands, the ASL equivalent of clapping, a moving show of respect. Kotsur then owned his moment. Overcome at first, he collected himself, and delivered a speech that was funny (a recount of a trip to the White House where he claimed Marlee Matlin wouldn't allow him to teach the President dirty words in ASL, and a call for Popeye sailors to eat their spinach) and moving (talking about how his dad was his hero).

Best Costume Design: Jenny Beavan (Cruella)

The best word here is humble . Jenny Beavan was thankful, gave a shout-out to the makeup and hair design team, calling them an invaluable part of the costume design process, and shared, "I think Emma Thompson hyperventilating over some of her fittings with joy was one of the highlights of my career." She then left the stage with the instantly quotable, "The great thing about a film like Cruella is that it does give a bit of fun and joy in these terrible times."

Best Adapted Screenplay: Sian Heder (CODA)

The first great self-deprecating shot at their choice in fashion for the evening: "I'm so glad I dressed as a disco ball." Sian Heder 's speech painted her as real, truly emotional and deeply humbled.

Best Film Editing: Joe Walker (Dune)

The speech was instantly relatable for anyone raising a teenager. Joe Walker 's deliver of, “You may not know, that ‘Oscar nominated,’ in the words of a skilled 17-year-old, can be used as an insult.” was one of the funniest and eerily most accurate statements of the night.

Best Original Song: Billie Eilish/Finneas O'Connell (No Time To Die)

Was it a great speech? No, but it was so refreshing to hear unpolished and real reactions from the brother and sister duo. Giggly, multiple "OMG"'s, Billie and Finneas were fun to watch, and the "we love you as parents, and as real people too" was endearingly sweet and funny.

Best Director Introduction: Kevin Costner

Jane Campion 's win was historic, but it would be the introduction speech by Kevin Costner that would be most memorable. Costner was riveting. He had the auditorium, and the viewing public, silenced as he delivered the tale of the impact that films, and those that directed them, had on him as a young man, and how that respect stayed with him. It was an actor elevating what he was given into something more than a traditional segue into, "and the winner is."

Best Actress: Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye)

Jessica Chastain delivered a powerful speech herself. What started as the typical thanks to cast, crew, and family, Chastain would double-down on Smith's call to be loving with a call to rise above hate and division, to help those feeling suicidal, those feeling cast aside because of their sexuality or gender. Her message to those hopeless and alone that "you are unconditionally loved, and loved for the uniqueness of being you" could have been trite, a bumper sticker philosophy, but instead it came across as personal, passionate, and sincere.

R heto r ical L iterac y : 50 Important Speeches in 21st Century America

To the World Forum on the Future of Democracy

Speech Marking African-American History Month

Commencement Address at Knox College

"A More Perfect Union"

Ryne Sandberg

Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Address

© Copyright 2001-2023. American Rhetoric by Michael E. Eidenmuller All rights reserved.

best political speeches of 2022

What are your best speeches of 2022?

My annual 'speakolies' radio segment is on the grapevine on triple r at 11.15am on monday. i know this is my job, but will you do it for me 😊 what are your 2022 faves.

best political speeches of 2022

I do speech compilation lists every year and it’s that time of year. Here are some previous ones:

19 Best speeches of 2019

25 Best speeches of 2020

Best speeches of 2021

It’s always a scramble to try to find the pick of the bunch. And I’m a one person curating outfit! So many slip under my gaze, and I love it when people find hidden gems. Help us out!

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40 famous persuasive speeches you need to hear.

best political speeches of 2022

Written by Kai Xin Koh

famous persuasive speeches highspark cover image

Across eras of calamity and peace in our world’s history, a great many leaders, writers, politicians, theorists, scientists, activists and other revolutionaries have unveiled powerful rousing speeches in their bids for change. In reviewing the plethora of orators across tides of social, political and economic change, we found some truly rousing speeches that brought the world to their feet or to a startling, necessary halt. We’ve chosen 40 of the most impactful speeches we managed to find from agents of change all over the world – a diversity of political campaigns, genders, positionalities and periods of history. You’re sure to find at least a few speeches in this list which will capture you with the sheer power of their words and meaning!

1. I have a dream by MLK

“I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification – one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father’s died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!”

Unsurprisingly, Martin Luther King’s speech comes up top as the most inspiring speech of all time, especially given the harrowing conditions of African Americans in America at the time. In the post-abolition era when slavery was outlawed constitutionally, African Americans experienced an intense period of backlash from white supremacists who supported slavery where various institutional means were sought to subordinate African American people to positions similar to that of the slavery era. This later came to be known as the times of Jim Crow and segregation, which Martin Luther King powerfully voiced his vision for a day when racial discrimination would be a mere figment, where equality would reign.

2. Tilbury Speech by Queen Elizabeth I

“My loving people, We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you on a word of a prince, they shall be duly paid. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over these enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.”

While at war with Spain, Queen Elizabeth I was most renowned for her noble speech rallying the English troops against their comparatively formidable opponent. Using brilliant rhetorical devices like metonymy, meronymy, and other potent metaphors, she voiced her deeply-held commitment as a leader to the battle against the Spanish Armada – convincing the English army to keep holding their ground and upholding the sacrifice of war for the good of their people. Eventually against all odds, she led England to victory despite their underdog status in the conflict with her confident and masterful oratory.

3. Woodrow Wilson, address to Congress (April 2, 1917)

“The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them. Just because we fight without rancor and without selfish object, seeking nothing for ourselves but what we shall wish to share with all free peoples, we shall, I feel confident, conduct our operations as belligerents without passion and ourselves observe with proud punctilio the principles of right and of fair play we profess to be fighting for. … It will be all the easier for us to conduct ourselves as belligerents in a high spirit of right and fairness because we act without animus, not in enmity toward a people or with the desire to bring any injury or disadvantage upon them, but only in armed opposition to an irresponsible government which has thrown aside all considerations of humanity and of right and is running amuck. We are, let me say again, the sincere friends of the German people, and shall desire nothing so much as the early reestablishment of intimate relations of mutual advantage between us—however hard it may be for them, for the time being, to believe that this is spoken from our hearts. We have borne with their present government through all these bitter months because of that friendship—exercising a patience and forbearance which would otherwise have been impossible. We shall, happily, still have an opportunity to prove that friendship in our daily attitude and actions toward the millions of men and women of German birth and native sympathy who live among us and share our life, and we shall be proud to prove it toward all who are in fact loyal to their neighbors and to the government in the hour of test. They are, most of them, as true and loyal Americans as if they had never known any other fealty or allegiance. They will be prompt to stand with us in rebuking and restraining the few who may be of a different mind and purpose. If there should be disloyalty, it will be dealt with with a firm hand of stern repression; but, if it lifts its head at all, it will lift it only here and there and without countenance except from a lawless and malignant few. It is a distressing and oppressive duty, gentlemen of the Congress, which I have performed in thus addressing you. There are, it may be, many months of fiery trial and sacrifice ahead of us. It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts—for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free. To such a task we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything that we are and everything that we have, with the pride of those who know that the day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured. God helping her, she can do no other.”

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson of the USA delivered his address to Congress, calling for declaration of war against what was at the time, a belligerent and aggressive Germany in WWI. Despite his isolationism and anti-war position earlier in his tenure as president, he convinced Congress that America had a moral duty to the world to step out of their neutral observer status into an active role of world leadership and stewardship in order to liberate attacked nations from their German aggressors. The idealistic values he preached in his speech left an indelible imprint upon the American spirit and self-conception, forming the moral basis for the country’s people and aspirational visions to this very day.

4. Ain’t I A Woman by Sojourner Truth

“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman? … If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”

Hailing from a background of slavery and oppression, Sojourner Truth was one of the most revolutionary advocates for women’s human rights in the 1800s. In spite of the New York Anti-Slavery Law of 1827, her slavemaster refused to free her. As such, she fled, became an itinerant preacher and leading figure in the anti-slavery movement. By the 1850s, she became involved in the women’s rights movement as well. At the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention held in Akron, Ohio, she delivered her illuminating, forceful speech against discrimination of women and African Americans in the post-Civil War era, entrenching her status as one of the most revolutionary abolitionists and women’s rights activists across history.

5. The Gettsyburg Address by Abraham Lincoln

“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

President Abraham Lincoln had left the most lasting legacy upon American history for good reason, as one of the presidents with the moral courage to denounce slavery for the national atrocity it was. However, more difficult than standing up for the anti-slavery cause was the task of unifying the country post-abolition despite the looming shadows of a time when white Americans could own and subjugate slaves with impunity over the thousands of Americans who stood for liberation of African Americans from discrimination. He urged Americans to remember their common roots, heritage and the importance of “charity for all”, to ensure a “just and lasting peace” among within the country despite throes of racial division and self-determination.

6. Woman’s Rights to the Suffrage by Susan B Anthony

“For any State to make sex a qualification that must ever result in the disfranchisement of one entire half of the people is to pass a bill of attainder, or an ex post facto law, and is therefore a violation of the supreme law of the land. By it the blessings of liberty are for ever withheld from women and their female posterity. To them this government has no just powers derived from the consent of the governed. To them this government is not a democracy. It is not a republic. It is an odious aristocracy; a hateful oligarchy of sex; the most hateful aristocracy ever established on the face of the globe; an oligarchy of wealth, where the right govern the poor. An oligarchy of learning, where the educated govern the ignorant, or even an oligarchy of race, where the Saxon rules the African, might be endured; but this oligarchy of sex, which makes father, brothers, husband, sons, the oligarchs over the mother and sisters, the wife and daughters of every household–which ordains all men sovereigns, all women subjects, carries dissension, discord and rebellion into every home of the nation. Webster, Worcester and Bouvier all define a citizen to be a person in the United States, entitled to vote and hold office. The only question left to be settled now is: Are women persons? And I hardly believe any of our opponents will have the hardihood to say they are not. Being persons, then, women are citizens; and no State has a right to make any law, or to enforce any old law, that shall abridge their privileges or immunities. Hence, every discrimination against women in the constitutions and laws of the several States is today null and void, precisely as in every one against Negroes.”

Susan B. Anthony was a pivotal leader in the women’s suffrage movement who helped to found the National Woman Suffrage Association with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and fight for the constitutional right for women to vote. She courageously and relentlessly advocated for women’s rights, giving speeches all over the USA to convince people of women’s human rights to choice and the ballot. She is most well known for her act of righteous rebellion in 1872 when she voted in the presidential election illegally, for which she was arrested and tried unsuccessfully. She refused to pay the $100 fine in a bid to reject the demands of the American system she denounced as a ‘hateful oligarchy of sex’, sparking change with her righteous oratory and inspiring many others in the women’s suffrage movement within and beyond America.

7. Vladimir Lenin’s Speech at an International Meeting in Berne, February 8, 1916

“It may sound incredible, especially to Swiss comrades, but it is nevertheless true that in Russia, also, not only bloody tsarism, not only the capitalists, but also a section of the so-called or ex-Socialists say that Russia is fighting a “war of defence,” that Russia is only fighting against German invasion. The whole world knows, however, that for decades tsarism has been oppressing more than a hundred million people belonging to other nationalities in Russia; that for decades Russia has been pursuing a predatory policy towards China, Persia, Armenia and Galicia. Neither Russia, nor Germany, nor any other Great Power has the right to claim that it is waging a “war of defence”; all the Great Powers are waging an imperialist, capitalist war, a predatory war, a war for the oppression of small and foreign nations, a war for the sake of the profits of the capitalists, who are coining golden profits amounting to billions out of the appalling sufferings of the masses, out of the blood of the proletariat. … This again shows you, comrades, that in all countries of the world real preparations are being made to rally the forces of the working class. The horrors of war and the sufferings of the people are incredible. But we must not, and we have no reason whatever, to view the future with despair. The millions of victims who will fall in the war, and as a consequence of the war, will not fall in vain. The millions who are starving, the millions who are sacrificing their lives in the trenches, are not only suffering, they are also gathering strength, are pondering over the real cause of the war, are becoming more determined and are acquiring a clearer revolutionary understanding. Rising discontent of the masses, growing ferment, strikes, demonstrations, protests against the war—all this is taking place in all countries of the world. And this is the guarantee that the European War will be followed by the proletarian revolution against capitalism”

Vladimir Lenin remains to this day one of the most lauded communist revolutionaries in the world who brought the dangers of imperialism and capitalism to light with his rousing speeches condemning capitalist structures of power which inevitably enslave people to lives of misery and class stratification. In his genuine passion for the rights of the working class, he urged fellow comrades to turn the “imperialist war” into a “civil” or class war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. He encouraged the development of new revolutionary socialist organisations, solidarity across places in society so people could unite against their capitalist overlords, and criticised nationalism for its divisive effect on the socialist movement. In this speech especially, he lambasts “bloody Tsarism” for its oppression of millions of people of other nationalities in Russia, calling for the working class people to revolt against the Tsarist authority for the proletariat revolution to succeed and liberate them from class oppression.

8. I Have A Dream Speech by Mary Wollstonecraft

“If, I say, for I would not impress by declamation when Reason offers her sober light, if they be really capable of acting like rational creatures, let them not be treated like slaves; or, like the brutes who are dependent on the reason of man, when they associate with him; but cultivate their minds, give them the salutary, sublime curb of principle, and let them attain conscious dignity by feeling themselves only dependent on God. Teach them, in common with man, to submit to necessity, instead of giving, to render them more pleasing, a sex to morals. Further, should experience prove that they cannot attain the same degree of strength of mind, perseverance, and fortitude, let their virtues be the same in kind, though they may vainly struggle for the same degree; and the superiority of man will be equally clear, if not clearer; and truth, as it is a simple principle, which admits of no modification, would be common to both. Nay, the order of society as it is at present regulated would not be inverted, for woman would then only have the rank that reason assigned her, and arts could not be practised to bring the balance even, much less to turn it.”

In her vindication of the rights of women, Mary Wollstonecraft was one of the pioneers of the feminist movement back in 1792 who not only theorised and advocated revolutionarily, but gave speeches that voiced these challenges against a dominantly sexist society intent on classifying women as irrational less-than-human creatures to be enslaved as they were. In this landmark speech, she pronounces her ‘dream’ of a day when women would be treated as the rational, deserving humans they are, who are equal to man in strength and capability. With this speech setting an effective precedent for her call to equalize women before the law, she also went on to champion the provision of equal educational opportunities to women and girls, and persuasively argued against the patriarchal gender norms which prevented women from finding their own lot in life through their being locked into traditional institutions of marriage and motherhood against their will.

9. First Inaugural Speech by Franklin D Roosevelt

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days. … More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment. Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. There are many ways in which it can be helped, but it can never be helped merely by talking about it. We must act and act quickly. … I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken Nation in the midst of a stricken world may require. These measures, or such other measures as the Congress may build out of its experience and wisdom, I shall seek, within my constitutional authority, to bring to speedy adoption. But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis — broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.”

Roosevelt’s famous inaugural speech was delivered in the midst of a period of immense tension and strain under the Great Depression, where he highlighted the need for ‘quick action’ by Congress to prepare for government expansion in his pursuit of reforms to lift the American people out of devastating poverty. In a landslide victory, he certainly consolidated the hopes and will of the American people through this compelling speech.

10. The Hypocrisy of American Slavery by Frederick Douglass

“What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mock; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour. Go search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.”

On 4 July 1852, Frederick Douglass gave this speech in Rochester, New York, highlighting the hypocrisy of celebrating freedom while slavery continues. He exposed the ‘revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy’ of slavery which had gone unabolished amidst the comparatively obscene celebration of independence and liberty with his potent speech and passion for the anti-abolition cause. After escaping from slavery, he went on to become a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York with his oratory and incisive antislavery writings. To this day, his fierce activism and devotion to exposing virulent racism for what it was has left a lasting legacy upon pro-Black social movements and the overall sociopolitical landscape of America.

11. Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

“You may write me down in history With your bitter, twisted lies, You may trod me in the very dirt But still, like dust, I’ll rise. Does my sassiness upset you? Why are you beset with gloom? ’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells Pumping in my living room. Just like moons and like suns, With the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I’ll rise. Did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eyes? Shoulders falling down like teardrops, Weakened by my soulful cries? Does my haughtiness offend you? Don’t you take it awful hard ’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines Diggin’ in my own backyard. You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise. Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise That I dance like I’ve got diamonds At the meeting of my thighs? Out of the huts of history’s shame I rise Up from a past that’s rooted in pain I rise I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide, Welling and swelling I bear in the tide. Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear I rise Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise I rise I rise.”

With her iconic poem Still I Rise , Maya Angelou is well-known for uplifting fellow African American women through her empowering novels and poetry and her work as a civil rights activist. Every bit as lyrical on the page, her recitation of Still I Rise continues to give poetry audiences shivers all over the world, inspiring women of colour everywhere to keep the good faith in striving for equality and peace, while radically believing in and empowering themselves to be agents of change. A dramatic reading of the poem will easily showcase the self-belief, strength and punch that it packs in the last stanza on the power of resisting marginalization.

12. Their Finest Hour by Winston Churchill

“What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.””

In the darkest shadows cast by war, few leaders have been able to step up to the mantle and effectively unify millions of citizens for truly sacrificial causes. Winston Churchill was the extraordinary exception – lifting 1940 Britain out of the darkness with his hopeful, convicted rhetoric to galvanise the English amidst bleak, dreary days of war and loss. Through Britain’s standalone position in WWII against the Nazis, he left his legacy by unifying the nation under shared sacrifices of the army and commemorating their courage.

13. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

“Life for both sexes – and I looked at them (through a restaurant window while waiting for my lunch to be served), shouldering their way along the pavement – is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself. By feeling that one has some innate superiority – it may be wealth, or rank, a straight nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney – for there is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination – over other people. Hence the enormous importance to a patriarch who has to conquer, who has to rule, of feeling that great numbers of people, half the human race indeed, are by nature inferior to himself. It must indeed be one of the great sources of his power….Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size. Without that power probably the earth would still be swamp and jungle. The glories of all our wars would be on the remains of mutton bones and bartering flints for sheepskins or whatever simple ornament took our unsophisticated taste. Supermen and Fingers of Destiny would never have existed. The Czar and the Kaiser would never have worn their crowns or lost them. Whatever may be their use in civilised societies, mirrors are essential to all violent and heroic action. That is why Napoleon and Mussolini both insist so emphatically upon the inferiority of women, for if they were not inferior, they would cease to enlarge. That serves to explain in part the necessity that women so often are to men. And it serves to explain how restless they are under her criticism; how impossible it is for her to say to them this book is bad, this picture is feeble, or whatever it may be, without giving far more pain and rousing far more anger than a man would do who gave the same criticism. For if she begins to tell the truth, the figure in the looking-glass shrinks; his fitness in life is diminished. How is he to go on giving judgment, civilising natives, making laws, writing books, dressing up and speechifying at banquets, unless he can see himself at breakfast and at dinner at least twice the size he really is?”

In this transformational speech , Virginia Woolf pronounces her vision that ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’. She calls out the years in which women have been deprived of their own space for individual development through being chained to traditional arrangements or men’s prescriptions – demanding ‘gigantic courage’ and ‘confidence in oneself’ to brave through the onerous struggle of creating change for women’s rights. With her steadfast, stolid rhetoric and radical theorization, she paved the way for many women’s rights activists and writers to forge their own paths against patriarchal authority.

14. Inaugural Address by John F Kennedy

“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility–I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it–and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

For what is probably the most historically groundbreaking use of parallelism in speech across American history, President JFK placed the weighty task of ‘asking what one can do for their country’ onto the shoulders of each American citizen. Using an air of firmness in his rhetoric by declaring his commitment to his countrymen, he urges each American to do the same for the broader, noble ideal of freedom for all. With his crucial interrogation of a citizen’s moral duty to his nation, President JFK truly made history.

15. Atoms for Peace Speech by Dwight Eisenhower

“To pause there would be to confirm the hopeless finality of a belief that two atomic colossi are doomed malevolently to eye each other indefinitely across a trembling world. To stop there would be to accept helplessly the probability of civilization destroyed, the annihilation of the irreplaceable heritage of mankind handed down to us from generation to generation, and the condemnation of mankind to begin all over again the age-old struggle upward from savagery towards decency, and right, and justice. Surely no sane member of the human race could discover victory in such desolation. Could anyone wish his name to be coupled by history with such human degradation and destruction?Occasional pages of history do record the faces of the “great destroyers”, but the whole book of history reveals mankind’s never-ending quest for peace and mankind’s God-given capacity to build. It is with the book of history, and not with isolated pages, that the United States will ever wish to be identified. My country wants to be constructive,not destructive. It wants agreements, not wars, among nations. It wants itself to live in freedom and in the confidence that the peoples of every other nation enjoy equally the right of choosing their own way of life. So my country’s purpose is to help us to move out of the dark chamber of horrors into the light, to find a way by which the minds of men, the hopes of men, the souls of men everywhere, can move forward towards peace and happiness and well-being.”

On a possibility as frightful and tense as nuclear war, President Eisenhower managed to convey the gravity of the world’s plight in his measured and persuasive speech centred on the greater good of mankind. Using rhetorical devices such as the three-part paratactical syntax which most world leaders are fond of for ingraining their words in the minds of their audience, he centers the discourse of the atomic bomb on those affected by such a world-changing decision in ‘the minds, hopes and souls of men everywhere’ – effectively putting the vivid image of millions of people’s fates at stake in the minds of his audience. Being able to make a topic as heavy and fraught with moral conflict as this as eloquent as he did, Eisenhower definitely ranks among some of the most skilled orators to date.

16. The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action by Audre Lorde

“I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences. What are the words you do not have yet? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am a woman, because I am black, because I am myself, a black woman warrior poet doing my work, come to ask you, are you doing yours?”

Revolutionary writer, feminist and civil rights activist Audre Lorde first delivered this phenomenal speech at Lesbian and Literature panel of the Modern Language Association’s December 28, 1977 meeting, which went on to feature permanently in her writings for its sheer wisdom and truth. Her powerful writing and speech about living on the margins of society has enlightened millions of people discriminated across various intersections, confronting them with the reality that they must speak – since their ‘silence will not protect’ them from further marginalization. Through her illuminating words and oratory, she has reminded marginalized persons of the importance of their selfhood and the radical capacity for change they have in a world blighted by prejudice and division.

17. 1965 Cambridge Union Hall Speech by James Baldwin

“What is dangerous here is the turning away from – the turning away from – anything any white American says. The reason for the political hesitation, in spite of the Johnson landslide is that one has been betrayed by American politicians for so long. And I am a grown man and perhaps I can be reasoned with. I certainly hope I can be. But I don’t know, and neither does Martin Luther King, none of us know how to deal with those other people whom the white world has so long ignored, who don’t believe anything the white world says and don’t entirely believe anything I or Martin is saying. And one can’t blame them. You watch what has happened to them in less than twenty years.”

Baldwin’s invitation to the Cambridge Union Hall is best remembered for foregrounding the unflinching differences in white and African Americans’ ‘system of reality’ in everyday life. Raising uncomfortable truths about the insidious nature of racism post-civil war, he provides several nuggets of thought-provoking wisdom on the state of relations between the oppressed and their oppressors, and what is necessary to mediate such relations and destroy the exploitative thread of racist hatred. With great frankness, he admits to not having all the answers but provides hard-hitting wisdom on engagement to guide activists through confounding times nonetheless.

18. I Am Prepared to Die by Nelson Mandela

“Above all, My Lord, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy. But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs as it certainly must, it will not change that policy. This then is what the ANC is fighting. Our struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by our own suffering and our own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live. During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Apartheid is still considered one of these most devastating events of world history, and it would not have ended without the crucial effort and words of Nelson Mandela during his courageous political leadership. In this heartbreaking speech , he voices his utter devotion to the fight against institutionalised racism in African society – an ideal for which he was ‘prepared to die for’. Mandela continues to remind us today of his moral conviction in leading, wherein the world would likely to be a better place if all politicians had the same resolve and genuine commitment to human rights and the abolition of oppression as he did.

19. Critique on British Imperialism by General Aung San

“Do they form their observations by seeing the attendances at not very many cinemas and theatres of Rangoon? Do they judge this question of money circulation by paying a stray visit to a local bazaar? Do they know that cinemas and theatres are not true indicators, at least in Burma, of the people’s conditions? Do they know that there are many in this country who cannot think of going to these places by having to struggle for their bare existence from day to day? Do they know that those who nowadays patronise or frequent cinemas and theatres which exist only in Rangoon and a few big towns, belong generally to middle and upper classes and the very few of the many poor who can attend at all are doing so as a desperate form of relaxation just to make them forget their unsupportable existences for the while whatever may be the tomorrow that awaits them?”

Under British colonial rule, one of the most legendary nationalist leaders emerged from the ranks of the thousands of Burmese to boldly lead them towards independence, out of the exploitation and control under the British. General Aung San’s speech criticising British social, political and economic control of Burma continues to be scathing, articulate, and relevant – especially given his necessary goal of uniting the Burmese natives against their common oppressor. He successfully galvanised his people against the British, taking endless risks through nationalist speeches and demonstrations which gradually bore fruit in Burma’s independence.

20. Nobel Lecture by Mother Teresa

“I believe that we are not real social workers. We may be doing social work in the eyes of the people, but we are really contemplatives in the heart of the world. For we are touching the Body Of Christ 24 hours. We have 24 hours in this presence, and so you and I. You too try to bring that presence of God in your family, for the family that prays together stays together. And I think that we in our family don’t need bombs and guns, to destroy to bring peace–just get together, love one another, bring that peace, that joy, that strength of presence of each other in the home. And we will be able to overcome all the evil that is in the world. There is so much suffering, so much hatred, so much misery, and we with our prayer, with our sacrifice are beginning at home. Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do. It is to God Almighty–how much we do it does not matter, because He is infinite, but how much love we put in that action. How much we do to Him in the person that we are serving.”

In contemporary culture, most people understand Mother Teresa to be the epitome of compassion and kindness. However, if one were to look closer at her speeches from the past, one would discover not merely her altruistic contributions, but her keen heart for social justice and the downtrodden. She wisely and gracefully remarks that ‘love begins at home’ from the individual actions of each person within their private lives, which accumulate into a life of goodness and charity. For this, her speeches served not just consolatory value or momentary relevance, as they still inform the present on how we can live lives worth living.

21. June 9 Speech to Martial Law Units by Deng Xiaoping

“This army still maintains the traditions of our old Red Army. What they crossed this time was in the true sense of the expression a political barrier, a threshold of life and death. This was not easy. This shows that the People’s Army is truly a great wall of iron and steel of the party and state. This shows that no matter how heavy our losses, the army, under the leadership of the party, will always remain the defender of the country, the defender of socialism, and the defender of the public interest. They are a most lovable people. At the same time, we should never forget how cruel our enemies are. We should have not one bit of forgiveness for them. The fact that this incident broke out as it did is very worthy of our pondering. It prompts us cool-headedly to consider the past and the future. Perhaps this bad thing will enable us to go ahead with reform and the open policy at a steadier and better — even a faster — pace, more speedily correct our mistakes, and better develop our strong points.”

Mere days before the 4 June 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, Chinese Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping sat with six party elders (senior officials) and the three remaining members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the paramount decision-making body in China’s government. The meeting was organised to discuss the best course of action for restoring social and political order to China, given the sweeping economic reforms that had taken place in the past decade that inevitably resulted in some social resistance from the populace. Deng then gave this astute and well-regarded speech, outlining the political complexities in shutting down student protests given the context of reforms encouraging economic liberalization already taking place, as aligned with the students’ desires. It may not be the most rousing or inflammatory of speeches, but it was certainly persuasive in voicing the importance of taking a strong stand for the economic reforms Deng was implementing to benefit Chinese citizens in the long run. Today, China is an economic superpower, far from its war-torn developing country status before Deng’s leadership – thanks to his foresight in ensuring political stability would allow China to enjoy the fruits of the massive changes they adapted to.

22. Freedom or Death by Emmeline Pankhurst

“You won your freedom in America when you had the revolution, by bloodshed, by sacrificing human life. You won the civil war by the sacrifice of human life when you decided to emancipate the negro. You have left it to women in your land, the men of all civilised countries have left it to women, to work out their own salvation. That is the way in which we women of England are doing. Human life for us is sacred, but we say if any life is to be sacrificed it shall be ours; we won’t do it ourselves, but we will put the enemy in the position where they will have to choose between giving us freedom or giving us death. Now whether you approve of us or whether you do not, you must see that we have brought the question of women’s suffrage into a position where it is of first rate importance, where it can be ignored no longer. Even the most hardened politician will hesitate to take upon himself directly the responsibility of sacrificing the lives of women of undoubted honour, of undoubted earnestness of purpose. That is the political situation as I lay it before you today.”

In 1913 after Suffragette Emily Davison stepped in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby and suffered fatal injuries, Emmeline Pankhurst delivered her speech to Connecticut as a call to action for people to support the suffragette movement. Her fortitude in delivering such a sobering speech on the state of women’s rights is worth remembering for its invaluable impact and contributions to the rights we enjoy in today’s world.

23. Quit India by Mahatma Gandhi

“We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery. Every true Congressman or woman will join the struggle with an inflexible determination not to remain alive to see the country in bondage and slavery. Let that be your pledge. Keep jails out of your consideration. If the Government keep me free, I will not put on the Government the strain of maintaining a large number of prisoners at a time, when it is in trouble. Let every man and woman live every moment of his or her life hereafter in the consciousness that he or she eats or lives for achieving freedom and will die, if need be, to attain that goal. Take a pledge, with God and your own conscience as witness, that you will no longer rest till freedom is achieved and will be prepared to lay down your lives in the attempt to achieve it. He who loses his life will gain it; he who will seek to save it shall lose it. Freedom is not for the coward or the faint-hearted.”

Naturally, the revolutionary activist Gandhi had to appear in this list for his impassioned anti-colonial speeches which rallied Indians towards independence. Famous for leading non-violent demonstrations, his speeches were a key element in gathering Indians of all backgrounds together for the common cause of eliminating their colonial masters. His speeches were resolute, eloquent, and courageous, inspiring the hope and admiration of many not just within India, but around the world.

24. 1974 National Book Award Speech by Adrienne Rich, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde

“The statement I am going to read was prepared by three of the women nominated for the National Book Award for poetry, with the agreement that it would be read by whichever of us, if any, was chosen.We, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, and Alice Walker, together accept this award in the name of all the women whose voices have gone and still go unheard in a patriarchal world, and in the name of those who, like us, have been tolerated as token women in this culture, often at great cost and in great pain. We believe that we can enrich ourselves more in supporting and giving to each other than by competing against each other; and that poetry—if it is poetry—exists in a realm beyond ranking and comparison. We symbolically join together here in refusing the terms of patriarchal competition and declaring that we will share this prize among us, to be used as best we can for women. We appreciate the good faith of the judges for this award, but none of us could accept this money for herself, nor could she let go unquestioned the terms on which poets are given or denied honor and livelihood in this world, especially when they are women. We dedicate this occasion to the struggle for self-determination of all women, of every color, identification, or derived class: the poet, the housewife, the lesbian, the mathematician, the mother, the dishwasher, the pregnant teen-ager, the teacher, the grandmother, the prostitute, the philosopher, the waitress, the women who will understand what we are doing here and those who will not understand yet; the silent women whose voices have been denied us, the articulate women who have given us strength to do our work.”

Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, and Alice Walker wrote this joint speech to be delivered by Adrienne Rich at the 1974 National Book Awards, based on their suspicions that the first few African American lesbian women to be nominated for the awards would be snubbed in favour of a white woman nominee. Their suspicions were confirmed, and Adrienne Rich delivered this socially significant speech in solidarity with her fellow nominees, upholding the voices of the ‘silent women whose voices have been denied’.

25. Speech to 20th Congress of the CPSU by Nikita Khruschev

“Considering the question of the cult of an individual, we must first of all show everyone what harm this caused to the interests of our Party. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin had always stressed the Party’s role and significance in the direction of the socialist government of workers and peasants; he saw in this the chief precondition for a successful building of socialism in our country. Pointing to the great responsibility of the Bolshevik Party, as ruling Party of the Soviet state, Lenin called for the most meticulous observance of all norms of Party life; he called for the realization of the principles of collegiality in the direction of the Party and the state. Collegiality of leadership flows from the very nature of our Party, a Party built on the principles of democratic centralism. “This means,” said Lenin, “that all Party matters are accomplished by all Party members – directly or through representatives – who, without any exceptions, are subject to the same rules; in addition, all administrative members, all directing collegia, all holders of Party positions are elective, they must account for their activities and are recallable.””

This speech is possibly the most famed Russian speech for its status as a ‘secret’ speech delivered only to the CPSU at the time, which was eventually revealed to the public. Given the unchallenged political legacy and cult of personality which Stalin left in the Soviet Union, Nikita Khruschev’s speech condemning the authoritarian means Stalin had resorted to to consolidate power as un-socialist was an important mark in Russian history.

26. The Struggle for Human Rights by Eleanor Roosevelt

“It is my belief, and I am sure it is also yours, that the struggle for democracy and freedom is a critical struggle, for their preservation is essential to the great objective of the United Nations to maintain international peace and security. Among free men the end cannot justify the means. We know the patterns of totalitarianism — the single political party, the control of schools, press, radio, the arts, the sciences, and the church to support autocratic authority; these are the age-old patterns against which men have struggled for three thousand years. These are the signs of reaction, retreat, and retrogression. The United Nations must hold fast to the heritage of freedom won by the struggle of its people; it must help us to pass it on to generations to come. The development of the ideal of freedom and its translation into the everyday life of the people in great areas of the earth is the product of the efforts of many peoples. It is the fruit of a long tradition of vigorous thinking and courageous action. No one race and on one people can claim to have done all the work to achieve greater dignity for human beings and great freedom to develop human personality. In each generation and in each country there must be a continuation of the struggle and new steps forward must be taken since this is preeminently a field in which to stand still is to retreat.”

Eleanor Roosevelt has been among the most well-loved First Ladies for good reason – her eloquence and gravitas in delivering every speech convinced everyone of her suitability for the oval office. In this determined and articulate speech , she outlines the fundamental values that form the bedrock of democracy, urging the rest of the world to uphold human rights regardless of national ideology and interests.

27. The Ballot or The Bullet by Malcolm X

“And in this manner, the organizations will increase in number and in quantity and in quality, and by August, it is then our intention to have a black nationalist convention which will consist of delegates from all over the country who are interested in the political, economic and social philosophy of black nationalism. After these delegates convene, we will hold a seminar; we will hold discussions; we will listen to everyone. We want to hear new ideas and new solutions and new answers. And at that time, if we see fit then to form a black nationalist party, we’ll form a black nationalist party. If it’s necessary to form a black nationalist army, we’ll form a black nationalist army. It’ll be the ballot or the bullet. It’ll be liberty or it’ll be death.”

Inarguably, the revolutionary impact Malcolm X’s fearless oratory had was substantial in his time as a radical anti-racist civil rights activist. His speeches’ emancipatory potential put forth his ‘theory of rhetorical action’ where he urges Black Americans to employ both the ballot and the bullet, strategically without being dependent on the other should the conditions of oppression change. A crucial leader in the fight for civil rights, he opened the eyes of thousands of Black Americans, politicising and convincing them of the necessity of fighting for their democratic rights against white supremacists.

28. Living the Revolution by Gloria Steinem

“The challenge to all of us, and to you men and women who are graduating today, is to live a revolution, not to die for one. There has been too much killing, and the weapons are now far too terrible. This revolution has to change consciousness, to upset the injustice of our current hierarchy by refusing to honor it, and to live a life that enforces a new social justice. Because the truth is none of us can be liberated if other groups are not.”

In an unexpected commencement speech delivered at Vassar College in 1970, Gloria Steinem boldly makes a call to action on behalf of marginalized groups in need of liberation to newly graduated students. She proclaimed it the year of Women’s Liberation and forcefully highlighted the need for a social revolution to ‘upset the injustice of the current hierarchy’ in favour of human rights – echoing the hard-hitting motto on social justice, ‘until all of us are free, none of us are free’.

29. The Last Words of Harvey Milk by Harvey Milk

“I cannot prevent some people from feeling angry and frustrated and mad in response to my death, but I hope they will take the frustration and madness and instead of demonstrating or anything of that type, I would hope that they would take the power and I would hope that five, ten, one hundred, a thousand would rise. I would like to see every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out, stand up and let the world know. That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody could imagine. I urge them to do that, urge them to come out. Only that way will we start to achieve our rights. … All I ask is for the movement to continue, and if a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door…”

As the first openly gay elected official in the history of California, Harvey Milk’s entire political candidature was in itself a radical statement against the homophobic status quo at the time. Given the dangerous times he was in as an openly gay man, he anticipated that he would be assassinated eventually in his political career. As such, these are some of his last words which show the utter devotion he had to campaigning against homophobia while representing the American people, voicing his heartbreaking wish for the bullet that would eventually kill him to ‘destroy every closet door’.

30. Black Power Address at UC Berkeley by Stokely Carmichael

“Now we are now engaged in a psychological struggle in this country, and that is whether or not black people will have the right to use the words they want to use without white people giving their sanction to it; and that we maintain, whether they like it or not, we gonna use the word “Black Power” — and let them address themselves to that; but that we are not going to wait for white people to sanction Black Power. We’re tired waiting; every time black people move in this country, they’re forced to defend their position before they move. It’s time that the people who are supposed to be defending their position do that. That’s white people. They ought to start defending themselves as to why they have oppressed and exploited us.”

A forceful and impressive orator, Stokely Carmichael was among those at the forefront of the civil rights movement, who was a vigorous socialist organizer as well. He led the Black Power movement wherein he gave this urgent, influential speech that propelled Black Americans forward in their fight for constitutional rights in the 1960s.

31. Speech on Vietnam by Lyndon Johnson

“The true peace-keepers are those men who stand out there on the DMZ at this very hour, taking the worst that the enemy can give. The true peace-keepers are the soldiers who are breaking the terrorist’s grip around the villages of Vietnam—the civilians who are bringing medical care and food and education to people who have already suffered a generation of war. And so I report to you that we are going to continue to press forward. Two things we must do. Two things we shall do. First, we must not mislead the enemy. Let him not think that debate and dissent will produce wavering and withdrawal. For I can assure you they won’t. Let him not think that protests will produce surrender. Because they won’t. Let him not think that he will wait us out. For he won’t. Second, we will provide all that our brave men require to do the job that must be done. And that job is going to be done. These gallant men have our prayers-have our thanks—have our heart-felt praise—and our deepest gratitude. Let the world know that the keepers of peace will endure through every trial—and that with the full backing of their countrymen, they are going to prevail.”

During some of the most harrowing periods of human history, the Vietnam War, American soldiers were getting soundly defeated by the Vietnamese in guerrilla warfare. President Lyndon Johnson then issued this dignified, consolatory speech to encourage patriotism and support for the soldiers putting their lives on the line for the nation.

32. A Whisper of AIDS by Mary Fisher

“We may take refuge in our stereotypes, but we cannot hide there long, because HIV asks only one thing of those it attacks. Are you human? And this is the right question. Are you human? Because people with HIV have not entered some alien state of being. They are human. They have not earned cruelty, and they do not deserve meanness. They don’t benefit from being isolated or treated as outcasts. Each of them is exactly what God made: a person; not evil, deserving of our judgment; not victims, longing for our pity ­­ people, ready for  support and worthy of compassion. We must be consistent if we are to be believed. We cannot love justice and ignore prejudice, love our children and fear to teach them. Whatever our role as parent or policymaker, we must act as eloquently as we speak ­­ else we have no integrity. My call to the nation is a plea for awareness. If you believe you are safe, you are in danger. Because I was not hemophiliac, I was not at risk. Because I was not gay, I was not at risk. Because I did not inject drugs, I was not at risk. The lesson history teaches is this: If you believe you are safe, you are at risk. If you do not see this killer stalking your children, look again. There is no family or community, no race or religion, no place left in America that is safe. Until we genuinely embrace this message, we are a nation at risk.”

Back when AIDS research was still undeveloped, the stigma of contracting HIV was even more immense than it is today. A celebrated artist, author and speaker, Mary Fisher became an outspoken activist for those with HIV/AIDS, persuading people to extend compassion to the population with HIV instead of stigmatizing them – as injustice has a way of coming around to people eventually. Her bold act of speaking out for the community regardless of the way they contracted the disease, their sexual orientation or social group, was an influential move in advancing the human rights of those with HIV and spreading awareness on the discrimination they face.

33. Freedom from Fear by Aung San Suu Kyi

“The quintessential revolution is that of the spirit, born of an intellectual conviction of the need for change in those mental attitudes and values which shape the course of a nation’s development. A revolution which aims merely at changing official policies and institutions with a view to an improvement in material conditions has little chance of genuine success. Without a revolution of the spirit, the forces which produced the iniquities of the old order would continue to be operative, posing a constant threat to the process of reform and regeneration. It is not enough merely to call for freedom, democracy and human rights. There has to be a united determination to persevere in the struggle, to make sacrifices in the name of enduring truths, to resist the corrupting influences of desire, ill will, ignorance and fear. Saints, it has been said, are the sinners who go on trying. So free men are the oppressed who go on trying and who in the process make themselves fit to bear the responsibilities and to uphold the disciplines which will maintain a free society. Among the basic freedoms to which men aspire that their lives might be full and uncramped, freedom from fear stands out as both a means and an end. A people who would build a nation in which strong, democratic institutions are firmly established as a guarantee against state-induced power must first learn to liberate their own minds from apathy and fear.”

Famous for her resoluteness and fortitude in campaigning for democracy in Burma despite being put under house arrest by the military government, Aung San Suu Kyi’s speeches have been widely touted as inspirational. In this renowned speech of hers, she delivers a potent message to Burmese to ‘liberate their minds from apathy and fear’ in the struggle for freedom and human rights in the country. To this day, she continues to tirelessly champion the welfare and freedom of Burmese in a state still overcome by vestiges of authoritarian rule.

34. This Is Water by David Foster Wallace

“Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.”

Esteemed writer David Foster Wallace gave a remarkably casual yet wise commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005 on the importance of learning to think beyond attaining a formal education. He encouraged hundreds of students to develop freedom of thought, a heart of sacrificial care for those in need of justice, and a consciousness that would serve them in discerning the right choices to make within a status quo that is easy to fall in line with. His captivating speech on what it meant to truly be ‘educated’ tugged at the hearts of many young and critical minds striving to achieve their dreams and change the world.

35. Questioning the Universe by Stephen Hawking

“This brings me to the last of the big questions: the future of the human race. If we are the only intelligent beings in the galaxy, we should make sure we survive and continue. But we are entering an increasingly dangerous period of our history. Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill. But our genetic code still carries the selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million. Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain inward-looking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space. The answers to these big questions show that we have made remarkable progress in the last hundred years. But if we want to continue beyond the next hundred years, our future is in space. That is why I am in favor of manned — or should I say, personned — space flight.”

Extraordinary theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author Stephen Hawking was a considerable influence upon modern physics and scientific research at large, inspiring people regardless of physical ability to aspire towards expanding knowledge in the world. In his speech on Questioning the Universe, he speaks of the emerging currents and issues in the scientific world like that of outer space, raising and answering big questions that have stumped great thinkers for years.

36. 2008 Democratic National Convention Speech by Michelle Obama

“I stand here today at the crosscurrents of that history — knowing that my piece of the American dream is a blessing hard won by those who came before me. All of them driven by the same conviction that drove my dad to get up an hour early each day to painstakingly dress himself for work. The same conviction that drives the men and women I’ve met all across this country: People who work the day shift, kiss their kids goodnight, and head out for the night shift — without disappointment, without regret — that goodnight kiss a reminder of everything they’re working for. The military families who say grace each night with an empty seat at the table. The servicemen and women who love this country so much, they leave those they love most to defend it. The young people across America serving our communities — teaching children, cleaning up neighborhoods, caring for the least among us each and every day. People like Hillary Clinton, who put those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, so that our daughters — and sons — can dream a little bigger and aim a little higher. People like Joe Biden, who’s never forgotten where he came from and never stopped fighting for folks who work long hours and face long odds and need someone on their side again. All of us driven by a simple belief that the world as it is just won’t do — that we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be. That is the thread that connects our hearts. That is the thread that runs through my journey and Barack’s journey and so many other improbable journeys that have brought us here tonight, where the current of history meets this new tide of hope. That is why I love this country.”

Ever the favourite modern First Lady of America, Michelle Obama has delivered an abundance of iconic speeches in her political capacity, never forgetting to foreground the indomitable human spirit embodied in American citizens’ everyday lives and efforts towards a better world. The Obamas might just have been the most articulate couple of rhetoricians of their time, making waves as the first African American president and First Lady while introducing important policies in their period of governance.

37. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

“I’m not talking about blind optimism here — the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don’t think about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. Hope — Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead.”

Now published into a book, Barack Obama’s heart-capturing personal story of transformational hope was first delivered as a speech on the merits of patriotic optimism and determination put to the mission of concrete change. He has come to be known as one of the most favoured and inspiring presidents in American history, and arguably the most skilled orators ever.

38. “Be Your Own Story” by Toni Morrison

“But I’m not going to talk anymore about the future because I’m hesitant to describe or predict because I’m not even certain that it exists. That is to say, I’m not certain that somehow, perhaps, a burgeoning ménage a trois of political interests, corporate interests and military interests will not prevail and literally annihilate an inhabitable, humane future. Because I don’t think we can any longer rely on separation of powers, free speech, religious tolerance or unchallengeable civil liberties as a matter of course. That is, not while finite humans in the flux of time make decisions of infinite damage. Not while finite humans make infinite claims of virtue and unassailable power that are beyond their competence, if not their reach. So, no happy talk about the future. … Because the past is already in debt to the mismanaged present. And besides, contrary to what you may have heard or learned, the past is not done and it is not over, it’s still in process, which is another way of saying that when it’s critiqued, analyzed, it yields new information about itself. The past is already changing as it is being reexamined, as it is being listened to for deeper resonances. Actually it can be more liberating than any imagined future if you are willing to identify its evasions, its distortions, its lies, and are willing to unleash its secrets.”

Venerated author and professor Toni Morrison delivered an impressively articulate speech at Wellesley College in 2004 to new graduates, bucking the trend by discussing the importance of the past in informing current and future ways of living. With her brilliance and eloquence, she blew the crowd away and renewed in them the capacity for reflection upon using the past as a talisman to guide oneself along the journey of life.

39. Nobel Speech by Malala Yousafzai

“Dear brothers and sisters, the so-called world of adults may understand it, but we children don’t. Why is it that countries which we call “strong” are so powerful in creating wars but so weak in bringing peace? Why is it that giving guns is so easy but giving books is so hard? Why is it that making tanks is so easy, but building schools is so difficult? As we are living in the modern age, the 21st century and we all believe that nothing is impossible. We can reach the moon and maybe soon will land on Mars. Then, in this, the 21st century, we must be determined that our dream of quality education for all will also come true. So let us bring equality, justice and peace for all. Not just the politicians and the world leaders, we all need to contribute. Me. You. It is our duty. So we must work … and not wait. I call upon my fellow children to stand up around the world. Dear sisters and brothers, let us become the first generation to decide to be the last. The empty classrooms, the lost childhoods, wasted potential-let these things end with us.”

At a mere 16 years of age, Malala Yousafzai gave a speech on the severity of the state of human rights across the world, and wowed the world with her passion for justice at her tender age. She displayed tenacity and fearlessness speaking about her survival of an assassination attempt for her activism for gender equality in the field of education. A model of courage to us all, her speech remains an essential one in the fight for human rights in the 21st century.

40. Final Commencement Speech by Michelle Obama

“If you are a person of faith, know that religious diversity is a great American tradition, too. In fact, that’s why people first came to this country — to worship freely. And whether you are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh — these religions are teaching our young people about justice, and compassion, and honesty. So I want our young people to continue to learn and practice those values with pride. You see, our glorious diversity — our diversities of faiths and colors and creeds — that is not a threat to who we are, it makes us who we are. So the young people here and the young people out there: Do not ever let anyone make you feel like you don’t matter, or like you don’t have a place in our American story — because you do. And you have a right to be exactly who you are. But I also want to be very clear: This right isn’t just handed to you. No, this right has to be earned every single day. You cannot take your freedoms for granted. Just like generations who have come before you, you have to do your part to preserve and protect those freedoms. … It is our fundamental belief in the power of hope that has allowed us to rise above the voices of doubt and division, of anger and fear that we have faced in our own lives and in the life of this country. Our hope that if we work hard enough and believe in ourselves, then we can be whatever we dream, regardless of the limitations that others may place on us. The hope that when people see us for who we truly are, maybe, just maybe they, too, will be inspired to rise to their best possible selves.”

Finally, we have yet another speech by Michelle Obama given in her final remarks as First Lady – a tear-inducing event for many Americans and even people around the world. In this emotional end to her political tenure, she gives an empowering, hopeful, expressive speech to young Americans, exhorting them to take hold of its future in all their diversity and work hard at being their best possible selves.

Amidst the bleak era of our current time with Trump as president of the USA, not only Michelle Obama, but all 40 of these amazing speeches can serve as sources of inspiration and hope to everyone – regardless of their identity or ambitions. After hearing these speeches, which one’s your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

Article Written By: Kai Xin Koh

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best political speeches of 2022

Major news outlets urge Biden, Trump to commit to presidential debates

C BS News and 11 other major news organizations on Sunday issued a joint statement urging President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump to commit to debates during the 2024 campaign season . 

In the letter, the news organizations said it was too early for invitations to go out to candidates for debates, but that it wasn't too early for presidential candidates who expect to meet eligibility criteria to publicly state their commitment to debates in the fall.

"If there is one thing Americans can agree on during this polarized time, it is that the stakes of this election are exceptionally high," the organizations said in the joint statement. "Amidst that backdrop, there is simply no substitute for the candidates debating with each other, and before the American people, their visions for the future of our nation."

ABC News, The Associated Press, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX News Media, NBCUniversal News Group, NewsNation, Noticias Univision (Univision Network News), NPR, PBS NewsHour and USA TODAY joined CBS News in signing the joint statement. 

The Republican National Committee voted unanimously in 2022 to ban future GOP presidential nominees from participating in debates put on by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, the body that has sponsored general election debates since 1988.

Trump campaign managers Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita addressed the Commission on Presidential Debates in a letter on Thursday, saying that Trump was willing to debate. They did not address the 2022 GOP vote, but they did call on the commission to be fair and impartial.

"Fairness in such a setting is paramount and the Commission must ensure that the 2024 Commission-sponsored debates are truly fair and conducted impartially," they wrote. "The Commission must move up the timetable of its proposed 2024 debates to ensure more Americans have a full chance to see the candidates before they start voting, and we would argue for adding more debates in addition to those on the currently proposed schedule."

Trump,  who avoided debating his GOP rivals in primary debates , previously faced some criticism for failing to show up to those debates and face questions on stage alongside other Republican candidates. But in a December interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Trump suggested he'd be up for  10 debates  with Mr. Biden. He also discussed debating with President Biden in a Thursday post to Truth Social.

"Biden can't speak," Trump said. "Biden can't debate, Biden can't put two sentences together."

At a Saturday rally in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania, Trump had two podiums set up on stage. He spoke to the crowd from one podium and left the other empty except for a placard reading, "Anytime. Anywhere. Anyplace." He pointed to the lectern partway through his campaign speech. 

"See the podium? I'm calling on Crooked Joe Biden to debate anytime, anywhere, any place. Right there," Trump said. "And we have to debate because our country is going in the wrong direction so badly and while it's a little bit typically early we have to debate."

President Biden, when asked on March 8 if he would commit to a debate with Trump, said that "it depends on his behavior." The president previously addressed a potential debate in early February while visiting Las Vegas. After being told that Trump wanted to debate him as soon as possible, Mr. Biden said, "If I were him, I'd want to debate me too.  He's got nothing else to do."

Donald Trump and Joe Biden

People praying at a Trump rally in July in Erie, Pa.

The Church of Trump: How He’s Infusing Christianity Into His Movement

Ending many of his rallies with a churchlike ritual and casting his prosecutions as persecution, the former president is demanding — and receiving — new levels of devotion from Republicans.

A rally for former President Donald J. Trump in July in Erie, Pa. At many of his recent rallies, Mr. Trump delivers a roughly 15-minute finale that evokes an evangelical altar call. Credit... Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

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Michael C. Bender

By Michael C. Bender

Reporting from Conway, S.C., and Washington

  • April 1, 2024

Long known for his improvised and volatile stage performances, former President Donald J. Trump now tends to finish his rallies on a solemn note.

Soft, reflective music fills the venue as a hush falls over the crowd. Mr. Trump’s tone turns reverent and somber, prompting some supporters to bow their heads or close their eyes. Others raise open palms in the air or murmur as if in prayer.

In this moment, Mr. Trump’s audience is his congregation, and the former president their pastor as he delivers a roughly 15-minute finale that evokes an evangelical altar call, the emotional tradition that concludes some Christian services in which attendees come forward to commit to their savior.

“The great silent majority is rising like never before and under our leadership,” he recites from a teleprompter in a typical version of the script. “We will pray to God for our strength and for our liberty. We will pray for God and we will pray with God. We are one movement, one people, one family and one glorious nation under God.”

The meditative ritual might appear incongruent with the raucous epicenter of the nation’s conservative movement, but Mr. Trump’s political creed stands as one of the starkest examples of his effort to transform the Republican Party into a kind of Church of Trump. His insistence on absolute devotion and fealty can be seen at every level of the party , from Congress to the Republican National Committee to rank-and-file voters .

Mr. Trump’s ability to turn his supporters’ passion into piety is crucial to understanding how he remains the undisputed Republican leader despite guiding his party to repeated political failures and while facing dozens of felony charges in four criminal cases. His success at portraying those prosecutions as persecutions — and warning, without merit, that his followers could be targeted next — has fueled enthusiasm for his candidacy and placed him, once again, in a position to capture the White House.

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‘He’s definitely been chosen by God’

Mr. Trump has long defied conventional wisdom as an unlikely but irrefutable evangelical hero.

He has been married three times, has been repeatedly accused of sexual assault, has been convicted of business fraud and has never showed much interest in church services. Last week, days before Easter, he posted on his social media platform an infomercial-style video hawking a $60 Bible that comes with copies of some of the nation’s founding documents and the lyrics to Lee Greenwood’s song “God Bless the U.S.A.”

But while Mr. Trump is eager to maintain the support of evangelical voters and portray his presidential campaign as a battle for the nation’s soul, he has mostly been careful not to speak directly in messianic terms.

“This country has a savior, and it’s not me — that’s someone much higher up than me,” Mr. Trump said in 2021 from the pulpit at First Baptist Church in Dallas, whose congregation exceeds 14,000 people.

Still, he and his allies have inched closer to the Christ comparison.

Last year, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican and a close Trump ally, said both the former president and Jesus had been arrested by “radical, corrupt governments.” On Saturday, Mr. Trump shared an article on social media with the headline “The Crucifixion of Donald Trump.”

Donald Trump speaking on a stage in front of a large image showing the American flag.

He is also the latest in a long line of Republican presidents and presidential candidates who have prioritized evangelical voters. But many conservative Christian voters believe Mr. Trump outstripped his predecessors in delivering for them, pointing especially to the conservative majority he installed on the Supreme Court that overturned federal abortion rights.

Mr. Trump won an overwhelming majority of evangelical voters in his first two presidential races, but few — even among his rally crowds — explicitly compare him to Jesus.

Instead, the Trumpian flock is more likely to describe him as a modern version of Old Testament heroes like Cyrus or David, morally flawed figures handpicked by God to lead profound missions aimed at achieving overdue justice or resisting existential evil.

“He’s definitely been chosen by God,” said Marie Zere, a commercial real estate broker from Long Island who attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in February outside Washington, D.C. “He’s still surviving even though all these people are coming after him, and I don’t know how else to explain that other than divine intervention.”

For some of Mr. Trump’s supporters, the political attacks and legal peril he faces are nothing short of biblical.

“They’ve crucified him worse than Jesus,” said Andriana Howard, 67, who works as a restaurant food runner in Conway, S.C.

A political weapon and vulnerability

Mr. Trump’s solid and devoted core of voters has formed one of the most durable forces in American politics, giving him a clear advantage over President Biden when it comes to inspiring supporters.

Forty-eight percent of Republican primary voters are enthusiastic about Mr. Trump becoming the Republican nominee, and 32 percent are satisfied but not enthusiastic with that outcome, according to a recent New York Times/Siena College poll . Just 23 percent of Democrats said they were enthusiastic about Mr. Biden as their nominee, and 43 percent were satisfied but not enthusiastic.

The intensity of the most committed Trump backers has also factored into the former president’s campaign decisions, according to two people familiar with internal deliberations. His team’s ability to bank on voters who will cast a ballot with little additional prompting means that some of the cash that would otherwise be spent on turnout operations can be invested in field staff, television ads or other ways to help Mr. Trump.

But Democrats see an advantage, too. Much of Mr. Biden’s support comes from voters deeply opposed to Mr. Trump, and the president’s advisers see an opportunity to spook moderate swing voters into supporting Mr. Biden by casting Mr. Trump’s movement as a cultlike creation bent on restricting abortion rights and undermining democracy.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, a top Democratic ally of Mr. Biden, pointed to an increasingly aggressive online presence from the president’s re-election campaign, which has sought to portray Mr. Trump as prone to religious extremism .

“There’s a huge opportunity here,” Mr. Newsom said in an interview. “Trump is so easily defined, and he reinforces that definition over and over and over again. And Biden has a campaign that can weaponize that now.”

‘Does he really care about evangelicals? I don’t know.’

Mr. Trump’s braiding of politics and religion is hardly a new phenomenon. Christianity has long exerted a strong influence on American government, with most voters identifying as Christians even as the country grows more secular. According to Gallup , 68 percent of adults said they were Christian in 2022, down from 91 percent in 1948.

But as the former president tries to establish himself as the one, true Republican leader, religious overtones have pervaded his third presidential campaign.

Benevolently phrased fund-raising emails in his name promise unconditional love amid solicitations for contributions of as little as $5.

Even more than in his past campaigns, he is framing his 2024 bid as a fight for Christianity, telling a convention of Christian broadcasters that “just like in the battles of the past, we still need the hand of our Lord.”

On his social media platform in recent months, Mr. Trump has shared a courtroom-style sketch of himself sitting next to Jesus and a video that repeatedly proclaims, “God gave us Trump” to lead the country.

The apparent effectiveness of such tactics has made Mr. Trump the nation’s first major politician to successfully separate character from policy for religious voters, said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah University, an evangelical school in Pennsylvania.

“Trump has split the atom between character and policy,” Mr. Fea said. “He did it because he’s really the first one to listen to their grievances and take them seriously. Does he really care about evangelicals? I don’t know. But he’s built a message to appeal directly to them.”

Support from local pastors

Trump rallies have always been something of a cross between a rock concert and a tent revival. When Mr. Trump first started winding down his rallies with the ambient strains, many connected them to similar theme music from the QAnon conspiracy movement, but the campaign distanced itself from that notion.

Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Mr. Trump, said in a statement: “President Trump has used the end of his speeches to draw a clear contrast to the last four years of Joe Biden’s disastrous presidency and lay out his vision to get America back on track.”

But the shift has helped turn Mr. Trump’s rallies into a more aesthetically churchlike experience.

A Trump rally in Las Vegas in January opened with a prayer from Jesus Marquez, an elder at a local church, who cited Scripture to declare that God wanted Mr. Trump to return to the White House.

“God is on our side — he’s on the side of this movement,” said Mr. Marquez, who founded the American Christian Caucus, a grass-roots group.

And at a rally in South Carolina in February, Greg Rodermond, a pastor at Crossroads Community Church, prayed for God to intervene against Mr. Trump’s political opponents, arguing that they were “trying to steal, kill and destroy our America.”

“Father, we have gathered here today in unity for our nation to see it restored back to its greatness,” Mr. Rodermond continued, “and, God, we believe that you have chosen Donald Trump as an instrument in your hands for this purpose.”

But some Christian conservatives are loath to join their brethren in clearing a direct path from the ornate doors of Mar-a-Lago to the pearly gates of Heaven.

Russell Moore, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public-policy arm, said Mr. Trump’s rallies had veered into “dangerous territory” with the altar-call closing and opening prayers from preachers describing Mr. Trump as heaven-sent.

“Claiming godlike authority or an endorsement from God for a political candidate means that person cannot be questioned or opposed without also opposing God,” Mr. Moore said. “That’s a violation of the commandment to not take the Lord’s name in vain.”

Michael C. Bender is a Times political correspondent covering Donald J. Trump, the Make America Great Again movement and other federal and state elections. More about Michael C. Bender

Our Coverage of the 2024 Election

Presidential Race

The start of Donald Trump’s criminal trial in Manhattan  drew intense security, smothering media coverage and loud demonstrations to a dingy courthouse that will be the unlikely center of American politics for the next six weeks.

President Biden will kick off a three-day tour of Pennsylvania , a crucial battleground state, with a speech that focuses on taxes and aims to contrast his policies with those of Trump.

Trump leaned heavily on major Republican donors  in March as he sought to close the financial gap separating him from Biden, new federal filings showed.

Vice-Presidential Calculations: As Trump sifts through potential running mates, he has peppered some advisers and associates with a direct question: Which Republican could best help him raise money ?

Embracing the Jan. 6 Rioters:  Trump initially disavowed the attack on the Capitol, but he is now making it a centerpiece of his campaign .

Mobilizing the Left: Amid the war in Gaza, the pro-Palestinian movement has grown into a powerful, if disjointed, political force in the United States. Democrats are feeling the pressure .

On a Collision Course:  As president, Trump never trusted the intelligence community. His antipathy has only grown since he left office, with potentially serious implications should he return to power .


What to know about the crisis of violence, politics and hunger engulfing Haiti

A woman carrying two bags of rice walks past burning tires

A long-simmering crisis over Haiti’s ability to govern itself, particularly after a series of natural disasters and an increasingly dire humanitarian emergency, has come to a head in the Caribbean nation, as its de facto president remains stranded in Puerto Rico and its people starve and live in fear of rampant violence. 

The chaos engulfing the country has been bubbling for more than a year, only for it to spill over on the global stage on Monday night, as Haiti’s unpopular prime minister, Ariel Henry, agreed to resign once a transitional government is brokered by other Caribbean nations and parties, including the U.S.

But the very idea of a transitional government brokered not by Haitians but by outsiders is one of the main reasons Haiti, a nation of 11 million, is on the brink, according to humanitarian workers and residents who have called for Haitian-led solutions. 

“What we’re seeing in Haiti has been building since the 2010 earthquake,” said Greg Beckett, an associate professor of anthropology at Western University in Canada. 

Haitians take shelter in the Delmas 4 Olympic Boxing Arena

What is happening in Haiti and why?

In the power vacuum that followed the assassination of democratically elected President Jovenel Moïse in 2021, Henry, who was prime minister under Moïse, assumed power, with the support of several nations, including the U.S. 

When Haiti failed to hold elections multiple times — Henry said it was due to logistical problems or violence — protests rang out against him. By the time Henry announced last year that elections would be postponed again, to 2025, armed groups that were already active in Port-au-Prince, the capital, dialed up the violence.

Even before Moïse’s assassination, these militias and armed groups existed alongside politicians who used them to do their bidding, including everything from intimidating the opposition to collecting votes . With the dwindling of the country’s elected officials, though, many of these rebel forces have engaged in excessively violent acts, and have taken control of at least 80% of the capital, according to a United Nations estimate. 

Those groups, which include paramilitary and former police officers who pose as community leaders, have been responsible for the increase in killings, kidnappings and rapes since Moïse’s death, according to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program at Uppsala University in Sweden. According to a report from the U.N . released in January, more than 8,400 people were killed, injured or kidnapped in 2023, an increase of 122% increase from 2022.

“January and February have been the most violent months in the recent crisis, with thousands of people killed, or injured, or raped,” Beckett said.

Image: Ariel Henry

Armed groups who had been calling for Henry’s resignation have already attacked airports, police stations, sea ports, the Central Bank and the country’s national soccer stadium. The situation reached critical mass earlier this month when the country’s two main prisons were raided , leading to the escape of about 4,000 prisoners. The beleaguered government called a 72-hour state of emergency, including a night-time curfew — but its authority had evaporated by then.

Aside from human-made catastrophes, Haiti still has not fully recovered from the devastating earthquake in 2010 that killed about 220,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless, many of them living in poorly built and exposed housing. More earthquakes, hurricanes and floods have followed, exacerbating efforts to rebuild infrastructure and a sense of national unity.

Since the earthquake, “there have been groups in Haiti trying to control that reconstruction process and the funding, the billions of dollars coming into the country to rebuild it,” said Beckett, who specializes in the Caribbean, particularly Haiti. 

Beckett said that control initially came from politicians and subsequently from armed groups supported by those politicians. Political “parties that controlled the government used the government for corruption to steal that money. We’re seeing the fallout from that.”

Haiti Experiences Surge Of Gang Violence

Many armed groups have formed in recent years claiming to be community groups carrying out essential work in underprivileged neighborhoods, but they have instead been accused of violence, even murder . One of the two main groups, G-9, is led by a former elite police officer, Jimmy Chérizier — also known as “Barbecue” — who has become the public face of the unrest and claimed credit for various attacks on public institutions. He has openly called for Henry to step down and called his campaign an “armed revolution.”

But caught in the crossfire are the residents of Haiti. In just one week, 15,000 people have been displaced from Port-au-Prince, according to a U.N. estimate. But people have been trying to flee the capital for well over a year, with one woman telling NBC News that she is currently hiding in a church with her three children and another family with eight children. The U.N. said about 160,000 people have left Port-au-Prince because of the swell of violence in the last several months. 

Deep poverty and famine are also a serious danger. Gangs have cut off access to the country’s largest port, Autorité Portuaire Nationale, and food could soon become scarce.

Haiti's uncertain future

A new transitional government may dismay the Haitians and their supporters who call for Haitian-led solutions to the crisis. 

But the creation of such a government would come after years of democratic disruption and the crumbling of Haiti’s political leadership. The country hasn’t held an election in eight years. 

Haitian advocates and scholars like Jemima Pierre, a professor at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, say foreign intervention, including from the U.S., is partially to blame for Haiti’s turmoil. The U.S. has routinely sent thousands of troops to Haiti , intervened in its government and supported unpopular leaders like Henry.

“What you have over the last 20 years is the consistent dismantling of the Haitian state,” Pierre said. “What intervention means for Haiti, what it has always meant, is death and destruction.”

Image: Workers unload humanitarian aid from a U.S. helicopter at Les Cayes airport in Haiti, Aug. 18, 2021.

In fact, the country’s situation was so dire that Henry was forced to travel abroad in the hope of securing a U.N. peacekeeping deal. He went to Kenya, which agreed to send 1,000 troops to coordinate an East African and U.N.-backed alliance to help restore order in Haiti, but the plan is now on hold . Kenya agreed last October to send a U.N.-sanctioned security force to Haiti, but Kenya’s courts decided it was unconstitutional. The result has been Haiti fending for itself. 

“A force like Kenya, they don’t speak Kreyòl, they don’t speak French,” Pierre said. “The Kenyan police are known for human rights abuses . So what does it tell us as Haitians that the only thing that you see that we deserve are not schools, not reparations for the cholera the U.N. brought , but more military with the mandate to use all kinds of force on our population? That is unacceptable.”  

Henry was forced to announce his planned resignation from Puerto Rico, as threats of violence — and armed groups taking over the airports — have prevented him from returning to his country.  

An elderly woman runs in front of the damaged police station building with tires burning in front of it

Now that Henry is to stand down, it is far from clear what the armed groups will do or demand next, aside from the right to govern. 

“It’s the Haitian people who know what they’re going through. It’s the Haitian people who are going to take destiny into their own hands. Haitian people will choose who will govern them,” Chérizier said recently, according to The Associated Press .

Haitians and their supporters have put forth their own solutions over the years, holding that foreign intervention routinely ignores the voices and desires of Haitians. 

In 2021, both Haitian and non-Haitian church leaders, women’s rights groups, lawyers, humanitarian workers, the Voodoo Sector and more created the Commission to Search for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis . The commission has proposed the “ Montana Accord ,” outlining a two-year interim government with oversight committees tasked with restoring order, eradicating corruption and establishing fair elections. 

For more from NBC BLK, sign up for our weekly newsletter .

CORRECTION (March 15, 2024, 9:58 a.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated which university Jemima Pierre is affiliated with. She is a professor at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, not the University of California, Los Angeles, (or Columbia University, as an earlier correction misstated).

best political speeches of 2022

Patrick Smith is a London-based editor and reporter for NBC News Digital.

best political speeches of 2022

Char Adams is a reporter for NBC BLK who writes about race.

Read our research on: Gun Policy | International Conflict | Election 2024

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News organizations urge Biden and Trump to commit to presidential debates during the 2024 campaign

FILE - Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, right, answers a question as President Donald Trump listens during the second and final presidential debate Oct. 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. Twelve news organizations issued a joint statement calling on the presumptive presidential nominees President Biden and former President Trump to agree to debates during the 2024 campaign. ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, PBS, NBC, NPR and The Associated Press all signed on to the letter. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool, File)

FILE - Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, right, answers a question as President Donald Trump listens during the second and final presidential debate Oct. 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. Twelve news organizations issued a joint statement calling on the presumptive presidential nominees President Biden and former President Trump to agree to debates during the 2024 campaign. ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, PBS, NBC, NPR and The Associated Press all signed on to the letter. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool, File)

This combination of photos show President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, 2020, in Cleveland, Ohio. Twelve news organizations issued a joint statement calling on the presumptive presidential nominees President Biden and former President Trump to agree to debates during the 2024 campaign. ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, PBS, NBC, NPR and The Associated Press all signed on to the letter. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

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Dave Bauder stands for a portrait at the New York headquarters of The Associated Press on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

NEW YORK (AP) — Twelve news organizations on Sunday urged presumptive presidential nominees Joe Biden and Donald Trump to agree to debates , saying they were a “rich tradition” that have been part of every general election campaign since 1976.

While Trump, who did not participate in debates for the Republican nomination, has indicated a willingness to take on his 2020 rival, the Democratic president has not committed to debating him again.

Although invitations have not been formally issued, the news organizations said it was not too early for each campaign to say publicly that it will participate in the three presidential and one vice presidential forums set by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates.

“If there is one thing Americans can agree on during this polarized time, it is that the stakes of this election are exceptionally high,” the organizations said in a joint statement. “Amidst that backdrop, there is simply no substitute for the candidates debating with each other, and before the American people, their visions for the future of our nation.”

ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, PBS, NBC, NPR and The Associated Press all signed on to the letter.

Former President Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower after leaving Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 15, 2024, in New York. The hush money trial of Trump begun Monday with jury selection. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Biden and Trump debated twice in 2020. A third debate was canceled after Trump, then president, tested positive for COVID-19 and would not debate remotely.

Asked on March 8 whether he would commit to a debate with Trump, Biden said, “it depends on his behavior.” The president was visibly miffed by his opponent in the freewheeling first 2020 debate, at one point saying, “will you shut up?”

Trump campaign managers Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita said in a letter this past week that “we have already indicated President Trump is willing to debate anytime, any place and anywhere — and the time to start these debates is now.”

They cited the seven 1858 Illinois Senate debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, saying “certainly today’s America deserves as much.”

The Republican National Committee voted in 2022 to no longer participate in forums sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. The Trump campaign has not indicated it would adhere to that, but did have some conditions. The campaign managers said the commission selected a “demonstrably anti-Trump moderator” in then-Fox News host Chris Wallace in 2020 and wants assurances the commission debates are fair and impartial.

The Trump campaign also wants the timetable moved up, saying that many Americans will have already voted by Sept. 16, Oct. 1 and Oct. 9, the dates of the three debates set by the commission .

The Biden campaign declined comment on the news organizations’ letter, pointing to the president’s earlier statement. There was no immediate response from the Trump campaign.

But on Saturday, Trump held a rally in northeast Pennsylvania with two lecterns set up on the stage: one for him to give a speech, the other to symbolize what he said was Biden’s refusal to debate him. The second lectern had a placard that read, “Anytime. Anywhere. Anyplace.”

Midway through his campaign speech, Trump turned to his right and pointed to the second lectern.

“We have a little, look at this, it’s for him,” he said. “See the podium? I’m calling on Crooked Joe Biden to debate anytime, anywhere, any place. Right there. And we have to debate because our country is going in the wrong direction so badly and while it’s a little bit typically early we have to debate. We have to explain to the American people what the hell is going on,” Trump said.

C-SPAN, NewsNation and Univision also joined the letter calling for debates. Only one newspaper, USA Today, added its voice. The Washington Post declined a request to join.

Certainly the broadcasters could use the juice that debates may bring. Television news ratings are down significantly compared with the 2020 campaign, although there are other factors involved, such as cord-cutting and the pandemic, that increased interest in news four years ago.

There were no Democratic debates this presidential cycle, and Trump’s refusal to participate in the GOP forums depressed interest in them.

Associated Press writer Josh Boak in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.


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  1. A look back at the best speeches of politicians in 2022

    best political speeches of 2022

  2. Best Speeches of Barack Obama's Presidency

    best political speeches of 2022

  3. Obama's Best Speeches -- The Definitive Ranking

    best political speeches of 2022

  4. Full Transcript: President Trump’s Republican National Convention

    best political speeches of 2022

  5. What To Know About Joe Biden's DNC Speech Tonight

    best political speeches of 2022

  6. Obama's Best Speeches

    best political speeches of 2022


  1. Full Transcript of President Biden's Speech on Democracy

    Nov. 2, 2022. President Biden delivered remarks Wednesday on democracy, political violence and the midterm elections in a televised address from Washington's Union Station. The following is a ...

  2. 10 Modern Presidential Speeches Every American Should Know

    4. Dwight Eisenhower's Farewell Address. President Dwight D. Eisenhower presenting his farewell address to the nation. (Credit: Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images) When: 1961 ...

  3. Presidential Speeches

    September 21, 2022: Speech before the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. video icon audio icon transcript icon. September 1, 2022: Remarks on the Continued Battle for the Soul of the Nation. video icon audio icon transcript icon. May 24, 2022: Remarks on School Shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

  4. The Speeches 2022

    Speaking at the May 29 celebration for the classes of 2020 and 2021, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland '74, J.D. '77 (who declined an honorary degree, in light of his current responsibilities), talked seriously about what citizens owe one another at a time of rising political violence and threats of violence, unwillingness to accept the peaceful transfer of power, and acts of racially ...

  5. and powerful

    The single most important - and powerful - line from Joe Biden's 1/6 speech. Link Copied! "You can't love your country only when you win.". That's President Joe Biden during a speech ...

  6. Remarks by President Biden Before Meeting with the White House

    THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everyone. Please — please sit down. Well, it's good to see all. Let's have a Cabinet meeting. (Laughter.) Really, thank you for what you all are doing. We got a lot ...

  7. Remarks By President

    Seward ParkSeattle, Washington 11:07 A.M. PDT THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. (Applause.) My name is Joe Biden. I work for Patty Murray. (Applause.) Been doing it for a long time. I can't think ...

  8. The Most Important 2021 UNGA Speeches

    The Most Important U.N. Speeches This Year. FP columnists and contributors break down the good, the bad, and the ugly from the 76th U.N. General Assembly. September 28, 2021, 6:00 AM. By FP ...

  9. The Most Notable Commencement Speeches of 2022

    The Most Notable Commencement Speeches of 2022. Taylor Swift headlines this year's crop of celebrity commencement speakers addressing graduates across America's campuses. Following two years of cancellations and virtual ceremonies, traditional commencements have returned to college campuses nationwide. As always, this year's roster of speakers ...

  10. Lend me your ears! The art of political speechwriting

    Sun 11 Sep 2022 04.00 EDT Last modified on Mon 26 Sep 2022 07.31 EDT. ... "Some of my best lines I can't boast about. ... Collins has brilliantly dissected many political speeches for the ...

  11. 25 Best Speeches of 2020

    13. Dwayne The Rock Johnson's eulogy for father Rocky Johnson, 'The show must go on'. Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson was the source of two of the great speeches of 2020, one political, his 'where are you' critique of Trump in the aftermath of George Floyd's death, and one personal, an emotional tribute to father Rocky.

  12. The 15 Most Inspiring Presidential Speeches in American History

    15. Obama's "More Perfect Union" Speech. Date: March 18, 2008. Context: While campaigning for the presidency in 2008, Barack Obama came under fire for his relationship with pastor Jeremiah Wright, who had been heard to denounce the United States and accuse the government of racial crimes.

  13. The 12 Most Memorable Political Convention Speeches

    William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold," 1896. When former Rep. William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska addressed the Democratic convention the major issue of the day was whether silver as well ...

  14. The best, worst, and just plain dumb of American politics in 2022

    From the State of the Union to the midterm elections, Vox's politics team has noted many political winners and losers throughout 2022.. With the year almost in the rearview, we want to take a ...

  15. The Best Speeches of 2022

    This was the year of the young activist. From demanding gun control and abortion rights to calling out book bans, these were 2022's top speeches ...Subscribe...

  16. Best Oscar Speeches of 2022

    Best Animated Feature: Byron Howard, Jared Bush, Yvett Merino and Clark Spencer (Encanto) Acknowledging the diversity of the characters in their film, and how all people could find someone they ...

  17. American Rhetoric: Important 21st Century Speeches in the United States

    Speech Bank: Top 100 Speeches: Great New Speeches: Obama Speeches: GWB Speeches: Movie Speeches: Rhetorical Figures: Christian Rhetoric: 9/11 Speeches: News and Research: For Scholars: Rhetoric Defined: Corax v. Tisias: Plato on Rhetoric: Aristotle on Rhetoric: Comm Journals: Comm Associations: Cool Exercises: Rodman & de Ref: Speech Quiz #1 ...

  18. What are your best speeches of 2022?

    Imaginary pep talk for Welsh team in Qatar - 2022. The great Welsh actor is a freakish talent when it comes to impromptu, fictional fire up speeches for Welsh sporting teams. He's produced the trick before, but this one is note perfect. Sheen is coming to Australia to star in Peter Schaffer's 'Aamdeus' which opens just after Christmas.

  19. 40 Most Famous Speeches In History

    17. 1965 Cambridge Union Hall Speech by James Baldwin. "What is dangerous here is the turning away from - the turning away from - anything any white American says. The reason for the political hesitation, in spite of the Johnson landslide is that one has been betrayed by American politicians for so long.

  20. The Best Books of 2022: Politics

    Chums (Hardback) Simon Kuper. £16.99. Hardback. Out of stock. Detailing the troubling amounts of political power wielded by a very small and privileged Oxford elite, Kuper's excellently researched and vividly written account is by turns shocking, illuminating and darkly funny. This product is currently unavailable.

  21. Remarks by President Biden on the Continued Battle for the Soul of the

    Independence National Historical ParkPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania (September 1, 2022) 8:03 P.M. EDT THE PRESIDENT: My fellow Americans, please, if you have a seat, take it. I speak to you tonight ...

  22. Remarks by President Biden On Economic Growth, Jobs, and Deficit

    A record 6.7 million jobs created last year — the most in the first year of any president in American history, and the fastest economic growth in any year in nearly four decades. And, looking ...

  23. Major news outlets urge Biden, Trump to commit to presidential ...

    In a joint statement, twelve major news organizations, including CBS News, called on President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump to commit to debates during the 2024 White House campaign.

  24. The Church of Trump: How He's Infusing Christianity Into His Movement

    Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, a top Democratic ally of Mr. Biden, pointed to an increasingly aggressive online presence from the president's re-election campaign, which has sought to portray ...

  25. The Haiti crisis, explained: Violence, hunger and unstable political

    Chaos has gutted Port-au-Prince and Haiti's government, a crisis brought on by decades of political disruption, a series of natural disasters and a power vacuum left by the president's assassination.

  26. Political Typology Quiz

    Take our quiz to find out which one of our nine political typology groups is your best match, compared with a nationally representative survey of more than 10,000 U.S. adults by Pew Research Center. You may find some of these questions are difficult to answer. That's OK. In those cases, pick the answer that comes closest to your view, even if ...

  27. US Pentagon chief speaks with Chinese counterpart for first time since

    LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press. WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with China's national defense minister Tuesday morning, in the latest in a series of U.S. steps to ...

  28. Election 2024: News organizations urge Biden, Trump to commit to

    1 of 2 | . FILE - Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, right, answers a question as President Donald Trump listens during the second and final presidential debate Oct. 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. Twelve news organizations issued a joint statement calling on the presumptive presidential nominees President Biden and former President Trump to agree to debates ...

  29. Fed's Powell Speech: Live News, Analysis From Stanford Forum Q&A

    Here are five key takeaways from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell's remarks at Stanford University's Business, Government and Society Forum Wednesday: Powell said the Fed has time to assess ...