Write-Your-Own Obama Speech
How does Obama keep up his hot streak of speeches? The Daily Beast analyzed his most famous speeches to crack the code behind the president's rhetoric. Our step-by-step guide for turning even the most divisive debates into an inspiring call for unity.
President Obama has faced his share of tough issues and audiences over the years, but at every turn he's managed to defuse tension with a well-timed speech. Already he's receiving rave reviews for this morning's address in Cairo, Egypt, on America's relationship with the Muslim world. But how does he do it? We analyzed Obama's most famous speeches to bring you this handy instruction manual.
Step 1. Thanks for having me.
Cairo: "I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement." ( Egypt)
2004 DNC: "On behalf of the great state of Illinois, crossroads of a nation, land of Lincoln, let me express my deep gratitude for the privilege of expressing this convention." ( Democratic National Convention, 7/27/04)
Notre Dame: "To Father Hesburgh, to Notre Dame trustees, to faculty, to family: I am honored to be here today. And I am grateful to all of you for allowing me to be a part of your graduation." ( Notre Dame commencement, 5/17/09)
2. Express shock that someone with your life story could ever stand before such a crowd…
Cairo: "Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected president."
2004 DNC: "Tonight is a particular honor for me because, let's face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack."
Philadelphia Race Speech: "[My] story hasn't made me the most conventional of candidates..." ( “A More Perfect Union,” 3/18/08)
3. ...But that's just America for you.
Cairo: "But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores—that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average."
2004 DNC: "I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that in no other country on earth is my story even possible."
Race Speech: "I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible."
4. Pause for audience interruption.
Protester at Notre Dame speech: "Abortion is murder!"
Soldier in Iraq: "We love you!" ( Iraq Speech 4/7/09, many others)
5. Have gracious comeback ready.
Notre Dame: "That's all right....We're not going to shy away from things that are uncomfortable sometimes."
Iraq: "I love you back!" (Iraq speech 4/7/09, many others)
6. Pay homage to Founding Fathers and/or quote the Declaration of Independence.
Cairo: "We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words—within our borders, and around the world."
Race Speech: "'We the people, in order to form a more perfect union ...'—221 years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy."
National Security Speech: "My own American journey was paved by generations of citizens who gave meaning to those simple words—'to form a more perfect union.' I've studied the Constitution as a student, I've taught it as a teacher, I've been bound by it as a lawyer and a legislator." ( National Security speech, 5/21/09)
2004 DNC: "Our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over 200 years ago: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...'"
7. Express regret at America’s failures to live up to its founding principles.
Cairo: "9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals.”
National Security Speech: "Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, too often we set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford."
Race Speech: "The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery..."
2004 DNC: "This year, in this election, we are called to reaffirm our values and our commitments, to hold them against a hard reality and see how we are measuring up...I say to you, tonight, we have more work to do."
8. Both sides have a point.
(a.) On the one hand.....
Cairo: "More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations."
Cairo: "Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust."
Race Speech: "For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years."
Economic Speech: "For years, too many Wall Street executives made imprudent and dangerous decisions, seeking profits with too little regard for risk, too little regulatory scrutiny, and too little accountability."
(b.) But on the other hand....
Cairo: "But let us be clear: Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody."
Cairo: "On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people—Muslims and Christians—have suffered in pursuit of a homeland."
Economic Speech: "...some borrowers took advantage of cheap credit to take on debt they couldn’t afford."
Race Speech: "In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race."
9. Dismiss traditional battle lines as insufficiently nuanced. Find common ground.
Cairo: "...since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch."
2004 DNC: "We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states."
Notre Dame: "That's when we begin to say, 'Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made casually, it has both moral and spiritual dimensions.'"
10. After all, just look at me!
Cairo: "I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith."
Race Speech: "I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas."
Notre Dame: "Perhaps because I witnessed all of the good works their faith inspired them to perform, I found myself drawn not just to work with the church; I was drawn to be in the church. It was through this service that I was brought to Christ."
11. Manage expectations.
Cairo: "No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point."
Notre Dame: "I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away....the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable."
Race Speech: "...I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy—particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own."
Economic Speech: "It will not come easy or happen overnight, and it is altogether likely that things may get worse before they get better."
12. That said, don’t be afraid to dream big.
Cairo: "We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning..."
Race Speech: "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..."
Economic Speech: "...if we are able to summon that spirit again; if are able to look out for one another, and listen to one another, and do our part for our nation and for posterity, then I have no doubt that years from now, we will look back on 2009 as one of those years that marked another new and hopeful beginning for the United States of America."
13. Invoke God.
Cairo: "Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you."
Notre Dame: "May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America."
Economic Speech: "Thank you, God Bless You, and may God Bless America."
Xtra Insight: View Benjamin Sarlin's gallery of the 2012 field
Xtra Insight: View our gallery of Obama's trip
Xtra Insight: Read and watch Obama's speech
Benjamin Sarlin is a reporter for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.