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tv   Lectures in History Presidential Speeches  CSPAN  December 29, 2021 9:45am-10:54am EST

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and authors. funding comes from these television companies and more. including midco. ♪♪ ♪♪ midco along with these television companies support c-span2 as a public service. up next, professor john pitney teaches a class on presidential speeches and public opinions from the 1970s through the 1990s and how presidential communication shifted from network television to cable and internet. >> okay. welcome to our discussion of presidential speeches through history.
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first point i want to make is that for the first century and change of american history, presidents didn't really give all that many speeches. we have seen president washington's farewell address, which was ghost written. who ghost wrote it? hamilton, of course. and if you saw the play, there's the famous song "one last time." the thing -- people call it an address. washington never gave it as a speech. washington never gave that address as a speech. it was all in writing. presidents gave inaugural addresses. occasionally gave speeches on other occasions. but if they communicated with the public, it was generally
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many writing. sometimes official presidential messages. sometimes unofficial political communications through proxies. political allies would put out material supporting their political position. that happened quite a bit in the 19th century. why was this? because the norms were different. there was an expectation that presidents shouldn't give a lot of speeches, shouldn't try to be demagogues. you have read the federalist papers. the founders were very concerned about the danger of demagogues. presidents were aware of this norm. even though in private, they tried to mold public opinion. they were concerned about their public image and their public behavior. the other thing that's pretty obvious -- sometimes we forget
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this. technology didn't allow for the president's voice to reach that many people. 19th century, no radio. no tv. first decades of the century, no telegraph. travel was difficult. you know, it's not as if presidents could get on horse force one and that afternoon visit the farthest reaches of the realm. didn't happen that way. it was difficult. now in the middle of the 19th century, you had the development of the telegraph. you had rail systems in place. you also had another underappreciated bit of technology, and that's shorthand. by the time of the lincoln/douglas debates of 1868, we had shorthand, which is why we have a really good stenographic record of the
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lincoln/douglas debates. we have multiple stenographic records. some historians have noted slight differences in those records. really, it was not until the 20th century that substantial numbers of people could actually hear the president's voice. if you look at the chart here, households with radio sets in 1922, there were 60,000 households in the united states that had radio sets. by 1932, the election of franklin roosevelt, that number was up to 18.4 million. there were some presidential radio addresses during the 1920s. calvin coolidge had a pretty good voice for radio. herbert hoover did some speaking on the radio. really, when we think about presidents and the electronic media, we are thinking about
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franklin d. roosevelt. roosevelt is famous for the so-called fireside chats. important thing to know about the fireside chats. a lot of people think he gave them every week. no, no, no. he gave'em on special occasions. there weren't as many fireside chats as people think there were. but roosevelt had a very good voice for radio and he understood in the fireside chat s that the more moderate wing of the republican party. and they were good at it. tom dewey was elected three times as governor of new york. that you didn't talk the same way as you did when you were rating to a large crowd. lot of times politicians of the era -- amazing speech just talking into the radio microphone -- and people would get tumpbd off by that. fdr understand that is not the way you talk on the radio.rned .
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fdr understand that is not the way you talk on the radio. he also used radio effectively on certain special occasions. and some of his major speeches were broadcast. roosevelt gave acceptance speech. and you may, yeah, so? and this was an innovation. roosevelt flew to the convention in 1932 and accepted the nomination in person, which is something people just didn't do in those days. wow, this is something special. in 1936 he gave an acceptance speech again. really, acceptance speeches as we know them would not become regularized until well into the 20th century.
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one speech in particular came of the attack on pearl harbor, the "day of infamy" speech. we'll see at the beginning and then skip ahead. [ video playing ] [ applause ] >> senators and representatives, i have the distinguished honor of presenting the president of the united states.
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>> vice president, mr. speaker, members of the senate, of the house of representatives, yesterday, december 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy. united states of america was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of japan. the united states was at peace with that nation, and at solicitation of japan, still in conversation with its government and its emperor, looking towards the maintenance of peace in the
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pacific. indeed -- >> went on like that for a while. one thing you will notice when franklin delano roosevelt was giving a speech, he gestured what his head. he would go --. there was a very simple reason for that. he needed leg braces to stand. he needed to hold the podium just to maintain his position. if he let go he could fall. 1936 democratic convention he actually fell. and the pages fell out of order which created a difficult situation for him that he was able to improvise. and so that was bit of a limitation on his ability to gesture to an audience.
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now, in this particular speech he's telling americans what had just happened. the attack on pearl harbor. but he has details that americans are just very recently learning. so we go ahead here. in the speech. >> -- also launched an attack against malea. last night japanese forces attacked hong kong. last night japanese forces attacked guam. last night japanese forces attacked the philippine islands. last night the japanese attacked wake island. and this morning the japanese attacked midway island.
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japan has therefore undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the pacific area. >> okay. so what we see here is that roosevelt was trying to convey the enormity of what had just happened. it was not simply an attack on one military base in pearl harbor, but what was part of a massive offensive in the pacific. he wanted to rally public support for a declaration of war. and he got it. he got the almost unanimous support of congress, with one exception. janet rankine who by pure coincide had also voted against the declaration of war in the first world war. she served two non consecutive terms in congress and both times
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her claim to fame was that she had voted against the declaration of war. the function gradually increases, in part because presidents become more mobile. during the 1950s, are president eisenhower begins making greater use what we would today call air force one. he originally called it the columbine. and at times rose -- eisenhower world health organization had gotten a pilots license would actually take the controls. sometimes he fully flew the plane. he was an extremely competent. so eisenhower did do some traveling, made some speeches around the country. even did some television.
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one thing he didn't do though in the 1950s was live press conferences. there was pressure from the press for him to do live press conferences. and he was resistant to that. because he thought that he might inadvertently reveal national security information. now, you may wonder why was he so paranoid and sensitive about national security information? well he had been the commander of american forces in world war ii. when you had gone toe to toe with hitler you kind of get sensitive about those things. but he did end up having recorded press conferences. and they worked pretty well. and he was good at'em. we don't think of eisenhower as a great orator or someone who was particularly expert in domestic policy but the guy read his briefing book. he knew his stuff and he did pretty well in the press conferences. >> big innovation in television came with jfk.
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jfk did have live press conferences. this was a format that was particularly good for jfk. number one, he got the reporters. he understood them culturally. he had briefly in fact being a reporter himself, after he got out of the navy in the second world war. he didn't need the money, obviously but he wanted to be able to say that he had a civilian job so his father arranged him a reporting gig. he understood how to handle himself at a press conference. he was very good at it. and he came across well on tv. in part. we'll talk more about this as we get into debates, ironically because of the medication he was taking. if you look at pictures of jfk in the early 1950s, he looks kind of sickly. by 1960s he looks much better
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because he was taking cortisone. which sometimes has the unfortunate effect of distorting people's features, but jfk was so thin, it actually filled him out, made him look good. and his health was not in the best of shape during his presidency. his problems were much worse than the general public knew at the time. but he came across extremely well on television. gave important speeches, 1962. revealing the presence of soviet missiles in cuba. and during the 1960s, is the state of the union. the president started giving the state of the union address at night. previously they gave it during the day. in fact during the 19th century they didn't give a speech at all. they sent a message to congress.
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this was part of the norm that i had mentioned earlier, that president should communicate in writing and that they should be careful about demagoguic appeals to public opinion. so throughout most of the 19th century is it state of the union addresses were written documents, not oral presentations. for the 1930s, 40s, '50s, the state of the union was a speech -- it really was a speech to congressment television
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advanced throughout the '70s. richard nixon put a lot of emphasis on publications and his speeches to read them were pretty good. except during watergate. his other public appearances. he was not in the best of form. "i am not a crook." that just didn't go over very well.
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but one president i wanted to dwell on for a bit because we tend to associate him with the public presidency use of rhetoric, of course, is ronald reagan. reagan as everybody knows had spent most of his career as an actor. he knew a lot about lighting, about sound, about how to carry himself. you know, he used to say, well, it's different when you know how you look from behind. and he did. he had an acute awareness of how he was coming across on the screen. and his critics accused him of being superficial. when you read the speech, you can decide that for yourself, but reagan to an extent that people at the time didn't realize did a fair amount of his own writing. during the 1970s, between his governorship of california and his presidency, he gave radio addresses that for the most part he wrote himself. we know this for sure we have the manuscripts in his rather legible handwriting so he knew how to put together a sentence.
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he wasn't a great literary figure, but he could write sentences and paragraphs which is not necessarily true of all presidents. and the speech i need tow you -- and the speech i asked you to look at was his 1983 speech to the national association of evangelicals. and he did express his views on the soviet union, which we will talk about in a minute. you have had a chance to look at the type script of the speech. but the thing, i gather, kind of surprised you was that it was not about the soviet union exclusively. in fact, the soviet union came as sort of the last item in a list of things that he was talking about. this illustrates a point that
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we're discussing in the course and that's the role of religion in american politics. he was talking to the national association of evangelicals and his agenda item was to get them involved in politics. he'd get them involved in politics, on the side of the causes that he preferred. now, you may wonder, huh? why does anybody have to convince evangelicals that they should be involved in politics? i mean, what? the answer is remember this is 1983. for a long time, american evangelicals had been hesitant to get involved in politics. reagan was trying to engage them. he was trying to engage them by talking very directly about
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religion. and an issue that he emphasized throughout the first part of his speech, of course, was abortion. we tend to think it's very contentious issue today, but it's been a contentious issue for decades and here it's also important to remember that evangelicals were not in the forefront of opposition to abortion in the 1970s. the catholic church was. the evangelicals were slower to get involved in that movement and reagan was trying to mobilize them in that direction. he was talking more broadly about the role of religion in politics. and he even used the fake tokeville revelation. he never wrote that america is
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great and dolan, who is catholic, he wrote a good speech and pitched it to evangelicals and it included the quotation from de tocqueville. you can see how reagan tweaked the fake quotation. he didn't like the exact wording, so he added the -- and at the pulpit of the flame of righteousness. so reagan had heard about the fake quotation before and he just applied his own version to it. and if you want to see him using that line, and also in the context of the speech, here is a clip.
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-- and he calmly accepted. the american experiment in democracy rests on this insight. it was the great triumph of our founding fathers by william penn when he said "if we will not be governed by god, we must be governed by tyrants." explaining the unalienable rights of men, jefferson said "the god who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time." and it was george washington who said that, "of all the dispositions which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality and indispensable supports." finally, that truest of all observers of american democracy, de tocqueville said after he had gone on a search for america's greatness and genius, he said not until i went into the churches of america and heard
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her pulpits aflame with righteousness did i understand the greatness and the genius of america. america is good. and if america ever ceases to be good, america will cease. to be great. well i'm pleased -- [ applause ] to be great. well i'm pleased -- [ applause ] and as you know, tocqueville never said any such thing. and you can see the whole type script there. yeah, i hope you have had a chance to look at it. you can just see here how deeply engaged reagan was in the
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drafting of this speech. in fact, there are whole sections here that are in his own handwriting. he inserted -- he's very actively engaged in speeches at the time. if you look at type scripts of speeches in the second term, he is much less engaged. whether it was the early signs of alzheimer's or simply he was getting older and tired, nobody will ever know. but in first term anyway, reagan was an active participant in the speech writing process and one of the great things about having n access to these type scripts is that you can actually see it. now, evil empire. let me set the scene for you. there was a proposal at the time for a nuclear freeze. to oversimplify the united states and soviet union would just freeze the number of their
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strategic nuclear weapons. just hold them in place. reagan was trying to stop that. reagan did not think this was a good idea because the soviets had nuclear superiority. as we now know, the soviet union was a mess in just about everything else. the economy was in terrible shape. people had a horrible standard of living. but they did have a pretty powerful nuclear force. that's one area that they had the advantage and reagan didn't want them to have the advantage so he was trying to stop the movement for a nuclear freeze. the reason i emphasized this in the past, when i asked about this speech, sometimes people would answer, oh, this speech was designed to advance president reagan's proposal for a nuclear freeze. which indicates people weren't quite clear on the concept. so he was fighting the idea of a nuclear freeze.
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remember, it's 1983. the cold war is still on. in the speech you'll notice he refers to the cold war in the past tense. sometimes that happened during the 1980s. they referred to the cold war as period in the 19 o 50s and 1960s and we think of the world war and the closing on christmas day. we didn't know that the berlin wall was going to fall in 1989. if you had gone in a time machine to 1983 and said, eight years from now, the soviet union will close. soviet union will dissolve. component parts of the soviet union will split off into independent countries and at least for a while there will be
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free elections in russia. of course, things kind of change with vladimir putin a little later, but the old soviet union collapses. i mean, people would have thought you were crazy if you would have said such a thing. 1983, it was still a going concern. people were very fearful of the soviet union and the soviet union was very fearful of the united states. there were times in the 1980s when the cold war might have gotten hot and we avoided that. if we hadn't avoided that we wouldn't be here today. so reagan wanted to send a very clear message. now, again, he thought he could mobilize the evangelicals because the soviet union is officially -- was officially atheistic and wanted to drive that point home to them.
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and engage them against the idea of moral equivalence. we're going to see that in the clip that we're going to show right now. this is paul kengor giving a talk about the speech. >> so here is the third and final clip. >> yes, let us pray for the salvation for those who live in the totalitarian darkness and pray they will discover the joy of knowing god, but until they do. let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its only any place over individual man and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world. it was c.s. lewis who in his
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unforgettable screw tape letters, wrote, "the greatest evil is not done now in those sordid dens of crime that dickens loved to paint. it is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. in those we see its final result. but it is conceived and ordered, moved, seconded, carried, minuted, in clear carpeted, warm and well-lights offices by quiet men with white collars and sut finger nails and smooth shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice." but because these quiet men do not raise their voices, because they sometimes speak in soothing tones of brotherhood and peace and like others before them, they were making their final territorial demand, some would have us accept them at our word and for their aggressive
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impulses. but if history teaches anything, it teaches that simple minded appeasement or wishful thinking of ore adversary is folly. it means the betrayal of our past, the squandering of our freedom. i urge you to speak out against those who would put the united states in a position of military and moral inferiority. i've always believed old screw stap reserved his best efforts for you in the church. in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals i urge you to be beware of the temptation of pride and of declaring yourself above it all. and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and aggressive impulses of an i've empire to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil. >> yeah. there was.
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right. it is an evil empire. those words "an evil empire." when the words folks of evil in the modern world, evil empire came out -- >> okay. professor kengor talking more about the evil empire. this was very controversial at the time. because many wanted a closer relationship with the soviet union and by using the term evil, we would be provoking the soviet union. and some of you may have seen the clip i showed from the tv series "the americans" and the two kgb spys are shocked to see reagan talking this way. yes, within the soviet union there was a great deal of shock about reagan. now, how much did reagan's policies have to do with the fall of the soviet union? well, that's quite a debate. some would argue that at most,
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reagan's policies were peripheral and the soviet union collapsed because of control reasons. others would say that the soviet union fell because reagan gave them a push. you decide. you read the evidence. i'm sure this will come up in a lot of your courses in international relations. important thing again is what he was using the speech for. this is a case of a presidential speech having multiple audiences. obviously, his immediate audience was the national association of evangelicals. more broadly, it was religious people in the united states and evangelicals in general, whom he wanted to mobilize on behalf of his causes. but when the president speaks, the world listens. people all over the world knew that he had referred to the soviet union as an evil empire.
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this was of some concern in moscow, to put it mildly. but word reached places like warsaw, and there were people who took inspiration from these words. so for some people, it was inspirational. for other people, it was confrontational and alarmist. so the speech was a matter of delivering multiple messages to multiple audiences. and we see this a lot in presidential speeches. i want to talk about another reagan speech and this is something that i hope you had a chance to read about in peggy noonan's chapter and that's the d-day speech.
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this is the speech he gave on the 6th of june, 1984, 40 years after the landings in normandy. why 40, not 50? as a practical matter, veterans of d-day were getting older. many of them were simply dying and the white house figured this would be the last chance to get a substantial number of veterans of d-day in one place. so a lot of planning went into this. there was a famous speech that we're going to see at plant dolk, which is a site on the normandy beach where americans scaled a cliff. and they were being shot at. if you have ever been there, you just look up and you think, wow this is -- this was an act of amazing bravery for these guys to be able to do that. now, militarily, that was a different story.
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military history, military historians say maybe this was totally unnecessary because the germans had moved the guns. you look up and you think, wow, this was an act of amazing bravery for these guys to be able to do that. military that was a different story. most historians say maybe this was totally unnecessary. that's a different issue. there's no saying however the heroism of the rangers who scared the cliffs. and that's really what reagan wanted to celebrate. bingo, the case of democratic righting right here. every speech goes through what some call the approval loop. back in the 1980s it was a paper document.
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later on all of this would be done electronically. but this shows who gets a copy of it, who gets to weigh in on the speech. and from the perspective of the speechwriter this can be somewhat annoying. everybody wants to have a say in the speech. and even though it's annoying for the speechwriter sometimes the approval loop can save you. in this case there was a factual error in the original version of the speech. the big guns were not in place at the top. he top of these jim was right and they changed the text of the speech to rule this actual error. the big guns were not in place at the top of the cliffs, they
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had been moved. which is true. they checked the facts, jim was right. and they changed the text of the speech to remove the factual error. this by the way didn't work with the fake tocqueville comment. but nobody is perfect. so the speech goes through the approval loop. in this case it had the intended effect. see the circled ideas. the enemy guns were quieted, et cetera.
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and so reagan gave this famous speech. and again, it's worth seeing some of the video. >> much of europe -- on that day in history when the allied armies joined in battle to re-claim this continent. for four long years much of europe had been under a terrible shadow. free nations had fallen. yews cried out in the camps. millions cried for liberation. s europe was enslaved here in normandy the rescue began. here the allies stood and fought against tyranny in an undertaking un-paralleled in history. we stand on a lonely windswept point on the northern shore of france. the air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men. and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. at dawn on the 6th of june 1944,
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225 rangers jump off the british landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion. to climb these desolate and sheer cliffs and take out the enemy guns. the allies had been told some of the mightiest of the guns were here. the rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers 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
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began to seize back the continent of europe. 225 came here. after two days of fighting only 90 could still bear arms. behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. and before me are the men who put them there. these are the points of pointe du hoc. [ applause ] these are the men who took the cliffs. these are the champions who helped free a continent, and these are the heroes who helped end a war. gentlemen, i look at you and think of the words of stephen -- >> okay. these are the boys of pointe du hoc. that is a line that is remembered even to this day there. two years ago my family went to normandy, and we stood in that
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very spot. and our tour guide was there. and he took out a piece of paper. he read that speech. he read that speech. so it made a tremendous impression. now, obviously, it's 1984 and do the arithmetic. reagan is running for re-election. obviously everything a president does during re-election year has something to do with that, and this associated reagan with heroism, with military strength, with american history. but, that's one of the advantages you get when you are the incumbent president. now, the other speech -- the other speechwriter memoir to look at is by ben wauldman. as i mentioned before.
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and michael waldman, that is his son. and this focus is on clinton talking about social security. this is an issue that favored the democrats, had favored the democrats since fdr. every so often republicans would try to do something with social security and it would always blow up in their faces. and this was an opportunity for clinton to seize the public attention and focus on this issue. they include a line in the speech, "save social security first." what could do you do if you were republican? could you withhold applause on
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that? with all the elderly constituents watching on television? i don't think so because the camera is going to pan the chamber, and those of us who are old people who notice who's applauding for it and who isn't. okay. something really important happens to president clinton. the controversy that will eventually lead to his impeachment. so how does he address it in his speech? he doesn't. doesn't say a word about it. and people will say, whoa, what is clinton going to say about all this, is he going to resign? no, he's just gonna tough it out. i'm just going to ignore all that, and i'm going to give the speech i want to give. and he did. and so.
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cspan, more relevant than ever. >> so we'll advance to the part -- now, if we balance the budget for next year, it is projected that we'll then have a sizable surplus in the years that immediately follow. what should we do with this projected surplus? i have a simple four-word answer. save social security first. [ applause ]
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are okay. save social security first. because some republicans were talking about using a surplus for more tax cuts. and he trumped them on that, to use a peculiar verb there. the -- and this was all planned. and it turns out the reaction to the speech was generally very positive. and from the standpoint of crisis communication, this is a terrific illustration of the line they quoted before from "madmen." if you don't like what's being said, change the conversation. so he just changed the conversation, i'm gonna talk about social security. you can talk about all that very sordid stuff later. i'm going talk about what i'm doing. and it worked for him. public opinion stayed with bill
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clinton. 1998 elections republicans actually lost seats in the house when they expected to gain them. so say what you will about bill clinton's policies. he was one of the most brilliant apologists we've ever had in the white house, and i think this clip illustrates that point. ione thinking to yourself, well, that's just last point i want to make before we get into q&a. the policy -- we saw the role of religion, and we saw president reagan talking about religion. and you might be thinking to yourself, well that's just reagan. lots and lots of presidents have talked about religion. and among the presidents who talked about it most is barack obama. i say it is curious because during the 2008 campaign, there were people saying oh, we don't know what his religious believes are.
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a name like barack obama, i don't know. which is peculiar given that he is very religious and knows the bible better probably than a lot of people who were criticizing him. and in this speech this is the white house easter prayer breakfast 2015. he talks in very, very direct terms, very specifically christian terms about his beliefs. -- in a better place. i am no preacher. i can't tell anything to this crowd about easter that you don't already know. i can offer just a couple quickly before we begin the program. for me the celebration of easter puts our earthly concerns into perspective. with humility and with awe, we give thanks to the extraordinary
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sacrifice of jesus christ our savior. reflect on the brutal pain that he suffered, the scorn that he absorbed, the sins that he bore, this stroornd gift of salvation that he gave to usextraordinary salvation that he gave to us. and we try as best we can to comprehend the darkness he endured so that we might receive god's light. and yet even as we grapple with the sheer enormity of jesus' sacrifice, on easter we can't lose sight of the fact that the story didn't end on friday. the story keeps ongoing. on sunday comes the glorious resurrection of our savior. good friday may occupy the throne for a day, dr. king once preached, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of easter.
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drums that beat the rhythm of renewal and redemption, goodness and grace, hope and love. easter is our affirmation there are better days ahead. and also a reminder that it is on us, the living, to make them so. is through god's mercy peter the apostle said, "we are given an inheritance that unparishable, unbefiled and --." it's an inheritance that called on us to be better, love more deeply, the least of these is an expression. the spirit we fill in an example of his holiness, pope francis, who encourages us to speak peace, serve the marginalized and be good stewards of god's creation. like millions of americans, i'm honored that we will be
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welcoming him to our country later this year. i want to quote him. he says that we should strive to see the lord in every excluded person who is thirsty, hungry, naked. to see the lord present even in those who have lost their faith. in the imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted. to see the lord in the leper, whether in body or soul, who encounters discrimination. isn't that how jesus lived? okay. so with that let me focus on questions and comments. one question i would like to pose, why did president obama use that particular reference? why did he quote pope francis? again, a couple of things are going on here. why quote pope francis?
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so thoughts. >> pope francis is one of the more aggressive popes that has come across in recent years, and i think the reason obama specifically chose pope francis because he's still appealing to very specific crowds at the same time his general basis which may not be as religious can better accept the pope's views if they're less conservative in catholicism. >> that's right. emphasizing inclusion. he's from south america. the -- and -- actually -- you know we might talk about this in another time. he's rare among popes. he has a scientific background. he worked as a chemist. but in this case he's talking about the marginalized, the
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leper. so doing an entirely different take of the christian message t will be appealing to more than a lot of other politicians will take. the president is talking about his personal believes, but he's casting them in ways that will be more appealing to progressive voters. and so this draws a contrast between the way barack obama talks about religion and the way ronald reagan does. so quite a contrast. i know from talking to you before class, some of you were a bit surprised by the evil empire speech. what reaction did you have when you looked at that? >> i was just really expecting them to be focuses on the soviet union, and the relationship america is having with it. but then all of a sudden -- about abortion and talking about abortion relationship to god.
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so i feel that that idea it's just focussed on our relationship with the soviet union is pretty skewed, because i think reagan had other intentions with the that speech. >> yeah, that's right. other comments or reactions? >> -- in that way, like he starts off by going off on abortion. i i thought part of the reason could be he was talking about the evil empire he's directly setting up a scenario in which he's not saving lives. and so i feel like the way he put abortion into the conversation made it so that he's appealing to this religious group by saying, oh yeah, you have to save the unborn child. and that's the only way to save the unborn child. so he kind of goes off the rhetoric around abortion about saving lives, and that was sort of how he set up his appeal to
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then go into even more things. >> okay. >> actually thought it would become part of the constitution. i worked in washington starting shortly after that speech. a lot of politicians talked about it, but everyone knew it was not going to happen. but it was extremely appealing. and it had substantial support. in large parts of the united states you are still to this day going do find lots of people who think that ought to be part of the constitution and that is the constituency he was talking with. >> i think he also talks about the family unit in a way which kind of creates that distinction between the way american views family and also abortion without the consent of parents being wrong in america's eyes to the
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soviet union's view of family which is much different than america's. i think he blends social conservative ideals very well with how america represents it and how the soviet union is the antithesis of that as well. >> something we'll talk later as we get into political parties in the speech nicely illustrates is that at the time, the conservative movement was a fusion on the one hand social conservatives who are very concerned about issues like family, abortions, et cetera, and national security conservatives who were very strongly anti-communist. and that brought a lot of those people into the tent. remember the cold war was a personal issue for a lot of americans because a large fraction of voters actually have roots in countries that were behind the iron curtain, particularly polish americans,
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who were very much aware of at the time the pope was polish. and part of his message was directed at them as well as to the evangelicals. so you had the social conservatives, the national security conservatives. at other times reagan spoke to the economic conservatives, with mixed results. on the other hand cut taxes, on the other hand, spending increased. so that is not a new story. in recent years we've had a similar pattern in fiscal politics. but that is something we did see in the 1980s. yeah? >> -- i think it is very interesting in how connecting, or contrasting these families social conservatives with the soviet union, he's also incorporating those social values with economic as well.
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it is not just that, you know, like the state shouldn't or, you know, should prevent abortions that the state presence and economic life is anti-family and anti-religion. and the soviet union provided this, like, excellent foil for making that point. >> sure. and again very much on people's minds during the 1980s, sure. >> he also in addition to creating this image of america as good as opposed to the soviet union as an evil empire, he also talks about how america is great and how america is good in relationship to tocqueville. but he also talks about the original sin of america being minority marginalization of slavery, so i thought it was interesting appealing to that. >> yeah, and we didn't have time for the entire speech but
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professor kengor on which i drew these clips emphasized that. in fact that was the part of the speech that got most of the applause from the immediate audience when he was talking about transcending the history of slavery and about the necessity to stand firm against bigotry in all forms. and, you know, he's talking about hate groups having arisen in america. and he urged his audience to stand up against them. and they applauded. now, reagan had lots of critics. if you read some of the critical accounts of the reagan administration you will -- there were some people who said, you know, reagan was actually using dog whistles himself to appeal to these groups. that is one line of criticism that you will come across. yeah? >> i think when you touch on audiences in the noonan excerpts on the very last page, had
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something staffing process in the address. and i think he well illustrates the audience and certain lines of the gettysburg address. they were conceived in -- which when we're reading it, it doesn't seem like that. when you apply to a specific audience, gettysburg address is an entirely different speech. i think you can really see how specifically focussed the evil empire speech was on the audience. more conservative but so incredibly like straightforward and very narrow. >> true. and what did you get from the speechwriters? because this is something a lot of you guys are going to be doing, maybe not for a president. but i guarantee you some of you in the years ahead are going to be doing internships maybe for a politician, maybe for an advocacy group. and some of you are going to be writing speeches. so what did you get out of these two chapters, one by a
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republican, one by a democrat? >> i think in those cases they want their own opinions, want their own input and especially want to have their own ideas emphasized in their speeches. it didn't matter whether you're a democrat or republican. it feels like each politician has a different agenda, but also proofreading is extremely important. >> yes. again in the case of the fake tocqueville quote there was a proofeding fail. >> -- noonan wants to infuse all these colorful imagery into her speeches but the policy wonks, as she calls them, kind of are preventing that and don't want -- and want it to be very technical and all that in their speeches. >> yeah. and that is a constant tension
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in the speech writing process between the policy experts and the people who like to put together colorful and memorable prose. and that's always going to be part of the attention in the speech writing process. and part of what daniel allen again called "democratic writing." you know, my own experience i remember one time i was writing something when i was in washington, and i quoted something there is that doesn't love a wall. okay? where's that from? robert frost. and my boss -- the person who was immediately reviewing that was seemingly unfamiliar with robert frost and she wrote "does not sound right." so i had to explain where it came from. it ended up on the discard pile anyway. so i have lot of frustrating stories from my own time writing
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speeches and other materials in washington. what else? other major takeaways from this week's readings? yeah. >> -- process --. i'm surprised by how much like the policy experts scrutinized over every single word. like, i remember the china speech, for example, where one expert policy person was like, taking issue with the history as a river analogy and somehow linked that to, like, marxism and communism, you know. and the speechwriter is just like i'm just trying to use a nice manufacture. >> again, tremendously frustrating for speechwriters, but speeches when you're president of the united states, every word weighs a ton. and if you use the wrong words, there are going to be major consequences. for example, george w. bush gave a speech in which he talked
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about iraq's effort to yellow cake uranium, and he said it was confirmed by -- you know, he mentioned british intelligence, et cetera. just a short passage in one speech. but that one short passage led to enormous coronavirus for years to come. -- faulty to say the least. so that's why, you know, it's frustrating if you're a speechwriter but you understand particularly when it comes to foreign policy why the experts want to have a crack at it. >> that is a direct physical quotation. let justice roll like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream. and throughout the speech the attempt is to associate government, freedom, liberty
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with religion as they're one and the same. and also he said in the speech they sought --. they never intended to construct the different excerpt of the speech, he basically was making reference to all of the times throughout history that our government has made reference to religious belief when that is not necessarily at the core of the national institution, that separation exists for a reason. >> yeah, and that's something we'll be talking about when we get to our discussion of civil liberties and the first amendment. >> reagan certainly walked that line between arguing that government totalitarianism is evil in its form but also saying that we must use the power of government to enforce some measure of religion because of, you know, moral values or anything that can be derived
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from that. i think it was effective, how he gave a speech, he didn't have to go after that question, saying these are the issues, this is why it's important that we have that government and made that argument on the first amendment, saying we can do it and it's necessary. >> okay. last two words. >> on the noonan chapter, she talks about the loss of presidents' speeches as literature, that political consultants have turned it into mush. i wonder if you think there is like an appetite in the modern political climate, like if americans would be receptive to the more high falutin' style. >> the short answer is some
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would and some wouldn't. the president wasn't known for high falutin' rhetoric but it was effective to his base, and that's something politicians pay attention to. >> what josh was saying, scrutinizing every word of this speech, it reminds me of when the monica lewinsky scandal broke out, they were looking at any possible interpretation that could be drawn from the speech that could be interpreted the wrong way and removing every single instance of that. >> yeah, he was talking about paul begala, paul is extremely familiar with opposition research, kind of anticipating how republicans would be able to go after the speech, and that's, again, frustrating for the speechwriter, but you have to have a political person who knows how the other side is going to respond. and on that highly practical
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note, i will draw today's class to a close. and hope you've gotten a little bit of insight into presidential rhetoric. and we will continue our look at the presidency in a virtual class on wednesday. take care. >> thank you. did you know you can listen to lectures in history on the go? stream it as a podcast anywhere, any time. you're watching american history tv. c-span offers a variety of podcasts that have something for every listener. weekdays, "washington today" gives you the latest from the nation's capitol. every week, "book notes plus" has in depth interviews with writers while "the weekly" uses audio from our immense archive. and our occasional series "talking

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