The Art of Speech

These great speeches tell the world that the United States is truly a respectable nation who not only believes in democratic values, but is also committed to putting them into practice. Democracy is founded on the principle that all people have equal access to power and elections are conducted in a fair and competitive manner. Key to this principle is the assumption that all participants abide by the rules of the game and that whoever loses the people’s support must be prepared to admit failure and cede power. This unspoken rule is put to no greater test than when the time comes for a defeated presidential candidate to concede after a long, hard and often acrimonious fight with his archrival in a neck and neck race.

In true American color and like all defeated presidential candidates before him, after fighting his rival for months red in fang and claw in election campaigns, McCain phoned Obama at the first possible instant to concede to his success and to congratulate him.

No blame-game, no bitterness, no self-pity, no petty insinuation, just a sincere praise for his opponent and then a call to his supporters for unity and a pledge to cooperate, as McCain delivered his speech. That’s what’s truly great about Americans and their democratic spirit! And it is a grand gesture that shines in magnanimity and underscores all the merits of a vibrant democracy.

“To congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love.

In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving.

This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight.”

He then went on to plead with his supporters to set aside differences with the opposite camp and to rally round the President-elect in the name of patriotism:-

“These are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.

I urge all Americans ... I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.

Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.

It is natural. It's natural, tonight, to feel some disappointment. But tomorrow, we must move beyond it and work together to get our country moving again.”

And his pride in being of service to his country and his modesty are equally admirable and fitting for a leader:-

“I would not — I would not be an American worthy of the name should I regret a fate that has allowed me the extraordinary privilege of serving this country for a half a century.

Today, I was a candidate for the highest office in the country I love so much. And tonight, I remain her servant. That is blessing enough for anyone, and I thank the people of Arizona for it.”

As out of favor with the Americans as Bush is, his congratulatory speech is no less reflective of a people well versed in the democratic spirit, as the dumped leader prepares for transition of power:-

“No matter how they cast their ballots, all Americans can be proud of the history that was made yesterday. Across the country, citizens voted in large numbers. They showed a watching world the vitality of America's democracy, and the strides we have made toward a more perfect union. They chose a President whose journey represents a triumph of the American story -- a testament to hard work, optimism, and faith in the enduring promise of our nation.

Many of our citizens thought they would never live to see that day. This moment is especially uplifting for a generation of Americans who witnessed the struggle for civil rights with their own eyes -- and four decades later see a dream fulfilled.”

As for the President-elect, Barack Obama, I wrote about him in January this year (see this post). His acceptance speech is, needless to say, just as heartening as his earlier speeches are. No doubt all eyes will be on him in the coming months as the transition of power begins. As I said before, I have faith in him “stepping up to the plate on steering American society back on the right course”. I digress.

What make America great are, after all, Americans themselves. And what makes American leaders great is, among other things, their ingenious use of speeches to inspire, unite and touch hearts regardless of their own personal gain or loss, especially in historic moments like this one.