The Best (and Worst) Speeches of 2012

By Latimer, Matt | Newsweek, November 19, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Best (and Worst) Speeches of 2012


Latimer, Matt, Newsweek


So many words. So few worth remembering. Matt Latimer on the campaign's most consequential oratory.

Early Wednesday morning, Barack Obama appeared before thousands of cheering supporters in Chicago and for the first time in a long time sounded like a president. The victory speech lingered on a little too long, but hey--after an all-but-miraculous reelection, I'll cut him a little slack. Overall, the tone was gracious, elevated, inclusive, and deeply patriotic. One hopes it is a positive omen for his next four years.

Take it from a retired presidential speechwriter: political speeches, as a general rule, are vastly overrated. This is mostly because politicians give too many of them. They've become dull and formulaic and have lost most of their impact. There were, however, a few moments in the 2012 campaign where the politicians did manage to tell us something--even if it wasn't always what they intended.

Below and in no particular order are the top 10 most consequential speeches of this election cycle:

Herman Cain

Withdrawal announcement

Poorly organized, mysterious, and just plain bizarre, Candidate Cain's remarks as he ended his presidential bid echoed his entire candidacy. It also demonstrated just how unhappy Republican voters were with their choice of candidates this year: for a while, a man who quoted a song from the movie Pokemon was a frontrunner for his party's nomination. We hadn't seen anything quite like this since presidential candidate Ross Perot ended a speech by dancing with his wife to the song "Crazy." Yes, that actually happened.

Bill Clinton

Democratic National Convention

Daring to educate his audience, Bill Clinton offered a forceful, fact-filled, and persuasive case for Barack Obama's reelection with a presentation that no one else on the Obama campaign ever managed to equal, including the president himself. Forget the Marc Rich pardon, Monica, Obama as a "fairy tale"--Bill Clinton's performance in Charlotte, N.C., signaled his total political rehabilitation in the Democratic Party. The former president's above-and-beyond-the-call assistance to his wife's onetime bitter rival also conclusively proved that the Clintons are preparing for another shot at the top job.

Newt Gingrich

South Carolina debate

Never underestimate the Republican rank and file's contempt for the "lamestream press." Newt Gingrich's finger-wagging takedown of CNN's John King for daring to ask about past marital infidelities singlehandedly won him the South Carolina presidential primary and, for a few days at least, shook up the cool and overconfident Romney campaign. It was a tour de force for the former speaker, showing his incomparable ability to rally his party while also underscoring the character issues that haunted his campaign. (Full disclosure: I worked for Gingrich's campaign for a time.)

Jeb Bush

Republican National Convention

Remember this speech?

Of course not. Who would have thought that of all the members of the Bush family, the brainy Jeb would be the worst speaker of them all? The former Florida governor's ponderous, wonky, largely charisma-free lecture on education was one of the great mysteries of an otherwise suspenseless convention. How could anyone have let this happen? Maybe Bush was angling to be Education secretary in a Romney administration. In any event, the speech sharply undermined the idea that he was an odds-on favorite for the GOP nomination the next time the race is open. …

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