The morale in Washington these days is depressing. The government shutdown and partisan gridlock have sucked the energy and hope out of the people here, and even the most avid politico can’t help but feel twinges of apathy from the current climate on Capitol Hill. And so I thought now would be a good time to take a moment and reflect on the good parts of American politics. There have been dozens of incredible leaders throughout history who have had a way with words capable of inspiring the masses. Here are nine of them, that always remind me why I love this country, and help restore my hope for the future.
1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address (1933)
One of the greatest American presidents to ever lived reminded us all that “the only thing you have to fear, is fear itself.” He of course, was speaking about the nation’s recovery from the Great Depression, but his words continued to apply to the coming World War II.
2. General Douglas MacArthur’s Farewell Speech (1951)
The quintessential American General who had led troops in World War II and the first half of the Korean War before being dismissed from his post. During his address before a joint session of Congress, he promised that “old soldier’s never die, they just fade away.”
3. John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address (1961)
This speech is chock full of amazing quotes that have entered into the American lexicon. From, “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” to my favorite line, “let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
LBJ’s speech urging the passage on the Voting Rights Act before Congress show’s he really learned a thing or two from the Kennedy’s about how to make a damned good speech, one that purportedly made Martin Luther King cry. His plea for unity is one I think members of Congress could stand to hear today: “there is no Negro problem. There is no southern problem. There is no northern problem. There is only an American problem. And we are met here tonight as Americans—not as Democrats or Republicans—we are met here as Americans to solve that problem.”
5. Robert Kennedy’s Speech on the Assassination of Martin Luther King (1968)
The Kennedy boys really knew how to bring a tear to the eyes of every man, woman, and child in a crowd. Robert Kennedy was charged with announcing to the nation the assassination of Martin Luther King, and took the time to inspire the Civil Rights Movement in a time of tragedy. “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.” Beautiful stuff.
6. Jimmy Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence Speech” (1979)
Presiding over a failing economy as well as the greatest energy crisis in American history, Jimmy Carter took to the airwaves to unroll some new policies and tell Americans to keep their chins up. He described a “crisis of confidence” occurring in the country caused by the “the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.”
7. Ronald Reagan’s Farewell Address (1989)
The only Republican president to make this list, Reagan certainly had a way with words. Maybe it was the years he spent as a Hollywood actor, or just a natural charisma, but Reagan had a way of speaking in a way everyone could understand. My favorite line: “The lesson of all this was, of course, that because we’re a great nation, our challenges seem complex. It will always be this way. But as long as we remember our first principles and believe in ourselves, the future will always be ours. And something else we learned: Once you begin a great movement, there’s no telling where it will end. We meant to change a nation, and instead, we changed a world.”
8. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Address to the U.N. (1995)
Before Hillary Clinton was a presidential candidate or Secretary of State, she was a First Lady, and a very out-spoken one at that. While her husband was in the White House, she gave this speech in which she maintained that “women’s rights are human rights.” In doing so she inspired a generation of young female leaders.
9. Barack Obama’s Democratic National Convention Speech
None of us will ever forget the moment that catapulted Barack Obama, then an unknown first-term Senator from Illinois, on to the national stage. His statement, “there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America,” inspired the country to hope for a better future.