It is truly amazing what words can do. They can inspire us to great heights or scare us into strangling our own better angels. I guess that’s why speeches given by politicians are so important. They really only get one or two chances to get their message out.
Which brings me to the Democratic National Convention. Well, all conventions, really. Imagine what they’d be like without the fiery speeches packed with biting one-liners and inspirational messages.
Let’s think back together on the speeches given by the Democratic big names: the Clintons, Joe Biden, Barack Obama. They all delivered powerful words for the party when it meant the most. What follows here, are what I considered to be some of the best lines (not just one-liners, though there were plenty of those) from the Democratic National Convention.
Hillary Clinton, much to her credit, besides trying to unify the party, delivered some of the best lines I’ve ever heard in a convention speech.
“No way, no how, no McCain!” This one is certainly the most memorable from her speech. It was so smart and biting that many newspapers used it as the headline to their articles the next morning as a way to encapsulate the essence of her speech. It was also perhaps the simplest “go screw yourself” said in the nicest possible way to her Senate colleague and friend, John McCain.
“To my supporters, my champions—my sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits.” What a great plain-folk line. Honest, earnest, funny. With one popular culture reference, Hillary managed to show not only appreciation to, but sisterhood with, her supporters. And should things not go well for Barack Obama in November, Hillary just kept her base in tact for 2012.
“I want you to ask yourselves: Were you in this campaign just for me?” Certainly the most sobering line of her entire speech. This was not only a gracious attempt to unite her supporters with the Obama camp, but also a difficult but necessary admonition to her PUMAs. Essentially, it allowed her to question her supporters’ sanity for possibly voting for McCain without coming straight out and asking them if they were crazy.
And on that path to freedom, Harriett Tubman had one piece of advice:
If you hear the dogs, keep going.
If you see the torches in the woods, keep going.
If they’re shouting after you, keep going.
Don’t ever stop. Keep going.
If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.
The rally cry for the party! Hillary knows November will be difficult for Obama, what with many in this country still “uncomfortable” (read: trying to confront and work out their own racist leanings) with Obama. The allusion to Tubman and slaves running for freedom is the perfect choice of metaphor. And the message—keep going!—how simple, how powerful, especially that last line.
And if we’re talking about powerful, emotive speeches, there’s no way we can forget about former president, Bill Clinton.
People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power. Bill had a lot of good ideas in his speech, mostly in the form of denouncements of the Bush Administration’s handling of nearly everything from domestic to foreign policy in the last eight years. But this one line here really summed up the core of his message. Truly, under Bush, America has moved away from setting the shining example for the world to bullying the world into submission. Personally, this was one of the three best lines of the entire convention.
Pennsylvania Senator, Bob Casey, little known outside of the northeast addressed the convention with a so-so speech. However, he did manage to throw out a fantastic line while doing his duty to the party by continuing to link McCain to Bush.
John McCain voted with Bush 90% of the time. That’s not a maverick, that’s a sidekick. Perfect. What else needs to be said? Casey just turned McCain’s “maverick” moniker on its head while attaching him to Bush’s hip. This paints McCain as Bush’s “Tonto.”
Let’s talk about perennial presidential canidate, Dennis Kucinich, the representative from Ohio. This man is from the left most segment of the party and he’s not ashamed to say so. In fact, he calls shame on those who aren’t!
“Wake up, America!” The single, best “red meat” line…or rather, BLUE meat line of the convention. It is absolutely the message that needed to be delivered to those who are on the fence. Best of all, besides poking the undecideds in the heart, he also forcibly pokes those remaining Bush apologists straight in the eye.
I’ve always known of and respected Senator Joe Biden. But the more I see of him, the more I’m beginning to like him and admire him. Watch him at campaign events. He is absolutely loving every last second of it. The man is totally comfortable in his skin and exudes a genuineness not found in many politicians. This is probably why the party had him deliver the domestic/economic message of the night. As you read through, you’ll notice Biden doesn’t have many zingers. But he does talk directly to people’s hearts.
Almost every single night — almost every single night, I take the train home to Wilmington, Delaware, sometimes very late. As I sit there in my seat and I look out that window, I see those flickering lights of the homes that pass by, I can almost hear the conversation they’re having at their kitchen tables after they put their kids to bed.
He takes the train…he looks at the blurs of light whizzing by…he knows there are real families with real people who have real problems inside…the kitchen table… Pure genius; pure heart; pure blue collar appeal. This gets straight to the subject of “are you better off now than you were eight years ago?” Exactly what the Democrats needed to put out there. Let’s hope they continue to punch away at this message.
You know, folks, that’s the America that George Bush has left us. And that’s the America we’ll continue to get if George — excuse me, if John McCain is elected president of the United States of America. Freudian slip. Freudian slip.
Yes, only I don’t believe it was a slip at all…nice pivot and drive, Mr. Biden!
“Folks, remember when the world used to trust us, when they looked to us for leadership? With Barack Obama as our president, they’ll look at us again, they’ll trust us again, and we’ll be able to lead again.”
Ah…and the appeal to the intellectual, cosmopolitan wing of the Demcratic party. I dare say that though the Clintons may have delivered more memorable speeches, Biden delivered the most broad-themed, most versatile speech of all the convention.
And of course, this column can’t end without looking at a couple of lines delivered by the orator-nominee himself, Barack Obama.
“I don’t think Senator McCain doesn’t care; he just doesn’t know. It’s not that he doesn’t care; he just doesn’t get it.” Ok, admittedly, not the exact phrasing of his thoughts, but essentially, this is what it gets cut down to. Nice parallelism. Great way to paint McCain as out of touch and “cold-hearted” without coming out and blatantly attacking him as “he could care less about you.
“We are a better country than this.” Simple, clear and direct. This is an English teacher’s wet dream… The message is certainly there. But this serves two great purposes. First, it is the absolute indictment of the Bush Administration and their “trickle down, funnel up” mentality, practiced mercilessly over the past eight years. This not only covers domestic/economic issues, but also their foreign policy malpractice. This is a subtle but poignant reminder to voters that Bush now has to fly into foreign countries in the middle of the night in order to avoid the throngs of protesters wherever he lands.
Secondly, it is a simple but passionate way to inspire us to the higher purpose, the grander vision of America.
Indeed, Mr. Obama, we are a better country than our puerile, petulant example of the past eight years. Someone’s finally come right out and said it to the American people.
This is the kind of stuff that makes me proud to be a Democrat.
Mr. Easley is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association