Obama’s speech today didn’t reach the heights of King’s oratory — but then how could it?
President Obama’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial this afternoon (see the text HERE) fell short of the stirring eloquence of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech of 50 years ago today.
But neither should Obama’s effort have been expected to come anywhere close to King’s historic address. Nobody now living is capable of that.
The characteristics that most distinguished King’s speeches were the rhythms and cadences they borrowed from the traditions of what he himself called the old Negro spirituals. They were sermons as much as speeches, religious as much as (or more than) political.
In all of American history, King’s “Dream” speech is rivaled in significance only by Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. But the latter became glorified only gradually in printed form. The audience at Gettysburg was said to have been mostly underwhelmed — party because the speech consisted of only 272 words in 10 sentences and took barely two minutes to deliver. Nor were the newspapers of that time entirely laudatory. Some thought the address was poor.
King’s speech, however, stirred the assembled crowd to a crescendo of emotion and became an instant classic. It probably helped him win the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.
Obama’s speech today was fine. He was no Martin Luther King as he spoke from in front of an image of Lincoln, but he did all right.