Thursday, January 13, 2011

Two speeches

Over the past 24 hours, I've heard two good speeches.  One was from Condoleezza Rice, the other from President Obama.  I would give Dr. Rice's speech an A or A-; I would give the president's an A+ or an A++.

Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State, spoke at a forum assembly at BYU.  The Marriott Center was packed--and she did a good job.  She spoke about the American ideal that anyone can become what they want to become, about the need to improve our educational system, about the importance of both faith and intellect, about the importance of family, about the value of optimism ("things that seemed impossible at the time may, as we look back, seem inevitable").  She spoke about the value of traveling to other countries and learning other languages and about our responsibility as a nation to help others throughout the world. 

There were a couple of things I resisted: I don't believe reducing regulations on business is an unadulterated blessing--we all depend on reasonable regulations that protect our health and safety and the integrity and fairness of the system.  But I agree that excessive regulation can hamper creativity as well as efficiency.  On another point, though I agree with what she said about the value of democracy, I believe there are significant problems associated with trying to export our version of democracy to the rest of the world, especially when it involves overthrowing other governments by violence.  (I'm happy to say that, in this speech, she didn't endorse the method I've just mentioned.)  On the other hand, she spoke about America as a nation of immigrants and about the vital importance of welcoming immigrants that suggested a liberal or at least moderate outlook on that issue--an outlook I share.  In fact, as I thought about it, I realized that some extreme conservatives may dislike her for being too moderate.

Overall, her speech was not partisan.  (Of course, given the hosting institution, it was not supposed to be.)  I was happy to be there in person, to be (as she entered) only a few feet away from her, to stand to honor her, and to applaud her sensible and inspiring words.  I have long admired her.  Despite her participation as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State in some decisions I disagreed with, I understand she played a moderating role at that time.  She is a woman of wisdom, intelligence, faith, and goodwill.

The other speech I listened to was last night--President Obama's speech in Tucson in response to the attack on a peaceful assembly in that city that led to the death of six people and the wounding of others.  It is one of the great speeches of which I am aware, powerful, eloquent, consoling, inspiring.  How I wish for a softening of the hearts of any who, out of partisan bias, are inclined to resist the goodness and truth of the words that were spoken and the spirit in which they were spoken.

I won't try to summarize the speech here.  You can watch it here-- -- or read a transcript here--

I'll just give a few excerpts.  As I noted on my Facebook status earlier today: "It's easy for all of us to pick sides and try to keep track of who's winning and who's losing. It is the measure of a truly great leader that he or she can lift us above this way of thinking and help us see each other as fellow members of a community, even as brothers and sisters, members of the human family, sharing in each other's sorrows, joys, and hopes."  That is what President Obama did last night, at least for those willing to listen and feel.

The excerpts:
. . . at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we're talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. . . .

Yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.

But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. That we cannot do. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let's use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.
. . .
. . . we are reminded that in our fleeting time on earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame -– but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.

That process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions – that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires. . . .
. . .
The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better – to be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, it did not, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud.

We should be civil because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.

They believe and I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here – they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another, that's entirely up to us. And I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.

That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. . . . She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism, vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.
. . .
May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in restful and eternal peace. May He love and watch over the survivors. And may He bless the United States of America.


Margaret Young said...

Beautiful and thought-provoking. Thank you, Bruce.
I don't think Pres. Obama's speech will be remembered on the same level as Lincoln's Gettysburg address, but I think it will be referenced in little quotes for the rest of our lives. That speech will be one of the bright points of his presidency which historians will include in their assessments of his accomplishments.

Bruce Young said...

I've just discovered a fine tribute by John McCain about the speech:

Despite some problematic moments during the 2008 campaign, I've retained a high degree of respect for Senator McCain. This piece strengthens that respect, even adds a dash of affection. I'm grateful for good people, like him, who are willing to undertake public service at a time when doing so can be rough and sometimes perilous.

Jason Xochimitl said...

I thought this was a wonderfully accurate look at Ms Rice's speech, and the points made about exporting American style democracy well studied. I also agree that President Obama's speech had a more focused, deliberate tone and more substance than that of the former Secretary of State. My only divergence from these views is on Senator McCain. Although I concede his staff to be people of excellent character, my own interactions with the Senator have convinced me that he is a very different person with some very inappropriate opinions when not in view of the public. I wholeheartedly support the fine work of his staff and speechwriter.