Speech Wars

This little site lets you pick two words and compare the number of times they’ve been used by US Presidents (and candidates) in State of the Union, inauguration and election campaign speeches from the 2008 election.

I ran some interesting tests – firstly with the candidates on their own names. It turns out Obama talked about McCain by name a whole lot more than McCain talked about Obama – although he did forget his name a few times…


Then looking at State of the Union addresses I ran tests on faith v hope, war v peace, and must v cannot… the results weren’t surprising – hope is more popular than faith – I think because it’s more positive. Speeches should be positive. War is more popular than peace – and that’s pretty logical when you look at US foreign policy. Must is more popular than cannot – because taking positive action is better than not doing something negative – and there are a lot of synonyms for cannot but not many with the same power as “must” for the affirmative side.

Here are the pics:

Wordle 2.0

The previously mentioned Wordle has got some great new functionality. Like adding an RSS feed for immediate analysis. Saves copying and pasting every post of your blog like I did last time. Although my feed is limited to just the last ten posts or something.

Here it is:
Wordle: Nathan's Blog - February
This story here about speeches from Springboard and Blight are an interesting example of the tag cloud as an assessment of being “on message”.

Speaking of which – here’s a wordle of my sermon from Sunday. Which did, as Simone and dad both pointed out, go for a bit too long. 30 minutes. I cut a bit out though. That’s the longest I’ve ever preached and I’m sorry for boring people and going past the 22 minute attention span of the average television watcher.


And here’s the passage itself.

Deconstructing Dawkins

I’ve just, for reasons unknown, read an article by Dawkins that made me angry. Dawkins on “Atheists for Jesus”. Dawkins is a tool. Probably a tool of Satan. But really, a tool in the urbandictionary (language warning if you follow that link) sense of the word.

Dawkins is trying to claim Jesus for atheism the same way the homosexual lobby claimed the pejorative  “queer” as a label.

He’s reinterpreting everything Jesus had to say about God as just the “cultural norm”. Jesus was apparently a radical who only spoke about God because that was the done thing. Dawkin’s relies on biblical accounts of Jesus’ teaching for his argument – but no doubt dismisses the accounts of his trial, where he was essentially killed for believing that he was God. This is postmodern deconstructionism gone bonkers. Well, it was crazy to begin with. But this is ridiculous.

“I think we owe Jesus the honour of separating his genuinely original and radical ethics from the supernatural nonsense which he inevitably espoused as a man of his time.”

Umm. What?

He basically wants to adopt Jesus because having lots of people acting like Jesus would be good for society. Except of course for the parts where Jesus claims to be God… but of course, those were just the bits where Jesus was being crazy because of the culture he lived in… WHAT? I think if you separate out all the supernatural bits about Jesus you’re left with a guy who’s not very radical at all. He’s a carpenter who hangs out with fishermen and prostitutes. Jesus without a divine aspect is not even an impressive moral teacher.

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7) which is arguably Jesus’ most admired speech from a secular standpoint (it regularly makes the “best speeches of all time” lists… is pretty rubbish if you remove all the bits that refer to God.

For example if you took out every bit that could be seen to refer to the actions of God, the beatitudes would be reduced to:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

That’s a lot of “blessed” people with no actual “blessing”

And that famous bit about loving your enemies without any reference to God, well, that’s a real moral imperative…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Taking the God bits out of Jesus’ message leaves us all wanting to be pagan tax collectors – hardly the Utopian society Dawkins is pushing for with his piece of rabid (ill)logic.

Does a duck’s quack echo?

It does if the press corp is busy with the duck’s successor.

While Obama and McCain’s speeches almost wrote themselves on the basis of the election outcome – lame duck President George W. Bush had to weigh in with a speech of his own. Formality dictated it. The stupid American system where Bush is President until January means America is faced with two months of essentially confused leadership. Obama’s attention turns to picking a cabinet (and other furniture for the Whitehouse – hopefully child and puppy proof). While George W Bush – America’s least popular president ever barring criminal behaviour (I think he actually beats Nixon’s disapproval rating – but I can’t be bothered checking) – has to “hold the fort” and was called on to provide his commentary on election day, the campaign and the future.

The President’s speech (and his congratulatory phone call last night) included an invitation to dinner at the presidential mansion. I can imagine that after a campaign based solely on tying his opponent’s shortcomings solely to Bush and his policies – and after Bush compared Obama to Nazi appeasers during WWII – that’s not an invitation that will be accepted any time soon.

Celebratory oratory

I’ve mentioned Obama’s speechwriting before. His victory will no doubt be analyzed by political scientists and communicators for years to come. His campaign was a triumph of marketing driven (not market driven) political campaigning, he framed a narrative from very early on (even in his published autobiographies) that carried through the campaign and generated grass roots support never before seen picking up new media technologies, and engaging and organising a community or tribe like nobody else has before – except perhaps Kevin Rudd with his Kevin 07 campaign – but Obama started before Rudd – he has been campaigning for the past two years. Rudd came in the middle.

Here is Obama’s speech in full.

Here are some highlights of modern political speech writing – and in fact of all communication…

His pitch for unity embraces juxtaposition of binary oppositions:

“It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of red states and blue states: We are, and always will be, the United States of America.”

His heartfelt thanks to his family – and promise of a puppy to his daughters was a nice human touch that has already been picked up by news cycles everywhere – a nice contrast to some of the hubris and arrogance that has been attributed to him by both the McCain campaign and his own admission of arrogance.

I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last 16 years, the rock of our family and the love of my life, our nation’s next first lady, Michelle Obama. Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House. And while she’s no longer with us, I know my grandmother is watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight, and know that my debt to them is beyond measure.

Obama is a genuine family man – it will be interesting to see how he juggles parenthood with this new responsibility. Self deprecation is the new black. So he threw in a bit of his grass roots background to resonate with the common man. His campaign – like he himself, was built in backyard suburbia…

I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn’t start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington – it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.

Obama is at his oratory best when talking about breaking down the old “two party” mindset – it’s what won his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention the accolades that propelled this push to the White House – so he had to throw some of that in to this speech too…

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House, a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, “We are not enemies, but friends … though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn – I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president too.

His call to arms “Yes we can” which was as prevalent in his campaign as Rudd’s “Working families” got a real run in the closing story with a 106 year old case study. It’s stirring stuff – so I’ll put it all here in case you haven’t clicked the link to his speech.

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that’s on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing: Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons: because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America – the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness, and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that “We Shall Overcome.” Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen and cast her vote, because, after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.

Obama had no doubt been working on this speech for some time. It’s a triumph of triumph. What worries me though is that for all the promise of change there’s still this idea that America is somehow the saviour of the world. And Obama is being painted as this Messianic figure – almost the second coming…

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down, we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security, we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright, tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.

I guess the economic crisis is America’s fault through their NINJA loans – I’m still not sure what the “A” is for in that acronym – so maybe it’s their job to fix it. But as for the rest of the world’s problems – just because they have the biggest military stick – sabre rattling is so last millenium… hopefully Obama’s desire for united, unilateral approaches to problem solving in his own country will extend to foreign policy. And h
opefully he’ll know what the G20 is.

The real art in election night oratory is giving a good concession speech. And John McCain’s – while laced with apple pie American sentiment – was that and more. Here’s the transcript. Like John Howard almost this time last year – the concession speech was gracious and humble.

The ingredients of a concession speech are as follows:

1. A gracious admission of defeat.

“My friends, we have – we have come to the end of a long journey. The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly.

A little while ago, I had the honour of calling Senator Barack Obama to congratulate him.”

2. An acknowledgement of the efforts of the victor.

In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving.

Let there be no reason now … Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth.

Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country. I applaud him for it, and offer him my sincere sympathy that his beloved grandmother did not live to see this day. Though our faith assures us she is at rest in the presence of her creator and so very proud of the good man she helped raise.

Senator Obama and I have had and argued our differences, and he has prevailed. No doubt many of those differences remain.

3. A promise of a united way forward.

Senator Obama and I have had and argued our differences, and he has prevailed. No doubt many of those differences remain.

These are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.

4. A thanks to supporters – and an expression of hope for their support of the other guy.

I urge all Americans … I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.

Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.

It is natural. It’s natural, tonight, to feel some disappointment. But tomorrow, we must move beyond it and work together to get our country moving again.

5. A heartfelt thankyou to family/campaign team/VP candidate etc.

The road was a difficult one from the outset, but your support and friendship never wavered. I cannot adequately express how deeply indebted I am to you.

I’m especially grateful to my wife, Cindy, my children, my dear mother … my dear mother and all my family, and to the many old and dear friends who have stood by my side through the many ups and downs of this long campaign.

I have always been a fortunate man, and never more so for the love and encouragement you have given me.

You know, campaigns are often harder on a candidate’s family than on the candidate, and that’s been true in this campaign.

All I can offer in compensation is my love and gratitude and the promise of more peaceful years ahead.

I am also – I am also, of course, very thankful to Governor Sarah Palin, one of the best campaigners I’ve ever seen … one of the best campaigners I have ever seen, and an impressive new voice in our party for reform and the principles that have always been our greatest strength … her husband Todd and their five beautiful children … for their tireless dedication to our cause, and the courage and grace they showed in the rough and tumble of a presidential campaign.

6. A patriotic promise to serve king and country (or a God Bless America in this case).

I would not – I would not be an American worthy of the name should I regret a fate that has allowed me the extraordinary privilege of serving this country for a half a century.

Today, I was a candidate for the highest office in the country I love so much. And tonight, I remain her servant. That is blessing enough for anyone, and I thank the people of Arizona for it.

MCCAIN: Tonight – tonight, more than any night, I hold in my heart nothing but love for this country and for all its citizens, whether they supported me or Senator Obama – whether they supported me or Senator Obama.

I wish Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president. And I call on all Americans, as I have often in this campaign, to not despair of our present difficulties, but to believe, always, in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here.

Americans never quit. We never surrender.

We never hide from history. We make history.

Thank you, and God bless you, and God bless America. Thank you all very much.

McCain’s speech ticked all the boxes.

Obama’s speech was largely free of apple pie American superiority – even with the acknowledgement of renewed global hope at his election – I guess now the proof will be in the pudding. He’ll no doubt at some point be regarded as not the messiah – but just another naughty boy. But hopefully he’ll at the very least end unpopular wars and try to fix healthcare and the economy in the US – which wouldn’t be a bad legacy. And at least we’re spared the horror of a Palin Vice Presidency.


Sarah Palin is kind of starting to make sense as the Republican Vice Presidential candidate – she is the complete opposite of Barack Obama. It’s a race of binary oppositions – he’s a black, she’s white, he’s a man, she’s a woman, he’s allegedly a fundamentalist muslim, she’s allegedly a fundamentalist Christian, she’s a republican, he’s a democrat – and the clincher he’s a master of the english language and oratory – she’s barely an apprentice. 

Her interviews with TV networks have been heavily regulated – and here’s why – a mapping out of her sentences – and then the chance to conduct your own interview* with Sarah Palin based on actual interview answers she’s given. 

*In the “Choose your own adventure” novel sense…

I heart Annabel Crabb

I know I shouldn’t be saying that sort of thing on the first day of my second year of marriage – but I mean it in a platonic sense. Annabel Crabb is my favourite Parliamentary Press Gallery Journo – she provides obtuse analysis – with a beautiful turn of phrase – see her comments on Bronwyn Bishop at the end of this story.

clipped from www.smh.com.au

IT’S worse than we thought, this global financial crisis. At
2.14pm yesterday, Kevin Rudd ran out of euphemisms for “money”.

The PM blathered skilfully and at length about “loose change”,
“fiscal buffers”, “mortgage-related assets”, “increased liquidity”,
“collateral”, “stocks”, “aggregate exchange settlement balances”
and assorted other expressions that mean, loosely, moolah.

And then – clunk – there it was. Speaking about the United
States Federal Reserve bail-out, he talked about the Fed’s decision
to rescue US institutions with “$700 billion worth of … um
… US … errrrr … money.”

Bronwyn Bishop, for instance, has been relegated to the back
bench, and she did not look at all pleased as she stared down at
Turnbull from her new, non-prestige seat. Dressed in a jacket with
a jungly teal and brown design, she looked like a small but
malevolent armchair.

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