Analysis: One of Obama’s best speeches ever at Mandela memorial

Thando Kumene, 6, (L) and Ntokozo Mtampo, 4, watch an address by President of the United States Barack Obama on a television inside their Soweto home during the official memorial service for Nelson Mandela on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Thando Kumene, 6, left, and Ntokozo Mtampo, 4, watch an address by President Barack Obama on a television inside their Soweto home during the official memorial service for Nelson Mandela on Dec. 10 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Credit: Getty Images

At Nelson Mandela’s memorial celebration on Tuesday, President Barack Obama was back in fine rhetorical form, giving a stirring speech that reminded many listeners of the spellbinding speaker of the 2008 election campaign.

But was it one of his best speeches? Metro spoke with Peter Ubertaccio, professor of political science at Stonehill College.

Metro: Where does this speech rank in Obama’s repertoire? Is he back in rhetorical form?

Ubertaccio: It’s one of his best speeches and best deliveries ever. When he speaks about struggle and unity, he’s at his best. He’s the best speechmaker the U.S. has seen in years, and it’s moving to see an African-American president at an event like this, where he’s able to address the struggle for racial equality.

How does it compare to his recent domestic speeches?

He’s far better when he can address a large narrative. When he has to talk about mundane things, he seems uninterested, even frustrated. And, especially with the growing polarization in U.S. politics, giving a domestic speech is harder. You can’t speak about grand themes the way you can on the international stage.

Does it rank right up there with the great political speeches of world history, like “I have a dream” and “Blood, sweat and tears”?

I think it will rank highly, simply because of the significance of the moment.

The five greatest speeches in US history

  • Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address
  • Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech
  • John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address
  • Ronald Reagan’s speech following the Challenger disaster
  • Lincoln’s second inaugural address


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