the audio of hope

Yes We Can! Speeches of Barack Obama (3CD) Hachete Digital

With Youtube and White House speech archives freely available, one might ask why a CD collection ‘Yes We Can!’, 18 tracks of Barack Obama’s speeches, represent a uniquely important resource.

Internet culture promotes access and digressions, but often deprives us of the sense of tiny progressions, of the little by little, speech by speech evolution of an historic figure. Speech is a form listened to, rather than read. Through each track beginning with his 2004 Democratic Convention speech to his 2009 Inaugural Address, researchers and those with an interest in history can attune to the transitions of one man’s journeying leadership.

Many of Obama’s early performances carry a rhythmic beat, a grand (others might say grandiloquent) quavering oratory that echo- ‘Dignit-eh’, ‘Equalit-eh’, ‘Eternit-eh’- upon the ringing bell of Martin Luther King Jnr’s dreams. That clarion can be directly experienced against the more calibrated voice of Obama today.

Though powerful and optimistic, performance gradually cedes to something closer to conversation. As the listener moves through each track and disc, I believe one can detect the transitions to a more personal conversational style. No doubt travel and contact with the broad scope of an American and global public have matured Obama’s approach and brought a versatility that has aimed to interact and appear to respond.

How remarkable that any president of recent times would have speeches chronicled in an audio product! It is unlikely such a product will become available of predecessor George W. Bush, frequently and endearingly- other times embarrassingly- prone to verbal gaffes. For this reason alone, the ‘Yes We Can!’ collection is striking in itself.

Obama’s obvious gifts are demonstrated here in abundance; the listing of concrete imagery, the appeal to sense-imagery, the pregnant pauses that mark a unique rhetorical style:

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

One noticeably absent speech from the track list is Obama’s 2008 ‘Philadelphia Speech’ on race, where he deftly steered the issue of his former pastor Jeremiah Wright’s anti-American rhetoric into a larger explanation of racial and ethnic enmities.  It succeeded not only in stemming the controversy in Obama’s past, but elevated him above both the news cycle commentary and bluster of his former pastor. Many hailed it one of his best speeches, a healing, ‘teaching moment’ of Obama capably broadening the scope of national discourse in response to events.

His versatility is apparent in other tracks; ‘The War We Need to Win’ and ‘Remarks to the Global Climate Summit’ are sombre in tone, contrasting with the lighter notes of Obama’s ‘roasting’ former Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel’s ambition and foul mouth, or his humourous jibing of opponent John McCain’s comparative age, in ‘Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner’.

His ‘Address to the People of Berlin’, a speech which capped a European tour during the 2008 election, added global acclaim.

Were that more of today’s important speeches be deserving and available for consumption, for posterity, and especially for those that have a breadth to inspire beyond immediate events; an audio of hope.