I watched both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions that took place within the last two weeks. And the thing that struck me the most was not just how patriotic Americans feel about their country (of course there is that), but the quality of speeches by most of those that were given the honour of addressing the delegates was eye opening.
There was a lot of personality bashing, sure, but the focus was more on the issues that afflict The United States of America. Everyone was so passionate about their respective candidate, Mitt Romney for the Republicans and President Barack Obama for the Democrats. And the focus was not just about the candidates and whether you liked them or not (there was that too), it was about what they said they would do for their country and how they delivered their message.
Now, I am personally not a fan of Romney and the Republicans and I hope he loses the election in November. Badly. However, since I do not have a dog in that fight, I leave that to the Americans.
So, my focus right now is on the Democratic National Convention and more specifically the speeches by Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Mrs Obama is easily her husband’s biggest cheerleader and it showed when she spoke passionately about him as a husband, a father and as president. She referenced the challenges of running a nation like the United States in its current economic situation, and how the president was doing the best for the American people.
Bill Clinton, who is being touted as one of the greatest US presidents of all time, had very kind things to say about Obama. He acknowledged that when he was president, that was an easier time for America, and that he did not have to deal with what the current president has to now. But he expressed full confidence in Obama’s ability to deliver.
Then President Obama spoke to the American people. It was a markedly different speech from the ones he gave in the last two Democratic conventions. In 2004, he was a senator giving the keynote speech in support of the nomination of Senator John Kerry for president. In 2008, he gave his own acceptance speech as presidential nominee. What stood out in both of these speeches was the high level of hope expressed.
As president in 2012, Obama seems to have been hit by the realities of the presidency, and so he tempered this year’s speech. Instead of rhetoric and blind optimism about the future, he chose to be honest about the troubles bedevilling his country, and what could reasonably be done about them. It may not have been one of his most rousing of speeches (personally, I will never forget his victory speech in Grant Park, Chicago after he won the 2008 election), but it was one of his most candid.
President Barack Obama
Now, my point is that words and perhaps more importantly, how they are delivered, have the power to move masses. These two American presidents, Clinton and Obama understood this long ago. It helps that they are both gifted with charisma and charm (important ingredients in successful politicians).
That is how Clinton won the presidency twice, and why Obama might be on his way to a second term. By crafting words in such a passionate way to articulate their vision, and to connect with their electorate. Needless to say, words must be backed by action.
Back to Kenya.
To be quite honest, the last time I came close to feeling moved by a political speech must have been in 2002. Daniel Moi was retiring as president and we could not wait to see the back of him fast enough. Some of us even had the audacity to pelt him with mud balls. The incoming president, Mwai Kibaki, gave what I consider to be the best speech of his political life.
I will not go into the details of what he said, we all remember. But do you remember how he said it? Man, I still get goose bumps whenever I watch clips of it almost ten years later. And Kenyans from all walks of life responded to Kibaki in big ways. We even “arrested” traffic cops for daring to take bribes when the president himself had declared zero tolerance on corruption!
President Mwai Kibaki
That is what I am talking about.
So, heading towards the elections of March, 2013, who among all the candidates lining up to succeed President Kibaki has the ability to get to us like that? Who has the charisma and charm to use their personal story like Obama, or Clinton’s ability to break down complex issues into bullet points, to reach out and touch us in such a personal way that we would almost literally eat out of their hand?
Are we fired up and ready to go for any one candidate on the issues, rather than our tribal affinity?
You be the judge of that.