I was reading various top lists of American political rhetoric and was amazed to read the entirety of President Kennedy's Inaugural Address. Every now and then I find myself in the fallacy of thinking that things basically stay the same socially and politically. Perhaps it is because I am so aware of the relative fluidity and speed of change in the technological world that culture and politics seem to me to be more constant. Read the following speech, however, and try to imagine (anachronisms aside) that even the most Right-Wing politician running for the Presidency in 2008 had given the same speech... Possible? I don't think so:
We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom -- symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning -- signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe -- the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans -- born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
This much we pledge -- and more.
Part of what makes it different is that the standards of public rhetoric have so diminished - no longer do the speeches of politicians sound like Literature. Still - "tempered by war"? "Disciplined by a hard and bitter peace"? "Proud of our ancient heritage"? What kind of right-wing warmonger says this kind of stuff? Ah right, Democrats of 40 years ago...