17 June 2019
An analysis of his finest speeches, and what made him such an effective orator
The 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, will go down in history as a truly great speaker, who inspired and mobilised an entire generation, and who uplifted a nation’s morale, even when his country was faced with a looming nuclear threat. His strategy was simple. Be honest and be in touch with your audience’s sentiment. Reagan is known for appealing directly to the American people in his speeches, and his message resonated with Americans who felt overlooked and forgotten.
In his first Inaugural Address, he reminded the American people of their greatness and their responsibility, and like a statesman, asked them to be united in their purpose to achieve greatness. He said:
“We are creating a nation once again vibrant, robust, and alive. But there are many mountains yet to climb. We will not rest until every American enjoys the fullness of freedom, dignity, and opportunity as our birth right. So we go forward today, a nation still mighty in its youth and powerful in its purpose. With our alliances strengthened, with our economy leading the world to a new age of economic expansion, we look forward to a world rich in possibilities. And all this because we have worked and acted together, not as members of political parties, but as Americans.”
On the 28th of January 1986, The Challenger Space Shuttle exploded 73 seconds into it’s flight. Christa McAuliffe was a schoolteacher, before becoming one of the seven crew members on the Space Shuttle. Inspired by her journey were millions of students who were watching the take-off live and were shocked by the explosion. Reagan was quick to understand the sentiments of the fragile youth and responded with wisdom and sensitivity. He chose to address the nation directly from the oval office, speaking to the students who watched the disaster live. He said:
We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us. But for 25 years the United States space program has been doing just that. We’ve grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we’ve only just begun. We’re still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.
And I want to say something to the school children of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s take-off. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them……
The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honoured us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’
He consoled and strengthened them like a father. This address changed the mood of the nation from one of tragedy and sadness and uplifted it into pride, hope and aspiration.
On the 12th of June, 1987, Ronald Reagan gave a speech at the Berlin Wall to confront the soviet Union’s leader Mikhail Gorbachev to ease the geopolitical tension in the region.
We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall!
He appealed to the most basic feelings of humanity, liberty and prosperity for all.
Through his honest, yet patriotic style, Reagan was able to have a genuine relationship with his audiences and was re-elected with the largest majority in American history. Ronald Reagan’s legacy as the Great Communicator was not limited to his country, but was representative of a World Leader who could sense the pulse of his people and that of other nations.
Adam Safi Khan