Sunday, August 31, 2008

Obama's Speeches and FDR's Fireside Chats

I was quoted as follows in the Baltimore Sun this morning -

"I think what we have been seeing on TV is very similar to what took place on radio during the Depression, in that both are about reassurance," says Paul Levinson, professor of popular culture and media studies at Fordham University. "Just as hearing Roosevelt's words reassured Americans that things were going to get better, so does seeing Barack Obama's nomination this week offer reassurance to many of us that the best hopes and aspirations of the 1960s have not been lost. What we have been seeing the past weeks reassures us that America has not been hopelessly diminished."

Obama's age, young family, and capacity to inspire clearly hit the same powerful chords in our culture as JFK. But if we're talking about galvanizing the nation with speech through the media, Obama may have even more in common with FDR. Kennedy's wonderful inaugural address was delivered on television at a time when the country was already hopeful. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's fireside chats were delivered on radio with the U.S. in the desperate days of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Which condition more aptly fits the U.S. now?

"We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy," Obama said in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention last Thursday. Three orators who spoke to our better angels. Two great Presidents and one, if fortune shines of this country, to becoming one.


For more on the impact of FDR's fireside chats, see The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution.
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