Live from the Campaign Trail: The Greatest Presidential Campaign Speeches of the Twentieth Century and How They Shaped Modern America

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Publishing into the teeth of the 2008 election, a selection of the best, most rousing presidential stump speeches, with essential critical context relating the speeches of the past to politics today.

In this collection of twenty-seven of the most influential presidential campaign speeches of the twentieth century, Michael A. Cohen brings to life the words that have shaped American politics over the last century. From the legendary, like William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” ...

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Live from the Campaign Trail: The Greatest Presidential Campaign Speeches of the Twentieth Century and How They Shaped Modern America

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Overview

Publishing into the teeth of the 2008 election, a selection of the best, most rousing presidential stump speeches, with essential critical context relating the speeches of the past to politics today.

In this collection of twenty-seven of the most influential presidential campaign speeches of the twentieth century, Michael A. Cohen brings to life the words that have shaped American politics over the last century. From the legendary, like William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” and Ronald Reagan’s call for a “national crusade to make America great again”; to the infamous, including Richard Nixon’s maudlin “Checkers” speech and Bill Clinton’s rhetorical broadside against the rapper Sister Souljah; to the poignant, such as FDR’s evocation of America’s “rendezvous with destiny,” Hubert Humphrey’s call for America to walk “into the bright sunshine of human rights,” and Kennedy’s demand for an end to “religious intolerance,” all the great campaign speeches are here. With supporting essays that dramatically set the scene and provide the reader with a historical context to better understand the impact of these seminal addresses, Live from the Campaign Trail will do what no book has ever done before—use the great oratory of the campaign trail to help us examine anew how we got where we are today in American politics and help us better understand the grand themes that underscore the political debates of the twenty-first century.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This is a perfectly timed compendium for anyone skeptical about the power of rhetoric during a campaign, or (come on, admit it!) anyone who’s been completely mesmerized. Mr. Cohen draws upon a rich context, from news accounts in The New York Times and The Nation at the turn of the century to interviews with J.F.K. speechwriter Ted Sorensen.” —New York Observer

“Mr. Cohen’s informed narrative and perceptive analysis illuminate the addresses he gathered.” —Wall Street Journal

“This is an ideal book for the campaign season.” —Publishers Weekly

“Cohen offers a timely source for understanding the craft behind this year’s oratory.” —Booklist

“The campaign speech has always been central to who we Americans are (and perhaps even more interestingly, who we aspire to be). Thanks to Michael A. Cohen, we now have a place to read all of these essential statements in one place. Highly recommended.”Ted Widmer, former speechwriter, President Clinton, and director, John Carter Brown Library, Brown University

Publishers Weekly

Speeches are meant to be heard, not read. Even so, most of the ones Cohen analyzes in this lively work are consequential; not all, however, are "the greatest." Edited versions of the speeches are included, and on the page, many are flat; others read better than they sounded (and still sound on recordings). Nixon's "Checkers" speech now seems mawkish, the sentiments of Kennedy's "New Frontier" speech overblown. Yet Cohen, a professional speechwriter, is a sure guide, starting with the words, which now appear prescient, of Williams Jennings Bryan's 1896 "Cross of Gold" speech. Most important speeches are recognized as such when given, but Cohen doesn't tell us why that's so. He does, however, emphasize how campaigners have adapted their words and styles to changing media and audiences. What seems great in one setting (say, a convention) may fail in another (on television). What's clear from these speeches is that the great ones take a risk and are given at a particular moment for a particular purpose. This is an ideal book for the campaign season. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Cohen, a professional speechwriter, introduces 27 presidential campaign speeches given by candidates ranging from William Jennings Bryan in 1896 to Bill Clinton in 1992. Each speech is accorded its own chapter, and all the speeches have been edited, with the full versions available at www.livefromthecampaigntrail.com. Cohen's purpose is not to provide scholarly analysis but to introduce each speech and lay out a grand spectrum of political rhetoric. He concludes, not surprisingly, that campaign oratory matters; oratorical skills (or lack thereof) often make for memorable campaigns and flourishing presidential moments. Cohen's analysis of the crucial relationship between rhetoric and democracy and his argument-basic but noteworthy-that speeches are never given in a vacuum add to the value of the collection. Since presidential candidates left the front porch and entered our living rooms, their words, Cohen argues, have taken on more importance, both for their campaigns and for the health of American democracy. As he shows, the persuasive politician is largely a rhetorical one, even though rhetoric is not enough. Some of these great orators did not make it to the highest office, and some of the winners have been poor speechmakers (e.g., Nixon). The best one-volume account of presidential campaign speeches for general readers, this book belongs in every public, high school, and college library.
—Stephen K. Shaw

School Library Journal

Adult/High School

These selections work as an effective lens through which to look at and think about major political issues. Cohen's introductions to the speeches provide helpful insights into the history and themes of each period. History buffs will be interested in the mannered way the candidates spoke-about the Vietnam War, the economy, civil rights, and more. The book also functions as a strong tool to learn the basics of rhetoric. From the highbrow speeches of Woodrow Wilson and the folksy wit of Harry Truman to the polished prose of Ronald Reagan and the podium-pounding style of Jesse Jackson, each candidate had his own special way of addressing the people. Although many of the speeches are edited here, Cohen provides notes throughout to mark what has been removed and offers a Web site for anyone interested in reading the full texts. The concluding bibliographic essay functions as an effective pathway to even deeper research.-Matthew L. Moffett, Pohick Regional Library, Burke, VA

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802716972
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 6/24/2008
  • Pages: 576
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.12 (h) x 1.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael A. Cohen is a professional speechwriter who has worked in both politics and corporate communications. A senior fellow at the New America Foundation, Cohen teaches speechwriting and political rhetoric at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. He lives in Brooklyn.

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Table of Contents


A Note on Speech Texts     IX
Introduction     1
The Great Commoner     17
The New Nationalism versus the New Freedom     35
A "Return to Normalcy"     65
"Rugged Individualism" versus "Bold, Persistent Experimentation"     77
"Rendezvous with Destiny"     125
The Birth of a Political Stereotype     142
"The Bright Sunshine of Human Rights"     177
"Let's Talk Sense to the American People"     189
The Checkers Speech     207
"I Shall Go to Korea"     231
The New Frontier     248
Getting Religion on the Campaign Trail     262
The Conservative Moment     276
The "Forgotten Americans" and the Politics of Fear     299
America "Come Home"     340
The Triumph of Conservatism     367
The Liberals Strike Back     395
Murphy Brown and the Culture Wars     435
"I Still Believe in a Place Called Hope"     462
Epilogue     491
Acknowledgments     497
Notes     501
Bibliographic Essay     523
Permissions     541
Index     545
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 12, 2012

    If you love FDR, Wilson and others, you'll love this little book.

    Speeches you thought you had read or heard of before, but didn't. That's what this is all about. You will find a great deal of yesterday's political speeches in today's speeches and visa versa. That means that the rhetoric used by our candidates even now owes a great deal to past campaign oratory. That may not surprise you, but the quantity of same or similar ideals and ideas is almost beyond the comprehension of anyone except a political speech writer. Read it and see if you are presidential material.

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