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Trending that caught Doug's eye... famous speeches

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Love him or hate him, you have to admit U.S. President Barack Obama is one of the modern world's great orators.

Last Tuesday evening, from the Oval Office, Obama delivered what was arguably the most difficult address of his political career, the one that will likely decide how history views his presidency.

In a rare prime-time speech from the White House, the man who flew into the U.S. presidency largely on the wings of his soaring rhetoric took his case for a military strike against Syria directly to the American people.

Whether Tuesday's speech persuaded a war-weary public the time has come to get involved in yet another conflict in the Middle East remains to be seen.

Obama has already conceded he might not be able to win over a majority of Americans, with public opinion polls showing most oppose an attack to punish Syria for the alleged use of chemical weapons.

For the president, the stakes could not have been higher. His legacy was on the line when he took to the airwaves. But one thing is certain -- that speech will be picked apart for decades to determine whether it missed the mark or ranks as one of the all-time greats, like the following five:

 

Lou Gehrig

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Lou Gehrig (CP)

5 The date: July 4, 1939

THE SPEAKER: NEW YORK YANKEES SLUGGER LOU GEHRIG

The history: You know a speech is a major hit if they make a movie about the man who gave it and sell a figurine commemorating the moment. Nicknamed the "Iron Horse" for his durability, Gehrig's record for suiting up for 2,130 straight games ended at the age of 36, after he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the crippling disease that now bears his name. Refusing to wallow in pity, Gehrig, in his farewell speech to fans, belted it out of the park. He died less than two years later.

The quote: "Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

 

John F. Kennedy

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John F. Kennedy (CP)

4 The date: Sept. 12, 1962

THE SPEAKER: U.S. PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY

The history: Along with his good looks, Kennedy was famed for the memorable lines in his speeches. His most famous -- "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country" -- came as he took the oath of office as the 35th president. But our favourite was delivered after the Soviets launched the first man into space and JFK declared it was time to put a man on the moon.

The quote: "We choose to go to the moon! We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win... "

 

Sir Winston Churchill

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Sir Winston Churchill (CANADIAN PRESS)

3 The date: June 4, 1940

THE SPEAKER: BRITISH PRIME MINISTER WINSTON CHURCHILL

The history: The tough part is picking which of Churchill's legendary wartime speeches is the most powerful. It's hard to argue with the stirring qualities of his speech to the House of Commons warning of the threat of invasion without casting doubt on the certainty of victory.

The quote: "We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches... "

 

Abraham Lincoln

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Abraham Lincoln (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

2 The date: Nov. 19, 1863

THE SPEAKER: U.S. PRESIDENT ABRAHAM LINCOLN

The history: It is easily the shortest speech on this list -- approximately 265 words that took about three minutes to recite -- but Lincoln's historic speech given at the dedication of a cemetery for fallen soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg may be the one remembered the longest. In mere minutes, he succinctly explained why they were standing on hallowed ground.

The quote: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal... It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us... that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

 

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (CP)

1 The date: Aug. 28, 1963

THE HISTORY: MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

The history: Fifty years ago, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington, King delivered what is considered one of the greatest, most inspiring speeches of the 20th century, a call for an end to racism. But his "I have a dream" speech might never have rung out if, partway through, gospel legend Mahalia Jackson had not exhorted her friend: "Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!" And, diverting from his prepared text, that's what he did.

The quote: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!"

 

The last line: For once, thankfully, we're speechless.

 

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 14, 2013 D2

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