A common rap on Barack Obama’s presidency is that he’s failed to inspire. Candidate Obama gave rousing speeches that helped propel him from a little-known senator to presidential frontrunner; President Obama has been circumspect, pragmatic and aloof.
And then something happened. Just as Obama entered the “lame duck” stage of his presidency, the Democrats lost control of the US Senate. Stripped of influence over Congress, the president finally embraced the the power of his own oratory the way he once had as a candidate. Several of the speeches he gave in 2015 were among the best of his career.
On the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches in Alabama, Obama delivered a forceful defense of the recently-weakened Voting Rights Act. After a mass shooting at a community college in Oregon, he vented his disappointment and disgust with his own country’s unwillingness to take action on gun violence. When the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage, his voice carried a genuine note of hope. And later that same day, delivering a eulogy to honor Clementa Pinckney and others killed in a church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, he brought an entire congregation to its feet, again, and again, and again.
Barack Obama’s presidency contains many lessons in how campaigning and governing are extremely different things. But in 2015, he felt more like the man America elected in 2008 than he ever has.