Inspiration via President Shepherd’s speech in ‘The American President’

For your Monday morning dose of inspiration, here’s a brilliant speech from The American Presidencirca 1995 starring Michael Douglas as none other than the President of the United States. Directed by Rob Reiner and written by Aaron Sorkin, the film didn’t garner any huge awards or accolades. It’s an alright movie, a romantic comedy with a political slant, but the speech fake President Andrew Shepherd gives at the end is truly an inspiration, and we can learn from the techniques he uses to make the speech so memorable. Watch the speech in full here.

“Good morning. For the last couple of months, Senator Rumson has suggested that being President of this country was, to a certain extent, about character. And although I’ve not been willing to engage in his attacks on me, I have been here three years and three days, and I can tell you without hesitation: Being President of this country is entirely about character. (He opens strongly by saying something unexpected; as the Heath Brothers would say, by opening a knowledge gap. Surely, President Shepherd’s audience would be surprised that he agreed with his enemy Senator Rumson. It grabs the audience’s attention, and leaves them wanting more.)

For the record, yes, I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU, but the more important question is “Why aren’t you, Bob?” Now this is an organization whose sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights, so it naturally begs the question, why would a senator, his party’s most powerful spokesman and a candidate for President, choose to reject upholding the constitution? Now if you can answer that question, folks, then you’re smarter than I am, because I didn’t understand it until a few hours ago.

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. (This section is powerful in its question-laden storytelling. He’s challenging his audience by asking them to consider the other side to already acknowledged freedoms. Again, a lot of the power here lies in the unexpectedness of his tone and of his questions.)

Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

I’ve known Bob Rumson for years. And I’ve been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn’t get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he can’t sell it!

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. (This is a highly quotable little phrase. It sounds good, and it’s a powerful statement. Work to pepper your presentation with a few quotable gems like this one.) And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle age, middle class, middle income voters (very good use of repetition with ‘middle’ right here; again, it sounds good) who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family, and American values and character, and you wave an old photo of the President’s girlfriend and you scream about patriotism. You tell them she’s to blame for their lot in life. And you go on television and you call her a whore.

Sydney Ellen Wade has done nothing to you, Bob. She has done nothing but put herself through school, represent the interests of public school teachers, and lobby for the safety of our natural resources. You want a character debate, Bob? You better stick with me, ’cause Sydney Ellen Wade is way out of your league.

I’ve loved two women in my life. I lost one to cancer. And I lost the other ’cause I was so busy keeping my job, I forgot to do my job. Well, that ends right now. (Although you’d be hard pressed to hear a politician speak so candidly in real life, President Shepherd’s openness with his audience is moving and memorable. He’s tugging at all the right heartstrings here.)

Tomorrow morning the White House is sending a bill to Congress for it’s consideration. It’s White House Resolution 455, an energy bill requiring a twenty percent reduction of the emission of fossil fuels over the next ten years. It is by far the most aggressive stride ever taken in the fight to reverse the effects of global warming. The other piece of legislation is the crime bill. As of today, it no longer exists. I’m throwing it out. I’m throwing it out and writing a law that makes sense. You cannot address crime prevention without getting rid of assault weapons and hand guns. I consider them a threat to national security, and I will go door to door if I have to, but I’m gonna convince Americans that I’m right, and I’m gonna get the guns.

We’ve got serious problems, and we need serious people. (Again, this quotable gem makes an appearance–– its repetition leaves a lasting impression on the audience.) And if you want to talk about character, Bob, you’d better come at me with more than a burning flag and a membership card. If you want to talk about character and American values, fine. Just tell me where and when, and I’ll show up. This a time for serious people, Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up. (This ending ties a neat little bow around the speech as a whole. It’s always effective to end where you began in the presentation, bringing everything full circle.)

My name is Andrew Shepherd, and I AM the President.” (And finally, ending very powerfully, he pokes fun at his opponent who always ends his speeches with “My name is Bob Rumson and I am running for President.”)


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