Bill Clinton's televised confession in the tawdry matter of Monica Lewinsky may not qualify as a sterling political moment, or even as a particularly inspired act of oratory. Whether seen as a gesture of remorse or an evasion, that apology was certainly extraordinary by any measure, and Senator Robert Torricelli rightly includes it here. In Our Own Words is his anthology of what he deems to be exceptional American speechifying. (Clinton's first draft was a more accomplished piece of writing and pleading forgiveness than the truculent final version; Torricelli and coeditor Andrew Carroll include both texts.)
Torricelli and Carroll's working definition of what constitutes a speech is broad, and arguably so. It encompasses not only such fine moments of public rhetoric as Notre Dame president Charles O'Donnell's eulogy to football coach Knute Rockne and Dwight Eisenhower's warning about the growing power of what he called the "military-industrial complex," but also actress Jane Fonda's wartime radio broadcasts from Hanoi and Frank Zappa's congressional testimony against proposed measures to initiate a national rating system for recorded music--not exactly speeches, a purist might object, but still useful primary sources for students of the recent past.
A practiced speechmaker himself, Torricelli brings in the voices not only of legislators and politicians, but also of ordinary people moved to heights of eloquence. The result is an eminently readable collection spanning the last hundred years, useful to students of history and of public discourse. --Gregory McNamee [via]