Jan 25, 2018 in Analysis

2008 and 2012 Presidential Campaigns: Analysis of Speeches and Debates

Presidential Debates 2008

The first presidential debate between Senator Obama and Senator McCain was majorly devoted to the national economy. At the time, the economy was such a significant issue that it had to be prioritized. Senator Obama was the first to speak about the economy and he certainly did not disappoint. He noted that it was not advisable for the country to get into several wars when it was facing the worst economic turmoil since the Great Depression. He blamed President Bush’s government for having gone into war instead of engaging in diplomacy. In his opinion, these wars had only served to alienate America from the rest of the world. In addition, Obama said his government would do away with all regulations that hindered business and only retain those that were essential. He was quick to note that both Wall Street and Main Street were literally struggling due to government policies of the 19th century.

Indeed, Senator Obama seemed to understand that businesspeople desperately needed reforms that would make trade easier for them. McCain on his part lauded the initiative to engage Republicans and Democrats in working out a fiscal solution to the American problem. He particularly emphasized that he had been part of the team that convinced Republicans to take part in the negotiations. In this regard, McCain appeared as a rare voice of reason in the Republican camp; he wanted to associate with the achievements of Republicans and delink himself from some negative sides of his party. The Republican presidential candidate was more candid in committing to be more accountable with regard to the stimulus package that was mooted by the Treasury. In addition, he noted that his government would cut down on expenditures in order to raise enough money for significant government projects. This would be the sure way of creating jobs for young people who were getting out of college with hardly any jobs available (Nichols 3).

The third and final debate was perhaps more dramatic with each candidate charging against the other

It all started with Senator Barack Obama declaring himself a credible agent of change and likening his rival Senator John McCain to President Bush. At some point, McCain had to interrupt, telling Senator Obama that he was not President Bush. There is no doubt that President Bush was quite unpopular at the time, and any candidate who was seen to pursue similar policies as his would definitely lose it. The economy was doing badly then and every American believed he was responsible for the mess. Senator Obama intended to bank on this reality from the beginning, and it certainly played out well. That was the reason why McCain had to fight hard to demystify it, charging that Obama should have run in 2004 if he wanted to run against President Bush (Staples 9).

With only three weeks to the General Election, the two candidates were desperate to outdo each other in the debate and score some critical points. It got to the point when McCain cast doubt on Obama’s judgment by questioning his association with Bill Ayers. He wondered why Obama would claim that he believed in the American Dream when he was publicly associated with founding the radical group known as the Weather Underground. Consequently, Senator Obama acted swiftly to delink his campaign from Ayer, claiming that Bill Ayer would certainly not be his advisor in the White House. By picking on Ayer, McCain intended to scare people away from Obama’s candidature, as Ayer was supposedly involved in 1970 attacks on the Capitol, as well as the Pentagon. This would portray Obama as a potential threat and not a solution to America’s security situation (Parker 24). 

When the debate got to the tax policy, the issue of “Joe the Plumber” came to the fore once again. Joe was a small scale businessman who wanted to expand the size of his business. However, he was worried that Obama would raise taxes for larger companies, thereby causing his new firm to crumble. He brought up the idea that while Obama’s policies on taxation were good for the middle class, they would stifle business for most investors. Essentially, he would be punishing people for running big businesses. Senator Obama absolved himself from blame, claiming that he wanted to empower all Americans to afford to buy from his business. McCain seemed to have scored a point against Senator Obama when he put it clear that Obama’s presidency was going to spread wealth rather than create one. He insisted that it would be grossly immoral for anyone to think of raising taxes for any Americans at the time when they were literally struggling to keep their businesses afloat.

Another pertinent issue that appeared during the debate was the issue of abortion. McCain set the ball rolling when he accused Obama of being pro-abortion. However, Obama termed his assertions insensitive, insisting that no one is pro-abortion. Instead, he put emphasis on sex education as a way of preventing unwanted pregnancies. According to literature, this issue has always been avoided by previous candidates due to its sensitivity and divisiveness. On the issue of hiring judges, they both maintained that they would hire judges based on merit and that support for abortion would not form part of the qualifications. In the end, the viewers decided it was Obama who had carried the day. Indeed, it significantly boosted his campaigns because his lead over McCain continued to increase even as the General Election got nearer. This shows how important electoral debates can be (Staples 56).

Vice Presidential Debate

The Vice Presidential Debate started off with economic issues. The democratic vice presidential nominee was first given the opportunity to outline how his team would tackle the economic challenge. In his response, Biden noted that the economic recession was squarely to blame on broken policies in Washington. He explained that Senator Obama had outlined deregulation of Wall Street as the principal cause of the problem. In tackling the problem, Obama’s administration would put in place an oversight body that would ensure that the Treasury was put on check. Biden also emphasized that the Obama administration would focus on Main Street and homeowners instead of Wall Street. This would ensure that small businesspeople were given equal opportunities to expand. He also noted that his team would give citizens of the United States value for their taxes by cutting down on taxes for average citizens.

At that point, he sought to draw attention of the audience to the striking difference between Obama’s policies and those of McCain. While McCain promised to cut taxes for corporate businesses, Obama’s team promised to focus on the middle class, arguing that when the middle class does well, the economy would flourish as well. On the other hand, Governor Sara Palin used the opportunity to showcase McCain’s reform credentials, maintaining that their team could be entrusted to reform the economic system. For instance, she noted that Senator McCain had been instrumental in pushing for the Fannie Mae as well as the Freddie Mac reform agenda. According to her, McCain had in many occasions broken ranks with his colleagues in the Senate to champion for reforms. In doing so, he had shown that he could apply the bipartisan approach in solving American challenges. In addition, she insisted that McCain had exhibited a great deal of sacrifice for the country, affirming his earlier assertions that he would always put his country first if he became the president.

As the debate progressed, Biden sought to associate McCain with President Bush once again. He pointed out that Senator McCain had supported and opposed President Bush at different times for political convenience, thereby showing how much he was out of touch with the reality. However, Palin reacted swiftly to this claim, explaining that McCain praised America’s exemplary workforce and its ethics, not the Bush administration. In the end, Joe Biden carried the day as he seemed more convincing in his argument than Sara Palin. Nonetheless, she used her inexperience to outwit Biden, claiming that she had never liked the way “they” did things in Washington (Nichols 22).

Obama’s Announcement Speech

In his announcement speech, Obama connected well with the audience when he acknowledged that his candidacy was a landmark in America’s politics and that true democracy was finally taking its place in the United States of America. In this regard, he urged Americans to use it to realize a more perfect unity and do away with the issue of Red or Blue states. According to him, the zoning of states as either Republican or Democrat had significantly thwarted the development, as it created unnecessary divisions.

In essence, he emphasized that it was the time for all to reason together for a common purpose. He also noted that after several instances of false starts, doubtfulness, and political uncertainty, a generation had stood up to change America for the better. Obama began his speech by narrating to the audience about his humble journey to the state of Illinois. According to him, he had gone to Chicago two decades earlier to take up a job that could barely sustain him. Later on, he went to study law and eventually became a civil rights attorney fighting for struggling families in Chicago. That was why he believed that he understood the challenges that Americans faced. In his opinion, these challenges were American, neither red nor blue, and could only be solved when Americans joined hands. He also spoke at length about his Christian faith, character and judgment. During his entire life in Chicago, he had observed that most decisions that impacted negatively on the lives of Americans were made by people in Washington who did not really understand them. In this regard, he promised to provide hands-on leadership and use his moral standing to make decisions that would benefit all Americans. Obama also promised the bipartisan approach to politics by declaring that Americans could always agree without being disagreeable. That would be the only way to give Americans the kind of leadership they had yearned for over the years.

On the war in Iraq, Obama made it clear that his government would not prioritize war, but would focus on building industries and creating jobs. He noted that the war had made the United States more insecure than it had been a few years before. Obama’s announcement speech was indeed meticulously delivered as it promised a clean break from the past inefficient policies of Washington. He made a commitment to ensure that decisions made in Washington were more humane (Cillizza 6).

McCain’s Announcement Speech

McCain started his announcement speech by acknowledging that American challenges could only be solved if Americans came together. He downplayed the perception that differences between Democrats and Republicans could not be bridged, insisting that it was time to bring red and blue states to the negotiating table. He further noted that he would use the following four years to bring Americans together if he became the president. According to him, political bickering would only take Americans back instead of brightening their future. Although he sounded like Obama, his sentiments did not draw much conviction from the audience.

On security matters, McCain promised to integrate military power and the power of diplomacy in tackling global terrorism. In doing this, the Republican presidential candidate noted that he would push for working alliances with other states to help flush out Al Qaeda networks. Perhaps, the striking difference between his speech and that of his rival was the commitment to use the economic strength of the United States to defend the country. This sounded more like President Bush, considering that the idea of war was quite unpopular at the moment. Nonetheless, McCain managed to assure his supporters that as the president, he would go to whatever extent to ensure their safety.

On emergencies, the presidential aspirant noted that communication between policemen had been hampered by inappropriate devices in the past. On this matter, he assured his supporters that he would prioritize equipping security agents with adequate devices so that they could respond more promptly to emergency cases (Nichols 21).

Senator John McCain also promised to cut down on government expenditure and eliminate wasteful spending by public officers. According to him, this was the only way to prevent the government from accumulating debts to other nations and encourage responsibility. He also noted that social security had become such a huge problem that it could no longer be ignored. In addition, McCain said that Medicare no longer worked for the average American and desperately needed reforms. Some other areas that McCain dwelt on at length were taxation and energy. Aware of its critical nature to the electorate, especially businessmen in Wall Street who were beginning to feel the heat of the economic recession, McCain promised to bring a taxation policy that would work for all Americans. This would in turn allow the government to invest in renewable sources of energy that cause less harm to the environment.

The fact that American oil came from volatile regions was a time bomb, considering that the country could severely suffer if political turmoil persisted in these countries. He emphasized that it was time for the government to look for sustainable sources of energy. As he concluded his announcement speech, Senator McCain sought to assure his supporters that his ideas were achievable if Americans resolved to bury their differences and work together in restoring the American Dream (Parker 132).

Presidential Debate 2012

The sobriety that marked the first presidential debate allowed the two candidates to present a clear difference in their policies. Although the last time the two candidates had appeared on the same platform was in 2004, they seemed calm, composed, and ready for a political fight of their lives. With only less than a month to elections, both parties were desperately in need of points that would give them some momentum towards the General Election. The candidates were aware of the impact that the debate would have on undecided voters. They understood well that it was their time to exercise maximum restraint while dealing with the opponent to avoid looking excessively abrasive.

For example, President Obama knew it was his time to take a low profile and let his incumbency work for him. It was not a good time to spark a fire with only a month to elections, as the fire could burn right into the elections, with undesirable outcomes. As for Mitt Romney, he had to strike a balance so that he did not appear like an activist instead of a leader. As the debate progressed, it became clear that Obama was lacking in the energy that he had brought to a similar debate in 2008. On the other hand, Mitt Romney looked so desperate for a win that he appeared to be using lies to pin down his democratic challenger. For instance, the moderator had to intervene at some point to correct his assertion that President Obama had failed to term the attack on US envoys an act of terror. He had intended to portray Obama as too soft on terror and lacking in the ability to solve global insecurity. Nonetheless, the fact that Obama had succeeded in killing Osama bin Laden spoke a lot about his commitment to war on terror (McKinnon 45).

In the beginning, Mitt Romney appeared focused on punching holes in Obama’s policies. At some point, he tried to portray Obama’s policy on taxation as a move towards socialism. According to him, Obama was literally punishing corporate businesses with huge taxes and distributing their hard earned money to the middle class. Romney tried to belabor the point by insisting that when big businesses collapsed, people would lose their jobs as a result. He believed that the government had the responsibility to help the private sector to create jobs for all Americans, as the government alone could not do this.

However, President Obama countered this argument insisting that Abraham Lincoln had used the trick to kick-start the US economy. Terming it economic patriotism, Obama lauded his plan, explaining that the US economy had always been strong whenever the middle class was doing well. Thus, it was morally acceptable to invest in the middle class so as to jump-start the economy. He further explained that he was simply implementing his electoral promises of 2008, emphasizing that America’s economic challenge could not be solved in Wall Street.

This particular argument brought a clear distinction as to what kind of candidate each of them was. While President Obama represented the majority of families struggling to fend for them and desperately in need of assistance, Mitt Romney appeared to represent the sentiments of businesspeople in Wall Street who are struggling to keep their businesses afloat. In order to score points against Obama, Romney charged that Obama was using the same rhetoric he had used in 2008, but had miserably failed to deliver on them. He called upon President Obama to be realistic in his tax plans to avoid killing businesses. It became clear that the debate was definitely going to be decided by the progress of the economy (Summers 12).

At some point, Mitt Romney got a greater hurdle trying to give an explanation on how he intended to solve unemployment and fix the national debt. It is instructive to note that at the time, unemployment stood at around 8.1%. This percentage was higher than it had been at any point in time when a President won a re-election. It was widely expected that unemployment could easily cost Obama a re-election, considering that it affected people directly. That was the reason why Romney sought to capitalize on it. With only a month to go, Romney sought to fix Obama on this particular issue of unemployment. He argued that if Obama had not managed to fix the economy over the last four years and only made unemployment worse, he could not therefore be trusted to fix the national debt. He gave Obama’s economic policies as the reason why the US economy was still ailing.

However, Obama sought to clarify that the economic turmoil had been caused by the Republican Party and that he had spent his first term trying to fix their mess. Indeed, it became apparent that Mitt Romney was better at economic issues due to his 20 years in business. President Obama seemed to have been aware of this when he accused Romney of recycling economic policies of past decades and presenting them as new ones. He implied that while Romney’s ideas looked real and tempting, they were not new to the United States; moreover, they had already failed in the past. He emphasized that he was certain to look for real solutions to problems of the 21st century.

At some point, Romney accused Obama of trying to reintroduce socialist tendencies, arguing that they had failed in the past and would not work in this generation. According to him, Americans had begun to decry the effects of excessive taxation by the government that claimed to care about their businesses. He maintained that it was irresponsible of the government to favor a section of the country’s citizens. Taxation, in his opinion, was a national issue that had to be designed to cater for interests of the entire nation. However, Obama sought to neutralize this argument, claiming that big corporations did not need tax cuts, adding that the government was bound to give tax cuts to people who deserved it. He seemed to maintain the same argument regarding the healthcare policy.

While Romney sought to clarify that his government would empower private firms to offer insurance for all citizens, Obama’s view was that Medicare was such a critical issue that could not be left to private firms. At this point, he reminded the audience of families struggling with housing and at the same time facing huge medical bills. He committed himself to avoid such scenarios by fine-tuning Obamacare so that it suited every American. In the end, viewers concluded that Romney had been stronger that President Obama in this debate. According to most viewers, Obama had been lacking in strength that he had had in a similar debate in 2008. However, Romney’s lack of facts did not work out for him either, as it became apparent that he would go to whatever extent just to win votes, including telling lies. Yet, he recorded a significant surge in opinion ratings as the elections drew closer (McKinnon 4).

Vice Presidential Debate 2012

People still continue showering praises on Joe Biden for his sterling performance in the vice presidential debate. Like he outwitted his Republican challenger in 2008, Joe Biden did not disappoint this time as well. In fact, he gave Obama the much sought momentum at the time when polls were showing him lose to Mitt Romney. At the time, the Democratic camp was not as cheerful as they had been when Romney made the folly of the “47 percent”. This is because poll results showed that Romney had an approval of 51%, while Obama only had 30% after his dismal performance in the initial debate. Biden looked more politically mature when he ably tackled Ryan’s attack on the manner the Obama administration had handled the Benghazi issue. Ryan had implied that due to political desperation, the government had resorted to making empty statements regarding critical issues of security instead of providing solutions.

However, Biden was swift in his defense of the Obama administration, insisting that Ryan was basing his arguments on a bunch of malarkey. He also criticized Ryan’s assertions that the Obama administration had been soft on Iraq’s nuclear weaponry, thereby exposing the world to grave danger. He termed such statements false and irresponsible and they should definitely not come from a vice president. When Ryan turned the heat on Obama’s stimulus package, terming it out of touch with the real needs of the American people, Biden came up fast and furious. To this claim, he laid down proofs that Ryan had personally written to the President asking him to extend the stimulus package to his own constituents. Terming it hypocrisy of the 21st century, Biden exposed Romney’s team as composed of people who would do everything to win an election, including deceiving the voters.

When the debate touched on Medicare, Ryan once again suffered a humiliation when Biden poked holes in his claims that Obamacare was not what most Americans wanted. In the end, Biden carried the day, thereby giving President Obama the energy to continue with his campaigns into the General Elections (Lush 3). 

Obama’s Announcement Speech

Obama’s announcement speech for re-election was devoid of hope that had marked his speech in 2008. He acknowledged this reality when he thanked his supporters for standing up with him since he got into national politics. He noted that the last time he had made such a speech, he was only a democratic presidential candidate. However, the times had changed as he was making a similar speech as the President of the United States. This was a strong message considering his heritage and humble background. It was an affirmation to his supporters that he would never forget how he had won the presidency and the promises he had made then.

Notably, Obama’s speech was devoid of promises and messages of hope that had marked his speeches in 2008. However, he sought to humanize himself and bring reality to his candidature. He was emphatic that while most promises he had made had not been fully realized, he remained committed to their realization and would build on the foundation he had established in the first four years to make them a  reality. It was a chilling message coming from the President who was literally struggling to fulfill his promises. President Obama was in a worse situation than he had been in 2008 and he was quite aware of it. He had nothing more to promise because he had promised everything in 2008. Worse still, some of his promises were far from being achieved. In fact, unemployment was much worse than it had been when he took over. That is why he had to concede that while he had tried to solve America’s problems, he was not satisfied with the results yet (Elliott 12).

Romney’s Announcement Speech

Romney’s announcement speech was full of criticism of Obama’s performance as the President of the United States. He was quick to remind his supporters of the fact that four years ago, they entrusted their future to a man they did not fully know. They gave him the mantle to lead because he promised change and he committed to change America for the better. However, it was a pity to hear him say that he was just starting to do a job he was given four years ago. Mitt Romney looked ready to fight President Obama right from the beginning. He knew Americans were still struggling, and his speech was quite in agreement with this reality. Romney also talked at length of Americans who had lost their jobs under President Obama and those who had given up on trying getting one. According to him, it was time America did away with politicians who borrowed money on their behalf and threw it away like they do in Europe. He also noted that the President had not kept his promise on withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan on time. The audience seemed to resonate well with his speech. At some point, the Republican presidential candidate reminded the crowd of the fact that Obama’s administration had done nothing but raised taxes for Americans (McKinnon 34).


In conclusion, the first presidential debate between Senator Obama and Senator McCain was majorly based on the national economy. At the time, the economy was such a significant issue that it had to be prioritized. The Vice Presidential Debate also started off with economic issues. The Democratic vice presidential nominee was the first to outline how his team would tackle the economic challenge. In his response, Biden noted that the economic recession was squarely to blame on broken policies in Washington. The two presidential candidates connected well with the audience when they acknowledged that true democracy was finally taking place in the United States of America. In this regard, they urged Americans to use it to realize a more perfect unity and do away with the issue of Red or Blue states.

In 2012, Mitt Romney appeared focused on punching holes in Obama’s policies. At some point, he tried to portray Obama’s policy on taxation as a move towards socialism. According to him, Obama was literally punishing corporate businesses with huge taxes and distributing their hard earned money to the middle class. However, he got a greater hurdle trying to give an explanation on how he intended to solve unemployment and fix the national debt. It is instructive to note that at the time, unemployment stood at around 8.1%. This percentage was higher than it had been at any point in time when a President won a re-election. It was widely expected that unemployment could easily cost Obama a re-election, considering that it affected people directly. Although Obama’s popularity plummeted following the initial debate, he performed better in the subsequent debates, which gave him enough momentum to win the election. 


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