For one to become a great speaker, he/she must first become a student of the greatest
orators that ever existed. An effective and great speech is well structured, composed of texts with
phrases and textual symmetries, timely pauses and variations of speech tones. To achieve this
speaker must introduce the speech with short welcoming statement to warm up the audience for
the upcoming speech.
Another point is that the speech must take into consideration the occasion of the speech
in that it should be developed to articulate a sense of hope, joy, anticipation or despair among the
audience. In addition, the speaker needs to engage the interests of the audience by referring to the
past events through quotations and asking rhetoric questions. After engaging the audience with a
well structured introduction and body, the speaker must finish off with a phrase, a question or a
statement that vaguely troubles the listeners. At the end, a great speech should persuade the
audience to change their hearts and minds whose effects can be felt even in future generations.
This article looks at Ambassador Jean Kirkpatrick’s Speech Ambassador Jeanne
Kirkpatrick Blasts the "San Francisco Democrats” one of the speeches selected and introduced
by William Safire. The article will first present the historical and political developments
surrounding that particular speech. This particular part will include a short biography of the
narrator, the speech development and its content as well as its impact speech to the audience.
Secondly, the paper will present a rhetoric analysis of the speech in the light of William Safire’s
thoughts on a good speech. Finally, the paper will give some personal perspective of how the
speech affected the course of events back then and even the current developments in the US
Jean Duane Jordan Kirkpatrick was born in 1926 Duncan, Oklahoma and went to
Barnard College where she earned her PhD in political science at Columbia University and later
became a Professor of International Relations at the Institution. She published several articles in
political science journal that demonstrated her disappointment at the President Jimmy Carter’s
government foreign policy (Levy, 226). One of the notable pieces was the 1979 " Dictatorships
and Double Standards ” which got the attention of Ronald Reagan and she was appointed as
president’s foreign policy advisor in his 1980 campaign and later joined his cabinet (Kirkpatrick
, 36) She was later nominated as the U.S ambassador to the United States thereby becoming the
first woman to hold the position.
The “ San Francisco Democrats” speech was delivered at the 1984 Republican National
Convention in praise of Reagan’s foreign policy while dismissing the leadership of what she
termed “San Francisco Democrats” who had just held their own convention at in San Francisco.
The speech raised a wide range of issues coined around foreign policy. The speech was
especially designed to win the hearts and minds of the “Reagan Democrat” target audience in
terms of swaying their votes.
Therefore, for the first time, the Republican National Convention chose a no-republican
key note speaker; Kirkpatrick’s blistering speech cited immediate foreign policy issues and
controversies with regard to Lebanon, Central America, Grenada and the Soviets protest during
arms negotiations. On every topic that Kirkpatrick touched, she said that the Democrats “always
blame America First” like when the Marxist dictators grab power in the Central America, the
San Francisco Democrats blame a century old United States Policies instead of the guerrillas
and their Soviet allies.
The San Francisco Democratic was arguably pure foreign policy speech about culture
wars developed by a section of committed Republicans. While many other people made a deal
into the homosexuality as the biggest threat to the US, Kirkpatrick emphasized that many more
believed that the spread of the hard-line soviet empire was the biggest threat. In addition, As
other groups such as hardcore religious conservatives had already been addressed by other
speakers at the conversion, Kirkpatrick’s speech was directed to the AFO-CIO (U.S largest
federation of unions) Democrats who were worried at the thought of American president not
understanding the huge danger of the impending Soviet threat. A good number of this group of
people had abandoned McGovern in 1972 then supported Carter in 1976 as he had portrayed
himself as a more anti-communist leader. Waldman (66) argues that Kirkpatrick’s speech was
aimed convincing that group of voters to continue supporting Reagan in his 1984 presidential bid
irrespective of their different opinions on his economic and cultural issues. Generally this group
of voters including independents was targeted by the keynote appeal speech thereby helping him
win re-election with 59% of votes.
In his analysis of the author, William Safire, the author of Lend Me Your Ears – Great
Speeches in History termed Kirkpatrick as the most respected speech orator who would seriously
run and win today’s presidential campaign. Safire (66) dscribes her at the 1984 “blame America
first” speech occasion as a “star performer”
In his eleven steps to a great speech, Safire argues that the orator should “shake hands
with the audience before engaging the details of the speech. At the beginning of the “San
Francisco Democratic” speech, Kirkpatrick thanked the audience for their warm welcome.
A thematic anatomy or a form of structure is something that a good essay should never
lack. In other words, the speech should have a simple organization with a special structure. He
mentions that a well-structured should not just have the beginning with an obvious introductory
survey of content and end with a summary of the main points (Safire, 147). Kirkpatrick’s speech
can be said to have a special kind of structure with an ascending tone where she starts with
unobvious introduction and works her way through different topics by engaging the audience
with rhetoric questions and quotations. Kirkpatrick ends her speech with an urging statement for
the audience instead of a conclusion of the main idea.
Apart from the structure, a speech should have a pulse or a changing rhythm. This is
achieved through some form of repetition of sentences or part of a sentence. The “San Francisco
Democratic” speech has a good number of repeated beginning sentences that have enable the
creation of rhythm (Safire, 64). For example, Kirkpatrick talks of foreign affairs, she asks the
following questions “What would become of Europe if the United States withdrew? What would
become of Africa if Europe fell under Soviet domination? What would become of Europe if the
Middle East came under Soviet control?” in search of answers for these questions, Kirkpatrick
punctuates his/her explanations with repeating the sentence “But then, they always blame
A good speech should take into consideration the occasion of the moment in that it
should articulate a sense of hope and pride by engaging the audience with seriousness. To
achieve this, the speech should be short enough to maintain tension within approximately twenty
minutes. Kirkpatrick’s speech precisely fits this point. This is a less than two thousand words
speech that engages the audience with seriousness denoting the sense of hope and pride of the
American people as it can be seen from her final paragraph.
Quotations are a necessary ingredient and must in every effective speech. Kirkpatrick
used this technique to prepare the audience for the core of the message. She starts by quoting
Harry Truman who said that “The United States has become great because we, as a people, have
been able to work together for great objectives even while differing about details." (Kirkpatrick,
417) This is in preparation of the audience to understand the mind of democratic president and
candidates. In addition, she also quotes the article in The New York Times about foreign policy.
Effects of the speech
It is now more than a quarter a century since Kirkpatrick made the “San Francisco
Democrats” speech which contributed to a great extent the re-election of Ronald Reagan. The
ideas raised in the speech are still more relevant in today’s society. Besides, her career
demonstrates how anyone can rise to occasion and advance personal or collective opinions
through an effective speech. In particular, Kirkpatrick’s rise to prominence was a pace was a
ground breaking for other women like Diane Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi and Sarah Palin. The
speech circumstances of the speech hailed Kirkpatrick as the central character that laid the
foundation for the current anti-communist politics and foreign policy especially in dealing with
terrorism and perceived sympathetic countries such as the Russia and some Middle East
Kirkpatrick’s “San Francisco Democrats” blistering speech dealt with foreign policy. The
speech was necessitated by historical political developments with regard to Ronald Reagan’s
presidential campaigns who wanted to capitalize on the issue of foreign policy to win the hearts
and minds of worried anti-communist democrats. Kirkpatrick’s speech was effective in
delivering the message as it followed what could be termed at “William Safire’s guide to a great
speech” the speech was able to capture the interest of the audience through setting up of a
structure, use of quotations, developing the rhythm and taking into consideration the occasion of
the speech to promote a sense of pride and hope for the audience.
Kirkpatrick, Jeane J. Political and moral dimensions. New York: Transaction Publishers, 1988.
Levy, Peter B. Encyclopedia of the Reagan-Bush Years. New York: Greenwood Press ABC-CLIO,
Safire, William. Safire's Political Dictionary. London: Oxford University Press,, 2008.
Waldman, Tom. Not Much Left: The Fate of Liberalism in America. CA: University of California
Jeane Kirkpatrick, " Dictatorships and Double Standards ," Commentary Magazine Volume