Communicators In Chief

Communicators In Chief

It's State of the Union Night in Washington, D.C. We asked University of Illinois communication professor John Murphy — an expert on presidential rhetoric — to rank the five best commanders-in-chief at the podium.

1: Abraham Lincoln

The Gettysburg Address' definition of democracy — a government of the people, by the people, for the people — remains about the best out there and the Second Inaugural beautifully weaves the sacred into the profane of American life.

2: Franklin Roosevelt

He talked Americans out of the Depression (with his First Inaugural) and into the Second World War's great crusade for freedom (with his Arsenal of Democracy speech and the Four Freedoms State of the Union). Or came as close to those goals as words alone would allow.

3: John Kennedy

By far, the highest ratio of great speeches for years served on this list. On June 10, 1963, he inspired the world to seek peace at American University and the next day he memorably called for civil rights in an improvised, nationally televised speech. Pretty good 48 hours.

4: Ronald Reagan

He made Americans proud to be Americans, particularly with his magnificent tribute to the greatest generation, those who hit the beaches at Normandy. The clouds parted and the sun shone on him when he started that speech. Good luck always helps.

5: Theodore Roosevelt

He didn't always get shot while delivering a speech, but when he did, he finished the speech. True story. He inspired turn-of-the-20th-century Americans to live the "strenuous life" and became the first celebrity president.

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