As Barack Obama talks about battling ISIS, Oval Office speeches raise expectations

President Barack Obama chose a historic platform for his address to the country Sunday, speaking for only the third time to the American people directly from the Oval Office in the White House.

Here's how presidents from Harry Truman onward have used the ultimate White House platform

U.S. President Barack Obama stood up to speak from the Oval Office at the White House on Sunday. Oval Office speeches are rare, but have been used by presidents since the 1940s to caution, comfort and even console the electorate. (Saul Loeb/Pool/AP)

U.S. President Barack Obama chose a historic platform for Sunday's address on the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and homegrown extremism, speaking for only the third time to the American people directly from the Oval Office in the White House.

Oval Office speeches have been used by presidents since the 1940s to caution, comfort and even console the electorate during events such as the Cuban missile crisis, the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. and even the resignation by President Richard Nixon on Aug. 8, 1974.

On Sunday, Obama said in the rare live TV speech from the Oval Office: "So far we have no evidence that they [the couple behind the deadly shootings in San Bernardino, Calif.] were directed by a terrorist organization overseas. But it is clear the two of them had gone down the dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West."

The president's choice of speaking venue raised people's expectations — and may have let them down.

"Obama looked firmly into the camera and gave America a not-so-peppy pep talk," the website commented Sunday night.

"Afterwards, America knows just about as much what he's doing and what's going on as it did before he scrambled Sunday's prime time schedule with the ultimate presidential prop."

The speech was unusual, too, in that he spoke standing at a lectern beside his desk, instead of sitting calmly behind it.

Here's a rundown of some previous Oval Office speeches by sitting presidents:

Harry Truman

President Harry Truman sits before a microphone on Sept. 1, 1945, at the White House, where he broadcast a message on the formal surrender of Japan. (Associated Press)

The first televised speech from the Oval Office was made by Truman, on Oct. 5, 1947. He used it to urge Americans to conserve food to help post-war Europeans survive a threatened winter famine that year, Truman biographer David McCullough wrote.

Dwight Eisenhower

President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned in 1961 that an arms race would take resources from other areas such as building schools and hospitals. (Bill Allen/Associated Press)

Eisenhower spoke from the Oval Office on Sept. 24, 1957, telling the U.S. why he had ordered troops to desegregate schools in Little Rock, Ark., allowing black and white children to be educated together.

And in a final speech from the office on Jan. 17, 1961, the former five-star general warned Americans about the rise of the "the military-industrial complex," which he said would take money from more constructive uses.

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense, a theft," NPR has quoted him as saying. "The cost of one modern, heavy bomber is this: a modern, brick school in more than 30 cities."

John F. Kennedy

Kennedy spoke twice from the Oval Office, most memorably on Oct. 22, 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis. He described the buildup of Soviet missiles in Cuba and warned the Soviet Union that any attack on the West would provoke "a full retaliatory response" against the then U.S.S.R.

The world held its breath until Soviet ships steaming toward Cuba turned back.

Subsequent presidents used Oval Office speeches more and more, peaking with Ronald Reagan, who spoke 16 times on matters ranging from the space shuttle Challenger explosion to the Iran-Contra affair.

Bill Clinton used the office 13 times to speak to Americans on subjects as varied as the economy, a military strike on Iraq and his own farewell in 2001.

George W. Bush

At 8:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 11, 2001, Bush addressed Americans from the Oval Office, calling the attacks on New York and Washington "despicable acts of terror."

"The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger," he said.

It was the first of his six Oval Office addresses, most of them about Iraq and the war on terror.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

President Franklin D. Roosevelt speaks to the U.S. by radio on July 24, 1933, about raising the minimum wage. (Associated Press)

Roosevelt's 27 "fireside chats," which were evening radio broadcasts to the country between 1933 and 1944, were among the earliest attempts by U.S. presidents to speak directly to the electorate. They were usually made from the diplomatic reception room of the White House, however, rather than the Oval Office.


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