I think speeches matter. I think they matter a lot.
I first realized my opinion on this was a strong one during the last presidential election when the most effective argument against Obama seemed to be "we don't need speeches, we need an experienced leader". I noted the general effectiveness of that argument and understood that most people are not cognizant of the broad and long lasting effects of a really good speech.
It's pretty clear that galvanizing the masses behind an idea makes change possible. Gridlock allows problems to fester while the masses polarize on opposite sides of an issue.
Anyone who missed Obma's Cairo speech a few weeks ago missed one of the greatest bits of live political impact I have seen in my lifetime. As noted by a story in the LA Times over the weekend, the aggressive nature and head-on approach that he took toward some of the world's diciest problems was a choice he made against the advice of many experts. I give him credit for his courage on that and I cite this as a sign of his conviction that "speeches matter".
I am not saying Obama has all the answers and I know there is some legitimate concern over his approach to many domestic issues. I am merely pointing out that his ability to affect change is clearly driven by his powerful oratory. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.