Rhetorical Analysis of Obama Speech

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Literatures and Foreign Languages
Let Us Learn and Resource Together
23 November 2008
Rhetorical Analysis of “A More Perfect Union” Speech
The speech titled “A More Perfect Union” was delivered by Senator Barack Obama on March 18, 2008 near the historical site of the signing of the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The speech responds to the video clip of Barack Obama’s pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, making racially charged comments against America and Israel. The pundits and various news media outlets played the clip repeatedly on the television, radio, YouTube, and podcasts.

First, the Senator’s speech attempts to address the nation on their concerns of his affiliation with Reverend Wright. Second, the speech addresses the sustaining and prevailing issues of race within America and how it paralyzes our nation.

The speech is compelling because it possesses the necessary elements of effective and persuasive rhetoric; in summation, Obama’s rhetoric works. Rhetoric is the study of opposing arguments, misunderstanding, and miscommunication.

Also, relevant to this analysis, rhetoric will be defined as the ability to speak and write effectively and to use language and oratory strategically. Despite the common employment of speech writers by most politicians, Senator Obama wrote the speech himself.

By addressing the misunderstanding and miscommunication connected to and perpetrated by racism in America, the audience sees precisely how effective Obama’s speech is when examined through such lenses as the classical and 20th century rhetorical theories and concepts from Aristotle, Richard Weaver, Stephen Toulmin, Chaim Perelman, and Michel Foucault.

Barack Obama’s speech echoes the rhetorical concepts of ethos, pathos, and logos that are explicitly discussed within Aristotle’s The Rhetoric. Ethos is how the speaker’s character and credibility aids his or her influence of the audience; whereas pathos is a rhetorical device that alters the audience’s perceptions through storytelling and emotional appeals (181). Logos uses reason to construct an argument and to covey an idea (182). Finally, kairos attempts to conceptualize the need for the correct timing (201).

Therefore, ethos, pathos, logos, and kairos are all evident within the speech and expressed in various ways, striking language and repetition, and through different receptors, emotions and logic.

Ethos is accomplished on intellectual, social, spiritual, and biological levels. Senator Obama does this by giving factual information. He interjects historical references; he explains the extent of his family tree. Thus, the Senator gives creditability to his speech and validity to his message. The implication is that everyone should listen; he is the authority.

He acknowledges that the press routinely looks “for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well” (Obama, par. 7). From this quote, the audience is being persuaded by the classical theoretical concepts of opposing arguments.

The audience is fully aware of the division between the races, and the speech is very effective due to the fact that Barack Obama is willing to speak of what is often unspoken. When addressing his intellectual ethos, Obama mentions that he has “gone to some of the best schools in America” (Obama, par. 6).

Secondly, he recites, “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union,” which is easily recognized as the first line in the U.S. Constitution (Obama, par. 2). Even those who do not possess complete knowledge of the famous line immediately understand that something of importance is being conveyed to them.

Thirdly, he demonstrates his awareness of past occurrences and present concerns on the global scale. Senator Obama recalls the “legacy of slavery and Jim Crow” within our nation (Obama, par. 24). He acknowledges the present dangers of “conflicts in the Middle East”...
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