The Rhetoric of Barack Obama's Inaugural Address

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Obama’s Inaugural

Barack Obama delivered his Inaugural Address at a critical point in American history. The United States was facing a global economic crisis while skidding deeper into recession, two foreign wars were being fought with consistently rising death tolls, international relations looked bleak, and the outgoing president was leaving with one of the lowest approval ratings in history. Obama’s speech had lofty goals. His mission was to inspire hope, unite Americans behind his leadership, and lay the groundwork for the change that his campaign had promised. And as so much of his appeal was based on his ability as an orator, “A bad speech for Barack Obama would count for more than a bad speech from anyone else” (Pierce 5). Although Obama’s speech is not rich in quotable lines and phrases, it still manages to fulfill its purpose. In his Inaugural Address, Obama makes it obvious that he had a clear understanding of the rhetorical strategies necessary for effective speech.

Obama shows a clear understanding of his audience as he works to achieve a certain relationship with them. Obama recognizes his role as leader of the American people and by extension a prominent leader in the world. He makes a clear and conscious effort to garner unity and support from his fellow Americans, even though who don’t agree with his views and policies. His use of pronouns and almost exclusively limited to the first person plural—“we,” “us,” “our.” He attempts to transcend dissent-filled political debate with lines like, “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works” (Obama 2). Simultaneously, Obama’s speech establishes a powerful ethos. By stating things like “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unit of purpose over conflict and discord,” Obama makes himself the face hope, chosen in unison by the American people to lead (1).

Obama’s tone throughout the speech is hopeful and inspiring, but...
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