English 115H: Rhetoric
Mrs. Kelly Austin
6 February 2013
We Owe It to the Children
Although Barack Obama’s policies as President of the United States have been a source of controversy in this country, his prowess at addressing the public does not leave much room for debate. Arguably, Obama’s public speaking skills won him not just his first but also second term as president. In his address to the public regarding inappropriate material on television, “The Sex on TV 4 Report,” he effectively convinces his listeners for the need of tighter control on the content displayed on ever-growing media sources. Utilizing precise and evocative diction, strong appeals to ethos both created and situated, and a litany of emotional appeals to family, patriotism, and community, Barack Obama calls the nation’s citizens to action to protect children against the psychological harm of inappropriate television programs or movies. The president demonstrates an expert command over linguistic argumentation, balancing a powerful emotional appeal with an unwavering credibility as both a political leader and a father.
Barack Obama begins to build his appeals to ethos before even addressing the topic at hand. He opens his speech by mentioning his gratitude to his listeners and supporters, which immediately makes the audience feel appreciated and therefore more open to his argumentative strategies. He also establishes his relationship to the audience as a fellow understanding parent by saying, “This is a subject many of us come to not as politicians or policy makers, as but as parents most of all,” (par 2). This not only allows him to appear more relatable to the audience, which is most likely comprised of concerned parents, but also gives listeners the impression that our nation’s leader puts family before politics. Here, Barack Obama is speaking not as the President of the United States, but as a normal father dealing with the challenges of parenthood. This establishes the primarily emotional tone that will carry throughout the rest of the speech, where Obama will put the welfare of children as the foremost objective of his address.
To create this child-focused theme and sense of family, President Obama uses pathos and evocative imagery in the opening of his speech. He describes a parent sitting on the couch with his or her child faced with the uncomfortable situation of attempting to explain adult content on a television shown which, in context, gives the listener a true sense of the awkwardness of being presented with information above a child’s maturity level. Standing alone, this image of a parent and child spending time together may even evoke nostalgia or a sense of family as most parents and children encounter this situation daily and value the time spent together. The juxtaposition of a familiar situation with an uncomfortable twist creates a rousing mix of emotions in the listeners. While watching television as a family can be an engaging and even educational activity, the addition of inappropriate material can quickly turn this experience sour, which Obama reinforces with his own personal story of trying to explain a commercial for Cialis to his young daughter. In this way, the creation of this situation brings the issue of inappropriate content on television from a broad governmental issue to a personal problem for every modern family. In bringing this situation home for the audience, support for his appeal for censorship will come more easily. As Obama develops his appeals to family and community, he also encourages a sense of responsibility for action in his listeners. “From the time they’re young, we try to instill in our children a sense of what’s right and wrong; a sense of what’s important, of what worth striving for. As best we can, we also try to shield them from the harsher elements of life, and introduce them to the realities of adulthood at the appropriate age,” (par 4). The weight of...