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Critique of a Political Speech of Barack Obama - Essay Example

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The problem addressed in this paper is the critique of a political speech of Barack Obama. The paper tells that as he spoke, Obama did so as the country’s first-elected black President and yet he spoke as if he were addressing all Americans and not just a select group of them. …
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Critique of a Political Speech of Barack Obama
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Critique of a Political Speech of Barack Obama

This research will begin with the statement that the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States stands as a greatly significant and meaningful moment for contemporary America.  His inaugural speech given on January 21st 2009 reads as a missive to all Americans and contains within it the classically American mélange of Christian-style preaching and the Enlightenment era ideas so important to the country’s heritage: life, liberty, and equality. With respect to the course, the researcher believes that Obama’s speech touches upon, among other things, key elements of Americana which appertain to its heritage, its self-imagery, and its Universalist claims of equality and liberty for all.  In doing so, Obama employs pathos, ethos, and logos interchangeably so as to endow his words with the power that they have. It is debatable which of the three forms of rhetorical appeal are most effective to begin a speech.  Each, depending on circumstance, can serve to capture the attention of the audience.  Obama opts for a blend of pathos and ethos.  He opens with “My fellow citizens:  I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you've bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. The pathos of self-imposed modesty and ‘trust’ easily transitions to the ethos of ‘ancestors.’ ‘Ancestors’ begins an appeal to the ethos of the American Republic and its ideals. He manages the transition well as he then refers to an America which
…has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we, the people, have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears and true to our founding documents. / So it has been; so it must be with this generation of Americans. (Obama 2009)
This blending of pathos and ethos is quite effective. Without yet having to employ the limited tool of logos, Obama is able to allude to an historical nation and the sentiments of its people. Logic and consistency might demand that one point out that in fact America has not always held true to its ‘founding documents,’ the existence of slavery for many years, the mistreatment of the Native American, and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two being but some notable examples to the contrary. But this is rhetoric, not reality.
The brief sojourn into ethos is then temporarily abandoned for a return to pathos. What other recent event, scored into the memory of every American, has the ability to evoke an emotional response without fail: September 11, 2001 of course. The other sources of emotional upheaval at the moment (in 2009 and now) is the ongoing global economic crisis and to a lesser extent, environmental degradation and healthcare. Obama makes use of all three.
Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some….Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many -- and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. (Obama 2009)
It is interesting that a man who is facing a crisis as serious as that faced by FDR generations prior, appeals to the sense of unease and fear that many hold. Apparently, we have more to fear ‘than fear itself.’ International terrorism, failing economy, and an inefficient healthcare system are things to worry about. This is pure and unbridled pathos.
But in the end, Obama’s talent for speaking remains unblemished as he, after making appeals to fear-based concerns, reassures his audience, in true Rooseveltian fashion, that “we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord” ... Read More
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