An Analysis of Ronald Reagan’s “The Evil Empire”
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Ronald Reagan gave a speech in Orlando, Florida on March 8, 1983 called, “The Evil Empire.” This speech was intended for the ears of all Americans and is one of the best known presidential speeches ever given. In his speech, Reagan uses multiple rhetorical strategies such as; metaphors, allusions, rhetorical questions, tone, pathos, and uses references from the bible. He talks about all the main points of abortion, teenage sex, drugs, the Soviet Union, and the practice of praying and God in our public schools. His speech was very well written, moving, and extremely influential. This speech shows the president’s belief that the morals and welfare of all of the American citizens has changed and also shows that Reagan is willing to do whatever he can to change not only our country but, the world.
Allusion is one of the rhetorical strategies President Reagan uses numerous times during the course of his entire speech. The first example seen in the speech is when Reagan uses allusion when he is telling the story of “an evangelical minister and a politician arriving at heaven’s gate” (Reagan 2). He uses this story to show that there are still honest and respectable politicians, legislatures, congressmen/women, and any other government officials in the public eye out there. He goes on to say that “we need your help to keep us ever-mindful of the ideas and principles that brought us in the public arena in the first place” (Reagan 2). “Us”, is referring to the representatives of our great country. He wants the American citizens to stand up for what they believe in and be opinionated on their beliefs. Reagan is telling the general public that he wants to listen and hear what we as citizens have to say and what changes we would like to see be done in our country.
Another example of an allusion in “The Evil Empire” speech is when President Reagan talks about the young father who is speaking to a crowd in California sometime during the cold war. Regan says that the father states that “I would rather see my little girls die now; still believing in God, than have them grow up under communism and one day die no longer believing in God (Father, Reagan 7). When the father said this he immediately won over the crowd and they all felt related to the sentence he just spoke.
An additional rhetorical strategy that permeated throughout Ronald Reagan’s speech was the use of rhetorical questions. Reagan used these rhetorical questions to get his audience to at least deliberate or think through his viewpoints. One example of this rhetorical strategy Reagan used is when he asked, “How far are they willing to go in giving to government their prerogatives as parents” (Reagan 3)? He used this example in his viewpoint on the clinics that were helping under aged girls with their pregnancies and even supplying contraceptives without the consent of the females’ parents. Reagan and the other officials of the United States government were doing everything they could to help fund these clinics, that way the government could have a say in regards to requiring parental consent when the young girls would come and ask for help.
The second example of rhetorical questions Reagan used in multiple sentences in one segment of his speech is when he said, “Is all Judeo-Christian tradition wrong? Are we to believe that something so sacred can be looked upon as a purely physical with no potential for emotional and psychological harm? And isn’t it the parents’ right to give counsel and advice to keep their children from making mistakes that may affect their entire lives” (Reagan 3)? He used these specific rhetorical questions to give the parents of these young women something to think about. He would like them to voice their opinion on the current problem occurring in the United States. I believe the use of these numerous rhetorical questions helped to persuade the parents to lean more to Reagan’s side.
The third rhetorical strategy Reagan used in his speech is metaphors. The first use of metaphors in this speech is, “Yes, let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Reagan 5). The use of this metaphor is referring to everlasting justice and righteousness in what Reagan believes as the spiritual awakening that is about to initiate in the United States of America. Reagan also uses a simile in “The Evil Empire” speech. The simile he uses is, “We know that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or, as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin” (Reagan 5). The use of this simile in this speech is stated to show that no matter what we do or what happens we will never be able to fully rid the world of evil. It is inevitable. Human kind will always have to face evil. It is just up to us to battle evil the best way that we can.
The final two rhetorical strategies I found in “The Evil Empire” speech given by Ronald Reagan was the usage of pathos and logos. An example of pathos in this speech is when Reagan refers to the abortion matter that was taking place in this time period. He states that, “Unless and until it can be proven that the unborn child is not a living entity, then its right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness must be protected” (Reagan 4). The use of this sentence is to appeal to the audience’s emotions and get the audience to start thinking about what abortion really is. Reagan wants the American people to realize what really happens when an abortion takes place and to prove to them that they are still unborn children and also, unborn citizens of the United States of America.
Another example of pathos occurs later in the speech when Ronald Reagan speaks about how God is and should remain one of the most important traditional values in American life. God is written all over American history. It is written on all of American currency and even referenced in the constitution of the United States of America. For example, our currency says, “In God we trust”, and in the United States constitution it doesn’t necessarily state anything about God himself but, he is referenced all over the constitution. Also, in the speech, you can find that the rhetorical strategy logos is used. An example of this is when Ronald Regan refers to a survey that was given to American citizens that proved that most people “…disapprove of adultery, teenage sex, pornography, abortion, and hard drugs” (Reagan 5). This survey showed that people still held the old-fashioned value and morals that are commonly not looked so down upon in our times today.
Overall, Ronald Reagan’s, “The Evil Empire” speech was extremely heart-rending and powerful in more than one way. He referenced the bible and his belief in God multiple times and used and numerous amount of rhetorical strategies and persuasive appeals in this speech that helped to make our countrymen and women deliberate on what was right or wrong and good or bad. He also used his strong belief in God and faith to help contemplate and persuade the minds of our citizens and win over the audience. Reagan believed that, even though evil and sin would never fully be conquered in our world, we as people could still take pride and hold our traditional values and morals up high and continue to do the right thing. He believed that our country should take a leap of faith in God and see what he has in store for us. Reagan wanted to do whatever he could in his power to change our world for the better.
Reagan, Ronald. “The Evil Empire.” Orlando, Fl. 8 March 1983. Speech. American Rhetoric. 2008. Web. Page numbers 1-8. 20 September 2013.