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Analysis of Obama’s Inaugural Promotion

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  • Pages: 7
  • Word count: 1674
  • Category: Ethos

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Barack Obama presented his inaugural address on January 20, 2009 after being elected as the 44th President of the United States of America (Obama, 2018). An Inauguration is seen as a ceremony that is marked by the beginning of something new. In an Inauguration a president will formally address his fellow citizens and colleagues by asserting his role, power and authority in office. An Inauguration is seen as a moment when a new President can often define his purpose and his goals for the country, for all American’s to see and hear. In Obama’s Inaugural Address he mentioned his many perspectives, goals and principles that will set the stage for the next four years of his presidency. The next portion of this essay is an analysis of Barack Obama’s 2009 speech using the five canons of rhetoric.

The introduction of Barack Obama’s speech begins humbly by acknowledging his colleagues addressing first the Vice President, Chief Justice, the members of the United States Congress and lastly, his fellow citizens (Obama, 2009). In establishing ethos to gain credibility with the audience, he connects with the people by mentioning that what binds the nation together is beyond the colour of skin, our origins or the tenants of our faith, but rather the allegiance we have to the declaration that, “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Obama, 2009). Obama establishes integrity throughout the speech by refraining from the use of singular personal pronouns such as; me, myself and I. Instead he uses language that is plural, first-person pronouns such as; we, us, and ours. This works to his benefit as it feels as though he is speaking to the audience, and not at the audience. Furthermore, this works to his character as he is able to establish moral principles of equality and respect for a diverse demographic of audience members. In this way, Obama is successful in convincing the audience that he understands that success of a nation, requires collective collaboration.

Obama also makes use of pathos by appealing to the audience’s emotions through his references of segregation, war, and equality. In his speech, he makes references to segregation and says, “through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free” (Obama, 2009). Speaking as an African-American male he is able to sympathize with African-Americans and other minority groups who have experienced segregation and discrimination by reminding them of how far they have come. Furthermore, he speaks about equality of women, LGBTQ groups, immigrants, and the less fortunate by pointing out that the journey is not complete until every American is able to reach the pursuit of happiness (Obama, 2009). By approaching the audience as an open-minded individual who sympathizes with others’ struggles and acknowledging their achievements he is able to bring the message of unity and perseverance.

In his speech, Obama further appeals to logos through a series of facts and examples that support his arguments of furthering change and progressing toward equality. He mentions in his speech, “the patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob” (Obama, 2009). He speaks of leaders that are entrusted in a government that is for the people and by the people. Through his examples, he provides the audience with confidence, energy and compassion by narrating the history of past generations and what, we, as a nation, have overcome. In another part of the speech, Obama remarks on the many wars that have occurred in the fight against fascism and communism and the role of powerful government. He says in his speech, “Through it all, we have never relinquished our scepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone” (Obama, 2009). Obama continues in his speech and recounts the crisis that has tested Americans and proved their resilience by acknowledging the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the global financial crisis in 2008 that made a recovery and that these crises did not define Americas possibilities (Obama, 2009). This leads us to the next cannon, arrangement, and how it works as a motivational and persuasive tool.

The Arrangement of Obamas speech can be defined as a presentation structure. The structure of the speech can be divided into four sections: introduction, past, present and closing. Obama begins his speech with an introduction and acknowledging the things that make America great. An example includes his statement, “Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy” (Obama, 2009).

Then he recalls stories, situations and challenges from the past and inserts hope and inspiration, giving people a sense of hope. An example includes his statement, “This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience” (Obama, 2009). Obama then continues into the next section by speaking of present issues that have plagued the country and need to be addressed. He goes on to speak about the rising middle class, poverty, education, health care, social security, climate change and sustainable energy. An example includes his statement that, “We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. So, we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, reach higher” (Obama, 2009). In the closing statements of his speech, he takes the time to remind American’s of our legacy and our future. He reminds American’s that action is required for change and that, as citizens, like him, they have an obligation to raise their voices and cast their votes to shape the country’s course. An example from the end of his speech includes his statement, “With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom” (Obama, 2009). This leads us to the way in which the speech was delivered and how this aided in capturing his audiences’ attention.

The delivery of Obama’s speech was effectively engaging and passionate. Obama was dressed professionally and delivered his speech in a graceful, formal and sincere manner. His tone and approach helped capture and retain his audience’s attention. The added repetitions and pauses between many significant ideas helped to emphasize his message. In several parts of the speech, repetition was used containing phrases such as; “together, we,” “For we, the people,” “our journey,” and “on this day” (Obama, 2009). Obama also maintained eye contact with his audience and used hand gestures to emphasize unity throughout the speech. Whenever mentioning subjective pronouns or wanting to establish authority he raises his hands in rhythmic motion to the message he is conveying. Obama has a powerful stage presence when he speaks, commanding the attention of his audience with his voice. His linguistic power and persuasion is remarked through his absence of hesitation. His confidence in conveying his message is observed through his calm, natural demeanor that opens the door to his persuasion. This leads us to the style he uses in his speech and how that helps in building his persuasiveness.

The style of Obama’s speech is professional, sincere and honest. He takes his platform serious by staying on topic, articulating his ideas thoughtfully, using appropriate language and being concise. Obama also uses casual reasoning to support and establish a cause-and-effect relationship of America’s present and future. He clearly states the issue’s that have arose in America’s present and then warns that if not resolved will affect the future generations. An example of this in his speech is when he says, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations” (Obama, 2009). This brings us to our final cannon, memory and how this significantly improved his ability to persuade his audience.

Employing the cannon of memory further emphasizes how Obama’s speech was effective. Obama was well prepared and focused throughout his speech, rarely relying on a script. His ability to keep eye contact and engage his speech with hand gestures also added to the effectiveness of his speech.

By analyzing Obama’s Inaugural address and applying the five cannons of the Neo-Aristotelian method, this paper concludes that Obama effectively established his credibility and evoked inspiration among the American people. Obama convinced his audience of his understanding of the historical and current situation of America. He sympathized with the struggles that American’s were facing by reminding them that we, as a nation, are united and that unity was required for change. He was also persuasive in his ability to employ logical, ethical and emotional reasoning for the coming of new change based on the lessons of our history. By using the theme of past, present and future he was able to paint a picture of the American People, giving them hope that change was coming.

His powerful message of perseverance and endurance by the overcoming of many challenges of this great nation is what American’s were in need of hearing. During a time of war and economic recession, the American people wanted a leader that would turn endings into new beginnings. Obama’s ability to communicate his message to a diverse audience is what makes him a great persuasive speaker and communicator. In conclusion, Obama most effective rhetorical techniques are his ability to capture his audience through his style and delivery. Another effective rhetorical technique is his ability to successfully apply ethos, pathos and logos into much of his speech. Lastly, his arrangement being reflective of the country’s past, present and future was effective in providing hope that if we got through it once, we will do it again.

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