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Jfk Steel Speech Analysis

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  • Pages: 2
  • Word count: 414
  • Category: Appeal

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Throughout his speech in which he condemned companies for raising steel prices, Kennedy repeatedly appeals to a sense of communal sacrifice and collective responsibility in order to rally his everyman audience around this ostensible cause for outrage. From the beginning, Kennedy, a millionaire Harvard graduate, includes himself in the aggrieved camp of everyday Americans by using the first person “we”. The list of sacrifices being made by the “185 million Americans” are thus shared by him as well. He is on their side, united with them. Yet in the very same breath in which he lumps himself in with the rest of the country, he takes another privileged group – the “tiny handful of steel executives” – and sets them apart, separate.

Such us-versus-them distinction is a critical justification for the contempt and righteous indignation that Kennedy heaps on the steel companies. But his appeal does not rest solely on class warfare, because if he played up the class bit for too long, he would lose the faith of his hardworking and self-sacrificing audience. So he switches to real, tangible patriotism – after all, there’s a war on. And so the pitch is not limited to union workers but also extends to “reservists … and servicemen” and “every American businessman and farmer”. These professions connote a fighting spirit, rugged individual ingenuity and self-reliance; one hundred percent Americanism.

Kennedy is far from being in bed with the unions – he is careful to note (albeit without elaborating) that the steel companies enjoy an “unusually good labor contract,” implying that the steel companies have every right and reason to succeed. But his litany of economic statistics lend further credibility to his condemnation of the steel companies, precluding the possibility of the companies replying “it was necessary for business.” Further evidence of Kennedy’s rhetorical caution can be found in his disclaimer that “price and wage decisions … are and ought to be freely and privately made.”

In 1962 it would have been unprecedented for a president to coerce a private company into taking a specific economic action. But again, Kennedy invokes the virtuous idea of “higher… responsibility” so as not to undermine his message. And his final closing lines cleverly put the ball in his opponent’s court. Kennedy does not directly go on the warpath or appear to be aggressive, managing to appear strong and principled without giving the steel companies any ammunition to respond to the actual substance of his speech.

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