Rhetorical Analysis of President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Speech
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Barack Obama took his oath as the 44th President of the United States of America on January 20 of this year, during the Presidential Inauguration at the U. S. Capital Building in Washington, D. C. Like all Presidential Inaugurations one of the key elements of the events was the inaugural address, which more or less outlines what the newly-installed President plans to do during his or her next four years in office.
Obama, for his part, delivered a fairly straightforward yet powerfully stunning inaugural speech that tackles his agenda amidst the global economic crisis that has adversely affected not only millions of Americans but also people all around the world.
In general Barack Obama’s speech addressed issues that can be roughly divided into six parts: truthfully acknowledging the crisis that America is facing, emphasizing the historical fact that America has faced and overcome countless obstacles, addressing his critics, urging people to rebuild America, calling on all governments of the world to rally behind him, and stressing the fact that the solution to the country’s problem lies within the American people. Throughout his speech he also made subtle criticisms on the administration of his predecessor, former President George W.
Bush. However, as a whole, his speech was a rhetorical argument that America must rise once again, face the crisis that has been plaguing it, and eventually remake the country and place back on track to success. In the first part of his address, after thanking former President Bush, he immediately gave sufficient information regarding the current situation of the U. S. by acknowledging the economic crisis that the country is facing. “Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered.
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” (qtd. in New York Times. com). This particular statement is actually very brief but effectively lays the framework for his argument that America must overcome not only challenges to country’s the economy but also to other areas as well. Most of all, this provided the springboard to the thesis statement of his speech “I say to you that the challenges we face are real.
They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met” (qtd in New York Times. com). Meaning to say, the whole point of Obama’s address is that he will ensure the recovery of America but also acknowledges the fact that it will not be easy and will not happen immediately. It was also not difficult to see that Obama’s speech was primarily intended for American people. However, it can also be noted that he is also addressing the other countries that are also facing a similar crisis across the globe.
This is first shown when he opened his speech with “my fellow citizens” (qtd. in New York Times. com), which in a way, meant that he will face the crisis along with the rest of the American people. His constant usage of the words “we” and “our” while he illustrates the effects of the crisis also indicate that he related very well to his audience and, in effect, made his audience analysis highly effective. As for the rhetorical strategies that relate to his audience and his agenda, Obama generally made brief but substantially detailed illustrations and examples of his agenda in his term as U. S. President for the next four years.
Basically, Obama first focused on the traits and values that America’s forefathers possessed and which eventually made America into what it is today. He stressed that the U. S. is mainly founded on solid principles, trust, ideals, and most of all hard work. “…it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom” (qtd. in New York Times. om).
Meaning to say, in Obama’s discussion of rhetorical strategies, he stressed that since America has mainly relied on the values that its ancestors in order to attain prosperity and success, it must also do the same to face the economic crisis. In a way, he also rhetorically argued that since historically, America has always found ways to overcome crisis, obstacles, and hardships, the current generation of Americans will do the same as shown in one of the lines of his speech : “Our capacity remains undiminished.
But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America” (qtd. in New York Times. com). However, although Obama’s agenda showed great premise, in his speech, he only summarized them briefly. For example, in outlining his specific plans for the nations, he simply said: “We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.
We’ll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do” (qtd. in New York Times. com). While these plans sound very promising, it failed to show exactly how he will do it. In other words, Obama, in this aspect, did not analyze why these strategies are effective.
This somehow made his rhetorical strategies more or less vague. On the contrary, Obama made a very short, yet strong rhetorical claim in addressing the United States’ foreign relations and international ties with different countries in the world. “And so, to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity.
And we are ready to lead once more” (qtd. in New York Times. com). In this particular line of his speech, Obama made it was very clear that America was more than willing to extend a hand to all countries, both allies and enemies, in building a single world of peace. However, it is noticeable that the last sentence of this line, “ready to lead once more” (qtd in New York Times. com), was an indirect reference to his predecessor, President Bush.
In a way, Obama was also saying that it was Bush’s fault that America is being viewed as a hostile country to other nations but nonetheless, the country is ready to rebuild international ties with former enemy countries. He also outlined plans for poor countries as he vowed to help them by working alongside them “to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds” (qtd. in New York Times. com). However, he also made it clear to the world that America will not back down from any country that threatens to disturb the country’s peace.
And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken — you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you” (qtd. in New York Times. com). In short, it can be deduced that Obama’s rhetorical strategy on foreign relations was two-faced: he intends to build stronger foreign relations with other nations but at the same time, he will also be aggressive in fighting countries or elements that would sow chaos in America or the rest of the world.
Finally he concluded by once again calling for a return to the true values that America has always relied on for its success— “honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism” (qtd in New York Times. com). He also urged the entire government be held accountable for all of its actions especially in its spending of taxpayers’ money.
In addition, he implored all Americans to usher in a “new era of responsibility— a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly” (qtd. in New York Times. com). In general, Obama’s speech was very inspirational, straight-to-the-point, and strong. However, as mentioned above, it was notable that he did not explain exactly how we will do things such as building bridges, improving schools, and lowering the costs of health care.
For example, since the economic crisis was the most relevant issue today, it would’ve been better if he focused on specific and detailed plans to revive the economy instead of making general statements. Nevertheless, the inaugural address achieved its main objective of calling on the American people to rally behind him in order to rebuild the country. Grammar-wise, there was nothing wrong in his entire speech. He spoke from the heart yet maintained an authoritative aura that his position commands.
It also helped that he implied how America has completely changed with his election to the presidency in the line, “why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath. ” In this line, he more or less indicated that he represents a shining pillar of hope that would pave the way for a better America. Furthermore, if the speech were to be submitted to an essay contest, such as the Student Guide, I would suggest that the writer add sound bites or phrases and sentences that people would always remember in next generations.
For example, former President John F. Kennedy will always be known for the line “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country,” which he said in his inaugural address. On the contrary, Obama’s address did not have a solid sound bite except perhaps for the line “With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come,” which he said at the conclusion of his speech.