On 4th November 2008, after successfully defeating John McCain in Presidential election, President-elect gave out a victory speech in acknowledging the change and crisis that had befallen the country and the world at large. He was the fulfillment of Martin Luther King’s vision of American change. In this rhetorical speech, a number of techniques such as imagery together with ethos, pathos, and logos were used in persuading the audience to understand the change that had occurred in the new era of America. These techniques were influential enough in creating emotion and logic reason among the audience. They denoted Obama as a credible leader who would help in fostering such change in order to meet the demands of the Americans. It is in this regard that this paper evaluates this speech.
William Arthur Ward once said that if you flatter him he may not believe; if you criticize him, he may not like you; if you ignore him, he may fail to forgive you; if you encourage him, he will not forget about you; and finally, if you love him, he may force himself to also love you (Moosad, 2010). His original quote gives core principles that can effectively be followed in evaluating a speech. Evaluating a speech should not be seen as an approach of flattering, criticizing, or whitewashing the presenter, but rather, should be utilized as a way that allows retaining the presenter’s strength. Moreover, it is a way of seeking to improve his or her weaknesses as evident during the previous speech presentation.
On 4 November 2008, President-elect Obama made a victory speech after defeating John McCain in the Presidential election. The speech’s transitivity and modality can help in understanding how language can effectively serve ideology and power. Though Obama’s victory was seen as the fulfillment of the promise of democracy and the logical culmination of long-curve of the social, political, and economic trend, what was influential was the greatness of his victory speech. The art of oratory employed in Obama’s 2008 victory speech in Chicago was a fine example of the rhetorical brilliance. In essence, this was a type of rhetoric speech. Regarding this fact, this paper evaluates the greatness of Obama’s victory speech of 2008 in terms of its organization, delivery, ethos, pathos, and logos it incorporated.
One of the features that brought out the greatness of President Obama’s victory of 2008 at Grant Park, in his home city of Chicago, Illinois, was based on its organization. The President-elect was able to focus his speech on major issues that were facing the United States and the entire world because of a good organization of his speech. At that moment, Obama was able to talk about the issue of the economy, the Iraq War, and the global warming that the United States and the entire world were facing. He said, “Even as we stand here tonight, we know that there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and mountain of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us,” (President-Elect Barrack Obama Victory Speech 04 November 2008). He added that it was necessary for the Americans to learn some lessons from the financial crisis. To him, the crisis was a clear indication that Americans could never have their Wall Street thriving while their Main Street was suffering (President-Elect Barrack Obama Victory Speech 04 November 2008). In my opinion, his organization approach helped him in articulating the very needs and issues that were at the heart of Americans as well as the entire world.
Consequently, Obama’s speech was great in the sense that it referenced the inaugural addresses of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King. In echoing Martin Luther King’s address on “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, President Obama said that it was because of what the Americans had done (voting) that change was going to be realized in America. He acknowledged that the road ahead of America would be long and their climb would be steep leading to possible failure to reach their desired destination within a year or a term. However, he renewed the hope of the audience when he noted that he was more hopeful of the country there than ever before (President-Elect Barrack Obama Victory Speech 04 November 2008). Referencing such great speakers in the speech appeared to be the ideological element that was foreseen and now was being fulfilled by American people.
Similarly, I can argue that successful speakers such as President Obama are blessed with a mysterious gift of using simple rhetorical techniques such as imagery, alliteration, and repetition to articulate with audiences effectively. The use of imagery allowed him to increase the impact of evoking his association with the past great communicators like Regan, Lincoln, as well as King. This is essential because even as Obama uses simple techniques, the power and impact of the language especially to audiences remain undiminished. This is evident when the victory speech kicks off by evoking the American Dream and linking it to Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech.”
One of the ingredients of persuasion or appealing employed in Obama’s victory speech of 2008 is the use of ethos. An ethos is usually an act of appealing to ethics especially by convincing someone of the credibility or character of the persuader. In incorporating ethos, Obama’s speech continuously included pronouns such as ‘we’ and ‘our’ in trying to point out that they are all the same regardless of his position. This way he managed to create a sense of unity among the audience. This is effective as it demonstrates his credibility to the audience thereby securing their support. For instance, indirectly quoting what Lincoln had addressed in his first inaugural, Obama reiterated what Lincoln had said to another nation that was more divided than America. Lincoln had emphasized that Americans were friends but not enemies and that their affection bonds should not be broken by their various passions (President-Elect Barrack Obama Victory Speech 04 November 2008).
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Significantly, President Obama acknowledged that change had come to America and, therefore, challenged all Americans to assume responsibility associated with that change. He focused on this thought by reminding them of the shared history of tribulations and accomplishments that had been made by American people. This element of persuasion based on the credibility of the speech can be seen by Obama presenting himself both as a body and a symbol that indicates the change he is talking about. His speech talks of tribulations such as racial barriers and tensions that had to encrypt America for so long. This is evident when he refers to the story of Ann Cooper and the “Yes We Can” campaign slogan. He reiterated all that she (Cooper) had seen for the entire century she had spent in America. That is, the hope and the heartache, the progress as well as a struggle, the moments Americans were informed that they could not, and finally, those who moved against all odds to make the American creed a reality (President-Elect Barrack Obama Victory Speech 04 November 2008). In so doing, President Obama not only reminds the American people or his audience about the situation they have overcome. He also inspires them by presenting himself as an ideal person that would help them effectively in championing on.
Moreover, Obama’s victory speech employed ethos in denoting his credibility to the America population. When Obama said that some people were still not going to be in agreement with all the policies and decisions he would be making as their president. At the same time, it was good for the citizens to understand that the government could not solve all their problems. However, he ascertains that he will “always be honest with Americans about the challenges we face and listen to them especially when there is disagreement,” (President-Elect Barrack Obama Victory Speech 04 November 2008). In so doing, he presents himself as an authentic person that would help in addressing issues affecting ordinary people. This is why, in my opinion, President Obama’s victory speech was a great talk.
On the other hand, the victory speech incorporated the element of pathos that was effective enough in appealing to the emotion of the audience thereby convincing them by his argument. Pathos usually creates an emotional response that is appealing enough to change the audience’s perception. The victory speech was great because it was not intended to flatter the audience, but rather to create an emotion that would bring out the reality that would be faced by the audience. The emotional part of the speech was when Obama reflected on the hard times he encountered during campaigns and the challenges that may be faced by Americans. For instance, the victory speech primary referenced Ann Nixon Cooper, a 106-year old woman whose life encapsulated the history of the 20th century. Obama said that she had been born just a generation past slavery when the roads had no cars or sky had no planes. It was a time when someone like her could not vote because of two major reasons: being a woman and her skin color (President-Elect Barrack Obama Victory Speech 04 November 2008). Thus, Obama positioned himself as an outsider who could bring necessary change in order to oppose not only the war in Iraq and lead by sharing the burden of heroic times with all American citizens. Moreover, he proved himself as a person who will eliminate racism and discrimination.
In addition, Obama speaks of America as having been imbued with courage, confidence, energy, and compassion. This especially comes out as he is describing the toils and troubles as well as successes that Americans had used in evoking a strong spirit of patriotism and sense of pride. For instance, he states, “This is your victory.” He acknowledged that he knew that the Americans did not vote for him just for a win in an election but because they understood the magnitude of the task awaiting (President-Elect Barrack Obama Victory Speech 04 November 2008). In addition, Obama uses ‘desert and mountain imagery’ in trying to highlight the tough conditions that American soldiers are facing in order to show their patriot towards their country. By doing so, he exemplified the character of Americans as always driven by sacrifice, tradition, and progress that was indelibly etched in the past but has helped in bringing the desired change.
Moreover, Obama’s victory speech uses the element of logos in persuading the audience by reasoning. In this case, the speech establishes the need for great changes both in economic and military policy especially by reaching out for the ethical and intellectual consensus within the audience. Towards this, Obama reminds the audience of hardship and conditions faced by American soldiers in the desert of Iraq and the mountain of Afghanistan in order to protect Americans and everybody in the world. Thus, the speech invites logical reasoning of the audience towards re-establishment of military policy that would take human dignity and right of American soldiers into consideration.
Furthermore, the speech recounts indicators of economic crisis and acknowledges the need for change in America’s status quo. This invites the audience to be ready to observe whether the government serves their needs successfully. Whereas many brave Americans such as soldiers face difficulties in foreign countries, Obama asserts that more Americans in their own country are unable to live and sleep well because of financial difficulties they face. In his speech, he acknowledged the facts that many parents do not know how to pay the bills for their doctors, make the mortgage, or cater for the education of their college-going children (President-Elect Barrack Obama Victory Speech 04 November 2008). In this regard, President Obama tries to make out logical reasoning among the audience for the need to create new jobs and new schools to enable people to meet their demands. This aspect of logos brings greatness to Obama’s victory speech.
In conclusion, President Obama’s victory speech of 2008 is a type of rhetorical speech that employs the elements of ethos, pathos, and logos in persuading the audience thereby bringing out its essence of greatness. While the speech acknowledges the start of a new era of responsibility, it uses rhetorical techniques and tools as a form of audience reception. This allows both the local and global audiences to share the challenges and successes that are associated with a new era of America. The 4th November 2008 speech is, therefore, a great speech.
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