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A more perfect union is a speech delivered on March 18, 2008, by Barack H. Obama, who was the representative of the United States, Illinois at the time of the speech and who later became the 44th President of the United States and the first African American president in the country's history. Obama drew his speech title from the preamble of the United States Constitution. During his presidential elections, he gave this speech at the National Constitutional Center in Philadelphia. Obama's key aim for the speech was to bring up topics that are barely addressed in public or private and to show his commitment to see the world develop in that respect. The main reference of Obama’s speech was a controversial sermon by his former pastor Jeremiah Wright on racism. Obama packaged this speech with appealing techniques that research would later refer to the speech as the biggest campaign move by that time.
In the speech, one thing that Obama is keen on is ensuring that his speech gets a good landing in the ears of different types of his audience at the same time. He is keen to have a speech that will be well received by both the black and white Americans and both his supporters and opponents. To achieve this Obama employs various stylistic devices such as.
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Balance rhetoric is that technique of giving two different views or incorporating two things that are different and ensuring that none is given much support than the other. An example of balanced rhetoric in Obama's speech is the reference of Jeremiah wright’s support for his presidency with the extremity that would cause a widened racial segregation so he goes ahead to challenge his pastor’s words on racism. As he is condemning Wright’s words he goes on to illustrate the great connection he had with the pastor as he said that he would not reject him than he could renounce his black population, he couldn’t renounce the pastor more than he could renounce his white grandmother. Obama tells of how his own white grandmother who at one time feared the black men but who came to love him very much as she would love anything in the world (Obama2 12). What Obama does in this instance is ensuring that he removes the blame from any of the race and ensuring that each side is receptive to his views.
Obama also balances his speech when talking about the black anger on the basis of the racial biases and white anger, as he said that it was white anger that helped the election of Ronald Reagan. A perfect union speech achieves balancing the audience when he also gave his family upbringing history that was comprised of his black father, Obama senior from Africa, Kenya and his white mother Dunham from the USA. He also merged his intercultural background and his campaign rallies with the American slogan “out of numerous, we are one”. He also highlighted that he acquired initial victories in states with some whitest residents in the nation and in South Carolina where he achieved with the support of the blacks and the whites.
Apart from balanced rhetoric that Obama uses to ensure his speech on racism appeals to a variety of audiences from political opponents to the media and also to all his supporters from all races, he also uses other rhetorical techniques that helps him achieve his objective of having a speech that will have a safe landing on his audience's ears. Rhetoric can be said to be the capability of writing or speaking effectively and using language and oratory tactically. Among the rhetoric devices that he uses are;
Ethos is a technique where the writer of a speech or a passage uses his character and reliability to influence the addressees. Ethos is evident in Obama’s speech when he narrates about himself with factual information, he brings out his family background of an African American nature, and this gives sincerity to his speech and legitimacy of his message. This technique grants him a good number of audiences ranging from his supporters to his rivals and the media as well. Obama also mentions about his education background pointing out that he has studied from the best schools in the USA. Ethos as a rhetoric device is used when Obama depicts his knowledge of the issues of racism that are affecting the nation and which might be a challenge in future. He also mentions about slavery and Jim Crow. This gives him credibility to appeal to the audiences. He also makes a mention of his faith on spiritual matters and he makes biblical references. He mentions that he was led to the belief twenty years back with the obligations to adore one another to care for the sick and to uplift the humble (Obama1 18).
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Another rhetoric device used in the speech is an allusion. An allusion is a style that is used to refer to an event, work or even a person. We can trace allusion in the speech when Obama uses allusion on references to past and antique events. For instance, the speech took place in the national constitutional center, with this knowledge he went on to incorporate a statement from a preliminary statement in the United States Constitution on a perfect union that becomes the subject of his speech. He also refers to the effects of racism in the past to counter Pastor Wright’s critic sermon on the issue of race.
Pathos is also found in Obama’s speech as a technique that is used by authors to alter the addressee’s perspective via storytelling and emotional appeals. He uses pathos to gain the connection with the audience through emotional appeals and also affects their thoughts on his speech. He succeeds this through storytelling, imagery, and allusion. Racism coverage in his speech itself brings out strong emotions. Obama also appealed emotionally to the audiences when he related the narration of his grandpa who lasted depression in Patton’s militia in the World War II. Focal words’ use such as Patton’s army, depression, and World War II portrays the emotion of sense of nationalism and martyrdom.
Logos is the ability to use critical thinking to build an argument and deliver an idea. Obama’s speech has examples of logos. The then senator systematically explained the challenges with race in the USA. He explained the black race anger and the humiliations memories had not gone away either had the resentment of those times. Later on, he offers a solution by stating that the American-African had to embrace their past without becoming the victims of their past. This inspired many African-Americans to act in a positive way. Consecutively he also recognizes the same anger among the whites that they had worked all their lives and was anxious about their future and felt that their dreams were slipping away and resentment was building up with time. He offered a thought that urged the whites to accept that what pained the African-American population was not just real in the blacks’ minds and that the heritage of discrimination existed. Here the audience was compelled to face the issue of racism subjectively and objectively (Daniel and Hettie 13).
Important to note is that the rhetoric devices used in Obama’s speech were not only limited to the above listed only but also include others such as repetition (Obama1 20). He repeated the word constitution to emphasize its importance in granting of freedom. Rhetorical questions are used to inspire reflection for instance, he asked a rhetorical question about Pastor Jeremiah Wright, yet he knew him to be an occasionally fierce critic of the American home and imported policy.
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Writing or giving a speech to the audience is indeed a good thing but writing or giving an appealing and sweet sounding speech to the audience’s ears is the best thing. Therefore if any writer or narrator wants to give a narration that is appealing to the audience, they must look for applicable rhetorical techniques to employ. Rhetorical techniques when used carefully can persuade an audience take in the author or the narrator’s idea. Obama is one man that has succeeded in the history of America to employ the rhetoric techniques among them balanced rhetoric, logos, ethos, rhetoric questions among others in his speeches in particular- a perfect speech.
Obama, Senator Barack. "A more perfect union." The Black Scholar 38.1 (2008): 17-23.
Daniel, G. Reginald, and Hettie V. Williams, eds. Race and the Obama phenomenon: The vision of a more perfect multiracial union. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2014.
Obama, Barack. "A More Perfect Union Speech." National Constitution Center (2008).
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