In Barack Obama’s speech “A More Perfect Union”, delivered on March 18, 2008, was a speech for a contest to be nominated as a presidential candidate for the Democratic Party. In Obama’s speech, he focuses on the racial issues that divide America and keeps America from becoming great. His speech was written in a time of great racial divide and inequality that still persist in America and what he wants to do as a President is to create “a more perfect union” and to stop the inequality in America so it can progress toward “perfection”. Although Obama establishes this problem, what makes his conviction credible? Why should the audience trust his Credibility?
The reason why Obama seems trustworthy in his speech is because his speech projects how knowledgeable his is. For example, he uses his knowledge on American history to establish his ethos with the audience. How this establishes ethos is by showing the audience that he is competent and is someone who believes in continuing the legacy of what the forefathers have left behind because if people are going to elect the president they would want them to be the symbol of America and want them to stand for what America is suppose to be. So by showing his interpretation on what the founders believed in, which is America being “a union that could be and should be perfected over time” and “equal citizenship under the law”, he is establishing his ethos. He is reminding the audience of what principle the United States was found under. So by alluding to this Obama provides his speech with the problems that America should fix together. So together, the American people can build the legacy that the the founders have left with them. By making these implications in his speech Obama is able to establish this credibility.
Another way that Obama establishes his ethos is by providing his personal history or personal experience. By providing his personal history Obama is able to show the audience that he has lived a life of two sides. Having a father that is Black and a mother that is white gives him the voice of the both races. As the the way he puts it, his story has made him the “most conventional of candidates” because he has most likely come across discrimination and prejudice as he was growing up and by experiencing this he is able to speak out about this. He is able recognize the opposing/alternative views about the issue of race. He also provides that he is well educated in the best schools in America which, if you did some research on him, was graduated from Harvard Law School, which makes him a very knowledgeable, educated and well-rounded. Which means that he has the credentials and the qualities for which the American people can look up to and to elect him to lead the country for success and a better future. Since unity was one of his main goals in his run for presidency he has provided evidence that it is possible which was winning victories where the “Confederate flag still flies”. So by adding that he shows that racial equality is possible if they all work together.
By having a great personal background and being very knowledgeable of the past Senator Obama was able to help establish his trustworthiness and credibility within the audience.
In Obama speech, he also uses logos to help make his argument of inequality and problems of segregation that haven’t been solved stronger, but how has his logical appeal in his speech worked?
As Obama goes on with his speech, he goes on to the main reason of why he wrote this speech. He wrote this speech in response to the controversial remarks that were made by his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. He talks about Reverend Wright in a way that does not disown him but also shows some sympathy for the man because he claims that the way the Reverend Wright is now is because it is due to many years of “humiliation and doubt and fear” in the time of America where “segregation was still the law of the land”. With this example, Obama wants to change that. He wants to change the system that are in place so future generation does not end up like Reverend Wright. He wants to fixed the problems of segregation that was still left from Brown vs. Board of Education. Although he disagrees the statements that Reverend Wright said he is understanding of why he made these remarks. He reasons on why that, more than ever, America needs to work together so they can prevent someone from growing up and becoming someone who is hateful of America and thinking that America did not fulfill it promises. So what Obama is trying to say is that the long-term effects of this negativity is due to the continuous racial divide and inequality among the people and if they were to change that they can change the mindset for the better for the future generation and for a more positive future and to fix what Obama calls “America’s original sin”.
Another point that Obama uses is that although America was found under the principles of equality and has the ideals of “equal citizenship under the law” the “words on a parchment” did not provide “full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States”. He explains on that due to the unsuccessful resolve over the issue of the black race it is what brought “the convention to a stalemate” and the founders have left it to the future generation to deal with this issue. He gives examples of that from that point to now the future generation still has not solved this issue or as he implies, a Constitution that has not fulfilled its promise to its citizens. He proposes that in order to solve the challenges of the racial divide the people needs to “solve them together” and to perfect the union. So by using the Constitution in his argument, Obama is able to utilize it to show the people that the racial discrimination that has been going around during that time is still left unresolved for the people now and also left ignored by many generations later. Although as time progresses with America, the issue on race only ever so slowly gotten better. So it would make sense for him to use this as a tool to convince people that together they need to act now to stop the racial divide once and for all. To support his argument even more he uses Brown vs Board of Education as an example of how America still haven’t done anything to fix the problems after this case.
Another powerful rhetorical strategy that Obama uses is pathos. The way that Obama uses an emotional appeal on his audience is by invoking pride in one’s own country and also describing the difficulties of the African American communities.
In Obama’s speech, his suggests his love and pride for his country.
This creates an emotional appeal because having his audience being the inhabitants of this country, one will be reminded of the great things that America has accomplished. When Obama says that “these people are part of me. And they are part of America” it evokes a kind of patriotism among the audience because if they made him president, they will metaphorically be part of him and most importantly part of America because being part of America means being part of something that is great. Although Obama uses that sentence to refer to his mother and reverend Wright and also his personal relationships with other people, the syntax and the tone of the sentence implies for something much bigger. The emphasis of that sentence encompasses everyone in America. Then he wraps it up with “this country that I love” which makes a connection between him and the audience. By making this sincere connection, Obama is able to make the audience realize his goal and intentions for America and also puts the audience in his shoes and to make the story that he just told more real within them. So by making this connection the audience is able to be “part” of him and become “part of America. And in invoking this pride, Obama is able to draw the audience away from the negativities that Reverend Wright has proposed against America to a more positive view of America which is “more than the sum of its parts” and although American have some imperfections, American can still be “truly one”.
Now that Obama has connected with the audience, he direct his attention to the African American communities to an audience that is probably white moderates. He talks about the humiliating experiences that the Black have faces in the past and are still experience. In his description of this, Obama uses powerful imagery to depict the horrors that the Blacks have to face, for instance, “for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream”. This creates an pathos because the speaker gives an image for the audience to imagine what it would feel like to be like a African American. Another imagery that Obama creates is when he describes how the Blacks vent out their anger which is on “church on Sunday morning” and “find voice in the barbershop or the beauty shop or around the kitchen table”. This helps the audience get a better idea of the effects of discrimination, the African American community will talk behind their backs and by this visual image the audience is able to relate better because it is an activity that they do too. That is how Obama is able to effectively use pathos.
In Obama’s contest speech he was able to appeal to his audience in the ways of trustworthiness, logic reasoning, and also an emotional level. Because of his use of these rhetorical strategies Obama was able to make his speech powerful and worthy of becoming America’s next president. Due to Obama’s skilled use of the English language his important speech will eventually lead to his victory in becoming the President of the United States.