This speech titled “A More Perfect Union” was presented by President Barack Obama on March 18, 2008 adjacent to the historical site of the signing of the US Constitution in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The speech was given in response to video footage showing Obama's pastor commenting racially against Israel and America. Various news rooms and media outlets played the clip repeatedly on radio, television, YouTube, and podcasts. To start with, Obama’s speech attempts to address the US citizens on their concerns about his affiliation with Reverend Wright. Second, the speech attends to the prevailing and sustained racial issues found in the American community and the negative affects on our nation. The speech is effective and compelling because it has the necessary elements of persuasive and effective rhetoric; in summary, Obama’s rhetoric works.
Ethos is achieved on social, intellectual, biological, and spiritual levels. President Obama achieves this by presenting factual information. He explains the extent of his family tree as a means of interjecting historical reference. Obama achieves credibility to the validity of his message and speech. This implies that the audience should listen since he is the authority. He starts his speech by acknowledging that the press regularly search “for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well” (Obama, par. 7). This quote persuades the audience using classical theoretical concepts of opposing arguments. His audience acknowledges racial divisions, and the speech is remarkably effective because the speaker is willing to talk about a reserved issue. Obama addresses his intellectual ethos when he reminds the audience of going "to some of the best schools in America” (Obama, par. 6).
Secondly, he demonstrates his knowledge of past occurrences and present concerns on a global scale. President Obama mentions the “legacy of slavery and Jim Crow” in the American community (‘Obama, par. 24). He acknowledges current concerns such as “conflicts in the Middle East” and proposes the cause of such conflict (Obama, par, 10). This gives evidence to the audience that has knowledge in history, as well as present concerns affecting our nation. Thirdly, Obama demonstrates his knowledge of social issues prevalent in today's society. He mentions that, “The most segregated hour of American life occurs on Sunday morning” (Obama, par. 12).
Furthermore, Obama uses ethos to demonstrate his knowledge on immediate issues affecting our daily lives and future. He addresses the issue of resentments between black and white communities that “aren’t always expressed in polite company,” but manifested in destructive ways such as racism (Obama, par. 31). Obama applies ethos on a spiritual level by making Biblical references and mentioning his present faith. He mentions being introduced to Christian values of love to the sick, poor and others more than twenty years ago when he was first introduced to Christianity. Finally, Obama uses ethos in describing his genetic make. He informs the crowd that he is a son of a black African from Kenya and a white woman from Kansa. He mentions his marriage to African-American with the blood of slaves and slave owners.
Obama further uses pathos to strengthen the connection. He achieves this through the use of emotional appeals. President Obama alters the feelings and thoughts of his audience through imagery, storytelling, and illusion. He uses the topic of race to evoke strong emotions among the audience. Obama starts be narrating a story about his grandfather “who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s army during World War II’ (Obama, par. 6). He uses strong terms such as Depression, Patton’s Arm, and World War II to induce the emotional response of self—sacrifice and patriotism. He also shares another story of a young, white, Southern activist, Ashley Baia who inspires another man to vote (Obama, par, 45-46). Baia’s inspirational helps Obama to draw attention to power in sharing personal story. The story enables the audience to connect through the emotional appeals evident at the center of humanity.
Obama uses logos in his speech overwhelmingly. Logos presents the ability to symbolize logical, rational, persuasions, and methodological thoughts. Obama use logos throughout his speech. For example, he achieves logos by displaying objectivity on issues presented. President Obama methodically explains racial problems prevalent in America, and comes up with logical, reasoned solution to the problem. He starts by explaining black’s memories of slavery and later offers a solution by advising African Americans to embrace their past without becoming victims (Obama, par. 34). Obama persuades his audience to positively, as well as encouraging them to embrace objectivity and subjectivity when dealing with the subject of racism.
Mythos refers to a set of assumptions or believes of people, usually transmitted through arts and myths. Obama narrates the evolution of America’s Constitution that dates back to two hundred and twenty one years. He points out that it was stained with the sin of slavery because the founders allowed slave trade to flourish for at least twenty years without getting concerned on the plight of future generation (Obama, par. 23). Moreover, he recognizes that the founders of the nation have failed to address “the complexities of race” prevalent in America (Obama, par. 33). His speech gives racial issues the first priority. Obama uses Mythos to enable the audience realizes the major problem had been ignored in the past, but it must be addressed now.
In conclusion, the speech delivered by Obama in March 2008 demonstrates successful use of rhetorical theories and concepts. Obama presents his speech with the intention of calming the turbulent racial heritage and forging a positive future through ethos, pathos, logos, and mythos. In his speech Obama begins by arguing against racism prevalent in American society. This is followed by bringing a subject that is rarely discussed in the public domain openly. His third intention is to present himself to the audience as a vibrant, articulate, and diverse African-American who have the ability move the country forward. He finally employs rhetoric in squaring the misconception and misunderstanding revolving around his controversial affiliation and personage. In summary, Obama’s speech effectively connects the audience through the use of rhetoric.
Aristotle. From_Rhetoric_. In Bizzell and Herzberg. 169-241.
Obama, Barack. "A More Perfect Union." Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 18 March 2008.