Friday, January 25, 2013

Akhil's Thoughts on President Obama's Second Inaugural Address

This Monday, millions around the country gathered to watch President Barack Hussein Obama give his second inaugural address. Listening to Obama give a speech is always a thought-provoking experience as he is, in my opinion, one of the best orators in American history. Personally, of speeches I have heard by U.S. presidents, my favorites have come from Bill Clinton, but I must say that listening to President Obama speak is something I consider to be a privilege. Over the past four years or so, we have grown accustomed to a certain style of speaking from Obama. Long pauses. Rhetorical questions. Constant emphasis on the importance of patience as we try to move our country in a positive direction. This speech, however, deviated from a traditional "Obama speech."

In fact, Jon Favreau, the director of speechwriting for the White House, said it was one of the hardest speeches he has written, and rightfully so. Having to write a speech (the second of its kind) for one of the greatest orators in American history and at arguably the most important stages of Obama's presidency? Sound pretty tough to me. Favreau looked at previous second inaugural addresses and found that they all had themes associated with them. For Abraham Lincoln and George W. Bush, their second inaugural speeches were an attempt to set the tone for the next four years, to show the people what direction the nation was moving in. Similarly, Obama had a theme for his speech, a form of rhetoric in itself, for subconsciously we all got the same message out of his speech: we must do something now.

In class we were tasked with predicting the words that Obama would use in this speech. A mistake that Shawn (my partner) and I made was that we chose our top words based on 49 pages worth of transcripts from Obama's previous speeches. The words we predicted were the following: America, people, and country. These are three common words that would be spoken by a president, but this was no common speech, especially for Obama. During his first inaugural address, a central theme was a call for restoring responsibility. After having served for four years, Obama now understands that the only way that he and the rest of this country can succeed is that each and every one of us hold ourselves accountable.  He seemed to be stressing that we need to come together and make sure that we make are at our best. He emphasized words like must, people, and time, which were not what we predicted, but definitely noteworthy.

 There is no doubt that all of this was tailored to the situation our country is in, Obama wanted to drive the point home that the only way we can move our country in the right direction is by working together. He said, "This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun. America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together."

With all that has gone on with disagreements in Congress, Obama understands that the best way to capitalize on the opportunities that await us in the next four years is to collaborate. There is no time for petty arguments, we  must work together. Obama stressed this point as much as humanly possible, starting three paragraphs in a row with "together" and SEVEN consecutive paragraphs with "we." If that doesn't scream parallelism and repetition, I don't know what does. I think Obama did a great job in stating how we can (and should) play a role in America's future rather simply saying that we should.

Did anyone catch the similarity between a lot of what President Obama was saying and "I Have a Dream" by Martin Luther King Jr.?

"Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm." - President Barrack Hussein Obama

"From the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children." - Martin Luther King Jr.

Obama was appealing to our pathos to evoke the passion that this country has for one of its greatest Civil Rights Activists. Since nearly every student in the American school system is educated about Martin Luther King Jr. from a young age, they have almost certainly have heard this speech and understand its significance, further capturing the emotional appeal of a line like this. Additionally, our country has greatly rallied each other after the tragedy in Newtown, and this line was crafted to increase emotional connection to the speech, an effective use of pathos. This was a speech full of patriotism, which despite all of our differences, is one thing that we can all come together on.

Despite this not being a traditional Obama speech, it definitely had traditional "Obama climax" toward the end. "You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.
You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals." Parallelism, climax, it was all there and it all had that "Obama effect" where you heard his voice gradually increase in strength, a signature.

And then there was a twist. As a master rhetorician, instead of the traditional, God bless you and God bless these United States of America, President Obama said "Thank you, God Bless you, and may He forever bless these United States of America." Subtle, but perhaps this was an attempt to show that the next four years will be different then the previous four. Only time will tell.

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