Thursday, January 24, 2013

Obama: The Return

I, like millions of Americans, am not the biggest politics fan. In my free time, I don't go on YouTube and watch old presidential inauguration speeches. So in my life, I've really only listened to/heard an inauguration speech from two presidents: Obama and Bush. I'm also, nor have I ever been, an expert on rhetorical devices. Pathos, ethos, and logos to me are like transcription, translation, and DNA replication to the average incoming freshman. However, even I could tell that out of the two, Obama's speeches, and speech-giving abilities are clearly superior to Bush's. Obama's first inaugural speech (for lack of a better term) "rocked by socks." And what did I think of his speech given this past monday? Well, let's just say it didn't disappoint.

This year's speech, much like the one back in 2009, was chocked full of rhetorical devices. Right off the bat, he gives us a little sneak peek at the rhetoric that is to come with a bit of repetition in his line "What makes us exceptional-what makes us American." Almost immediately after that, Obama goes back in time to quote the Declaration of Independence. He also, at various other points in the speech, references America in 1776. He specifically highlights the patriots that founded this country during that time period, in order to inspire nationalism throughout the audience by highlighting the accomplishments of our founding fathers, and to convince us continue to "keep safe our founding creed"  that "for two-hundred years, we have."

Obama was also frequently guilty of using parallelism throughout the speech. Two paragraphs after his reference to the patriots of 1776, Obama recites a trio of sentences about America's triumphs over the years (such as determining how to effectively use railroads and highways to benefit the economy, discovering how a free-market should be run, and resolving our responsibilities as a nation.) All three of those sentences began with the phrase, "Together, we..." The purpose of this was again to remind us of what we have, and can accomplish if we work together as a nation. Another instance of this parallelism was (among the almost hundred times he used the word "we") when he began three sequential paragraphs with the phrase "We, the people, still believe that..." Much like with the repetition of the word "we," Obama repeats this specific phrase emphasize the fact that despite our individuality, we are still nation of Americans united as one. This goes back to the motto that together, as a nation we can achieve anything.

Another rhetorical device that Obama made use of a lot during his last inauguration speek was Gradatio. To me, it's not much dependent on the writing, but on the speaker's execution. Obama used this device a couple times in his speech, one example being when he says, "We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own." The reason why it is such a powerful device is that it really energizes the audience to aid in maintaining support from it. It also works to "spice up" an otherwise boring speech (not that this speech was boring)

From listening to his speech, I also learned I am terrible at predicting what Obama is going to say. Looking at my word cloud versus Obama's you can see some glaring differences. The first is that I have about thirteen or fourteen words, while Obama's has probably over one hundred. I guess since his speech was twenty minutes, I assumed he would only speak for about five minutes or so. However, a few of the few words that I did have were somewhat close to what Obama said. My "biggest"word, nation, was used a lot by Obama. Although, Obama seemed to want to use America more than nation, while I thought the opposite. The theme of my word cloud seemed to be overcoming differences to eventually unite as a nation. Obama appeared to bypass the differences, and go right to uniting the nation.

Between Obama's first and second speeches, I'd have to choose this one over the first one as my favorite. I think the main difference  between these two speeches is that his first speech spoke a lot about the country's status at that time. He talked about the crises that our nation faced at the time and who we were individually as a nation at the time. While he did make a few references to the past, and talked about a few thing that we "must do" here and there in his last speech, I feel like this most recent speech really strayed away from the present and focused on the past and the future. He talked about what we've done in the past as a nation, and lessons we can learn from the past to benefit the future. This is particularly evident by the theme of "Faith In America's Future." I definitely think he stuck to that theme, in the sense that "as evident by our past, he has faith in what we could do in the future."

That was all a technical, class-related response to his speak. Personally, I actually think the speech was great. My favorite part of it? My favorite part was his "shoutout" to the the town of Sandy Hook, CT. To me, it showed how much he actually cares for not only the victims of the shooting, but all of us as Americans. It showed that tradgedy is not something that he address in the aftermath because it's his presidential duty, but because he actually cares for the victims.

All-in-all.... way to go Barry O.

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