July 27, 2004. It was the day America met Barack Obama, then the Illinois State Senator and soon to be the future president of the United States of America. Obama made history by charming million of viewers at one go while giving the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Boston, Massachusetts for John Kerry’s presidential campaign. Obama’s speech as a keynote speaker was extremely charismatic and powerful and connected to the mass audience because of his skillful use of rhetoric appeal like pathos to persuade them to endorse John Kerry in the upcoming presidential election.
Obama succeeded in connecting to the audience mostly through emotions such as fear, joy, need etc. One example would be when he talked about his ancestry, how his grandfather worked in oil rigs and the day after Pearl Harbor he joined up in Patton’s army. Later his grandfather along with thousand others marched across Europe. Here he connects himself to the people by merging himself with the same general crowd, many of whose ancestors did the same by becoming a part of the march across Europe that he mentioned. But then he draws contrast by talking about his other grandfather who was a domestic servant to the British, who sent his son to the land of hope, America, with larger dreams. Here he portrays America as the land of opportunity, as the land of dreams, as the land where anything is possible, even for sons and grandsons of domestic servants like cooks. He still uses more pathos to relate to the audience present there.
One other successful use of pathos can be seen when he merges his ancestry and positions himself as the ‘common dream, born of two continents’, Kansas, America and Kenya, Africa. He says that his parents shared an unbelievable love and an everlasting faith in the opportunities in this country, in the possibilities in this country. He appeals to the American crowd with his American ancestry and also appeals to the African American crowd assuring them that a person’s race will not affect their chances at an opportunity. The evidence for this claim can be seen when he mentions in the speech that his name ‘Barack’ is an African name meaning blessed and in America a person’s name can never stand as a barrier to their success and by saying this he lays down a marker that if you oppose the African-American people then you yourself are an anti-American. These parts of his speech have an amazing effect on the crowd.
He uses several more instances of pathos when he talks about all that he has seen around in his past months in the Senate Office in Illinois. He talks without a period in his sentence, increasing the effectiveness of his speech on the audience when assures them that he knows all the hardships people have to face in this land of dreams:
More work to do for the workers I met in Galesburg, Illinois, who are losing their union jobs at the Maytag plant that’s moving to Mexico, and now are having to compete with their own children; for jobs that pay seven bucks an hour; more to do for the father that I met who was losing his job and choking back the tears, wondering how he would pay 4500 dollars a month for the drugs his son needs without the health benefits that he counted on; more to do for the young woman in East St. Louis, and thousands more like her, who has the grades, has the drive, has the will, but doesn’t have the money to go to college. (FDCH E-media, The Washington Post)
These lines are so effective and powerful as they talk about the common people and the condition they are living in, in that present situation. He connects to those thousands of people who have lost jobs or who have not enrolled in college because of financial crisis and lets them know that he knows their pain, that he understands their suffering. He says that people everywhere do not believe that the government can solve all their problems, which they do not believe that the government can teach all their children unless and until the parents themselves work hard on it too and educate them that sayings such as a young black student carrying a book is trying to act white is very wrong:
Go into any inner city neighbourhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can’t teach our kids to learn; they know that parents have to teach, that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white. They know those things.(FDCH E-media, The Washington Post)
And this is where Obama tells them that there is still hope for those who know how to hope, that with a slight change in the priorities and with the help of the government, every child in the United States of America can have a shot at studying and going to college and having a decent life which is one of the reasons why his speech was so successful. He lets them know again and again that there is at the very least one person who can understand what they are going through. He assures that where there is opportunity of prosperity and success, anything can be achieved through hard work, perseverance and determination.
When Obama talks about what John Kerry believes in, he again relates to the audience by telling them everything they want to hear – the creation of jobs, proper health coverage, energy independence, Constitutional freedoms etc. He uses small anecdotes to make his points stronger. For instance he talks about a guy named Shamus who joined the Marine Corps and is about to serve in Iraq and that the government owes it to him to secure his family’s future just the way Shamus is securing America’s future. He assures everyone that John Kerry knows that there are thousands of youth like Shamus who are serving for America and that he is going to ensure their health benefits even if it is a broken limb or nervous breakdowns. By saying all these he gets the audience to believe that John Kerry wants the best for America, wants the best for the American people. There is another use of pathos and he’s appealing to fear when Obama tells the audience that America has enemies, that here are people who do not want America to have power, to rule, to prosper. But these enemies can be overthrown or can be protected from. He shows evidence by stating that John Kerry has served in the war with Vietnam to protect the people and he would not hesitate to protect them from harm in the future.
Later in the speech he talks about America being one, America being the “United States” of America and this is pathos again. He tells them:
I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America – there’s the United States of America. The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an “awesome God” in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. (FDCH E-media, The Washington Post)
The way he rapidly goes about his speech, it emphasizes on each and every word he says and he knows it and uses it to his benefit. He brings all races and types of people of America under one Umbrella and gives them a common ground. He tells the citizens of America to keep their hopes up, because without hope there wouldn’t be dreams and without dreams there wouldn’t be prosperity. He ensures everyone that John Kerry is the best candidate for President and John Edwards is the best candidate for Vice President and if they want equality, if they want opportunities and prosperity, then they would vote for them. Also the audience reacted surprisingly well to his speech because it was so powerful and charismatic and it succeeded in relating to the common people of America.
The proper use of rhetorical strategies in this speech, Obama’s ability to talk to a large crowd successfully and connect to them makes him very popular amongst the masses as well as the Senate Office. The right kind of message at the right time is what made Obama’s speech so charismatic. Every part of his speech shows his empathy to the citizens of America. His skillful use of words and emotion is what still makes him popular even today.
THNKR. “The Speech That Made Obama President”. Online video Clip. Youtube. Youtube, 22 Aug. 2012. Web. 22 Feb. 2015.
Wood, Aaron. “First Analysis – Obama’s 2004 DNC Cpeech”. speechanalysed. Speechanalysed, 7 June. 2011. Web. 22 Feb. 2015.
E-media, FDCH. “Transcript: Illinois Senate Candidate Barack Obama”. The Washington Post. n.p. 27 July. 2004. Web. 22 Feb. 2015