On November 4, 2008, President Barrack Obama delivered The Election Night Victory Speech at Grant Park, Illinois. During this keynote acceptance speech, he emphasized that the American dream was not on its deathbed because “change has come to America.” His passionate speech, employing rhetoric that soars and excites, instigated the people of America to restore their confidence in the nation and strive to fulfill their personal dreams and yet still form part of the larger American family.
My evaluation of this acceptance speech will concentrate on the way Obama employed the approaches of narration, intonation, verbalization, silence, and telling of stories to draw the attention of the thousands of his audience who were enthusiastically listening to this historic speech. Obama employed different rhetorical strategies to deliver the speech and it was effective in giving the audience hope concerning the future.
“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still … tonight is your answer”(Obama, para.1). With those words, Obama started his keynote delivery with a clear message of hope to the people of America.
Maintaining a direct eye contact with his audience, Obama was loud enough to be heard, but soft enough so that the poetic words could sink deep into the minds of his listeners. Obama’s use of the power word, America, rouses the attention of the audience since invoking the word demands absolute obedience (Balshaw, 18).
In addition, the opening allusion to the American dream echoes the words of great speakers in American history, such as Martin Luther King. His use of “who still” three times in the opening sentence is a triple that serves the purpose of grabbing the attention of his listeners. The first paragraph also anchors across time. He refers to the past, “our founders,” as well as the general present, “our time.”
More so, the use of “tonight” refers to the immediate present, which is a recurring theme that brings the past to the individuals listening to the address. The concluding word in this paragraph, “answer,” is the start of the next triple and gives an indication of the resolution of the tension.
“It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor… (Obama, para.2). The use of “answer” again here indicates that he is ready to solve the problems that have been affecting the U.S. in the new century and echoes the theme of change (Brill, 38). Subsequently, Obama uses “answer” again in the next two paragraphs so as to drive the point home that momentous change has arrived in America.
In the third paragraph, he recognized that America is a diverse country having people from different backgrounds by saying “It’s the answer spoken … Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America”(para. 3).
In order to achieve a warm reception, Obama cleverly used the second person in addressing his audience, “It belongs to you…it cannot happen without you…your victory… it’s your job too,” He used this technique to illustrate the significance of the people of America in helping him bring the change in the country.
He intended his audience to realize that his triumph and future effort to bring change in the country will depend on the endeavors of the collective and not entirely on himself. In the mind of the people, the use of the second person is intended to enable them feel a sense of belonging. Therefore, as their presence is acknowledged, they are able to feel appreciated and part of the change that was to come to America.
During the acceptance speech, Obama made numerous references within the text of gifted speakers in the American history, for example, Martin Luther King, as mentioned above.
“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep…I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you – we as a people will get there” (Obama, para.13). This creates the perception that the road to recovery will not be easy. He wanted his audience to realize that repairing the damage he inherited from the country’s past leadership will not be an easy task.
The inclusion of the inter-textual references of other motivational speakers also served the purpose of instilling hope in the eyes of the people. This is because it is the same hope that stirred the audience with confidence in many of Martin Luther’s speeches (Washington and King, 3). It seems that the plain and musical language of the speech was drawn heavily from the life of the past inspirational speakers.
In the speech, Obama routinely repeats the slogan “yes we can” (Davidson, 68). This acts like an encouragement that all things are possible and the people of America are able to surmount all difficulties that they may encounter in the journey towards complete economic and social liberation. Prior to his election has the 44th president of the United States, Obama had vigorously campaigned for change in the country (Gormley, 135).
Therefore, the repetition of the slogan seems to stress that the country has transformed over the years in terms of acceptance of the role of women in the society as well as how it tackles times of economic turmoil (Maclnnis, 56). In addition, it points that more change is yet to come during Obama’s presidency. Finally, but not to be ignored, it also epitomizes the American dream, which every citizen of the country can realize through maintaining a positive mentality in life.
In the speech, Obama gives thanks to various people who assisted him to ascend to presidency. He started by praising the defeated, “A little bit earlier this evening I just received a very gracious call from Senator McCain. Senator McCain fought long and hard in this campaign, and he’s fought even longer and harder for the country he loves” (para.6).
Through this, he demonstrated magnanimity in victory, appreciated the defeated and he did not ignore or trampled upon them; therefore, this indicates that he is a good leader. It is interesting to note that he was able to commend his competitors before his supporters.
Thereafter, he commenced a series of thanks. He portrayed the Vice President as an ordinary person saying, “we’re just like you” so as to connect with the crowd. And he only mentioned Joe Biden at the end of the paragraph. This created tension and also assisted in capturing the audience attention.
Next, he thanked his family members, First Lady, Michelle Obama, and his daughters, Sasha and Malia,”I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last sixteen years, the rock of our family and the love of my life, our nation’s next First Lady, Michelle Obama”(para,7).
To his daughters he said, “Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House.” This demonstrated that he is a normal family man who cares for the well-being of his family, for example, he promised his daughters a puppy. The reference to his grandma who had just passed away without being over sentimental induces the sympathy of the audience.
The speech signifies that Obama will be ready to incorporate the efforts of everybody in the road to recovery. He said, “Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long” (Obama, para. 17).
The phrase “partisanship and pettiness, poisoned our Politics” is an alliteration showing the extent of the damage it has caused to the American society. “Let us” speaks to all voters in America, regardless of their political affiliation and repeats nobility as well as the call for humility and healing of the land.
Obama’s employed the life of the 106-years old Ann Nixon Cooper to repaint the history of America as well as bring to the attention of the audience the successes and failures that the country has gone through in the past century so as to connect them with it.
The creation of a sense of history was meant to demonstrate that the extraordinary could become ordinary if Americans are prepared to strive to this end. The history of skin color is meant to indicate that he is a beneficiary of the historic struggle. “America, we have come so far” (para. 29). This illustrates that he addresses the country with ease since he is a part of the struggle. He also gives an individual touch by relating his two daughters to the old Ann Nixon Cooper.
“This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time – to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; … to reclaim the American Dream” (Obama, last paragraph). The repetition of “this is” again is meant to draw the attention of the audience and it also acts a the final call to action. Obama gets back to the central theme of hope and beneficial gains that awaits the people of America. He concludes the speech by restating the ‘yes we can’ theme.
Listening to Obama’s acceptance speech captured my imagination from the start. The sections of the speech, which can be characterized as celebration, thanksgiving, challenge, history, and hope, had a central focus of emphasizing the importance of unity in America for the benefit of its future. The general approach Obama used in the speech is to form an inclusive sense of history so that every American could see himself or herself as a part of the road to recovery.
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Brill, Marlene T. Barrack Obama: working to make a difference. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications, 2006. Print.
Davidson, Tim. The Essential Obama: The Speeches of Barrack Obama. New York: Aquitaine Media Group, 2009. Print.
Gormley, Beatrice. Barrack Obama: our 44th President. New York: Simon & Shuster Publishing, 2008. Print.
Maclnnis, Lyman. The elements of great public speaking : how to be calm, confident, and compelling. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 2006. Print.
Obama, Barrack. “Election Night Victory Speech Grant Park, Illinois.”Obama Speeches.
4 Nov. 2008. Web. 20 Oct. 2010. http://obamaspeeches.com/E11-Barack-Obama-Election-Night-Victory-Speech-Grant-Park-Illinois-November-4-2008.htm
Washington, James M., and King, Luther M. I have a dream: writings and speeches that changed the world. New York: HarperCollins, 1986. Print.