The speech referred to as “A more perfect union” was given by Senator Barack Obama a presidential candidate by then in the 2008 elections. The speech’s headline was taken from the U.S constitution Preamble, “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union …”. Fifty years ago a Speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King at the Washington March popularly known as “I have a dream” in front of an audience of more than 250,000 while advocating for the rights of the Black Americans was also made. This paper`s objective is to compare the two speeches, explaining the rhetorical situation of each speech and argument and how appeal is effectively used or applied in the two speeches. The paper goes in depth in bringing out the rhetorical strategies used in the two speeches together with clearly outlining the contexts of the two and thus bringing out easier comparison and clarification of the author`s arguments.
The Venue and Author`s Bio
In regard to the Obama`s speech the venue of the place was very near the historical site of which the U.S constitution was signed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania called the National Constitution Center. The location or venue helps Obama to make allusions to America’s historic past he reminds his audience that around two hundred and twenty one years ago their forefathers were in a hall that still stands across the street and they had signed the constitution of the land. The speech given the title ‘I have a dream’ was given in the city of Washington before an audience of more than 250,000 holding a demonstration which King referred to as the greatest ever demonstration for freedom in the history of United State of America for the rights of the Black Americans.
Barack Obama is a black American whose father traces his roots from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas; he has been brought up and educated in the U.S and the Senator of Illinois. Martin Luther Jr. was a Black American reverend and a civil rights activist fighting for the rights of the Black Americans.
On Tuesday, March 18th, 2008 in the course of the hotly contested Democratic Party Presidential nominations between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is when the speech was given. The Obama’s speech addressed the controversial sermons and comments made by Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor. This speech was key to his contest for the Democratic nomination as it helped solidify his nomination against Hillary Clinton. The speech was to enlighten the nation`s concerns of his affiliation with Reverend Wright and also most importantly to address the sustaining and prevailing issues concerning the race in America and how it paralyzes the nation.
Martin Luther`s speech was a result of racial discrimination, social injustice and segregation towards the Black Americans by the whites in America. The blacks were treated to be of a lower class and unequal with their white counterparts.
Rhetoric simply means the ability to write and speak in an effective manner, use of language and oratory strategically in a significant manner also referred to as the study of opposing arguments, misunderstandings and miscommunications.. The speech titled “A more perfect unity” is surely compelling because it has the necessary elements of effective and persuasive rhetoric. It was a strategic rhetoric speech meant to assert his post-racial politics.
Obama in his speech masters the use of opposing arguments by first criticizing the press that constantly looks “for every single evidence of racial discrimination and polarization, but not just in terms of white and black, but also in terms of black and brown as well” this helps to captivate the audience as everyone is fully aware of the division between the races and the speech becomes very effective because of the fact that Barack Obama is willing to clearly speak of what is often unspoken. Reciting of the first famous line of the constitution also captures the attention of the people as they concerning something of importance that is just about to be said.
Martin Luther on the other had in his speech I have a dream is not mean in using rhetoric strategies he starts by alluding to the rights of the blacks which are strongly appended in the constitution, the emancipation document that was signed and also on the argument that all humanity were created equal in the eyes of the creator. He then moves further to vividly describe the conditions of the Negro by first stating that they are not yet free and also vividly and deeply describing their conditions, afflictions and pains. Both speeches are full of echoes the rhetorical concepts of ethos, pathos logos and kairos, expressed in various ways such as through: striking language and repetition, and also through different receptors, emotions and logic.
Ethos refers to how the speaker’s character and credibility brings about his or her influence of the audience while pathos is a rhetorical device that changes the audience’s thinking and perceptions through storytelling and emotional appeals. Ethos is mostly accomplished on intellectual, social, spiritual, and biological levels. Senator Obama uses Ethos by giving factual information, he wisely uses historical references; he explains the extent of his family tree in depth. This helped the Senator to give creditability to his speech and validity to his message. The implication of this is that everyone should listens and he becomes the authority. In regard to his intellectual ethos, Obama clarifies that he has attended some of the best schools in U.S.A. Obama uses ethos further to gain credibility on his knowledge of social issues that affects our society today both elaborating on the resentments of the black and white communities and the audiences greatly feels that he is quite knowledgeable and credible of the concerns of the future and of their daily lives. He also applies ethos on a spiritual level by making Biblical references and thus able to connect with the major religions but still getting in touch with the secular group through stories that everyone can identify with. Obama also gains ethos by precisely explaining his own genetic makeup and background showing them that out of many races they are truly one. The audience is amazed at his storytelling, imagery and illusion such as that of his grandfather and that of Ashley Baia. The audience is thus able to connect with the emotional appeals that happens at the core of humanity by identifying with the sheer humanity brought out in the story in which it becomes hard to turn or run away from the true essence of another man`s soul.
King on the other hand also and also gives historical references on the America history and that of the black people, the social issues affecting the society and also makes numerous Biblical references. Giving of very sound illustrations and symbolism resonates so well with the audience also.
Logos refers to use of reasoning to construct an argument and to covey a well thought out ideas ensuring rational, logical, critical, methodical thoughts and persuasions are well embodied in the speech. It is evidenced by use of inductive and deductive reasoning examples in the Obama`s speech being found throughout his arguments. He clearly displays objectivity and methodically brings out the problems associated with the race within America and provides logical, reasoned resolutions to these problems. From his logical arguments the audience is persuaded to respond and react in a positive manner he also urges them to approach the subject of racism in both a subjective and objective manner. Obama’s appeals to logic are beyond reproach, he also categorically state to them that this is the time that everyone must take action and stand to secure their future together. He also emphasizes on the importance of time and thus causing the audience to have the realization that truly this is the time and America must act with urgency. Obama is effectively able to ignite and unite the audience and of more importance to persuade them to perceive the world from a different perspective and adapt the right attitudes.
Kairos attempts to seize the opportunity or in other words “the opportune time.” For something to be done, carried out, shown or exemplified or to be said. Kairos tries to conceptualize the need for the correct or proper timing. In simple explanation it is one’s ability to “seize the moment”. In the Obama`s speech applies Kairos in connecting the past, the present and the future and clearly shows the people that this is nothing else but opportune moment for them to respond. Martin Luther also uses the same to appeal to the people to get into action he says that “Now is the time or moment to make justice a true reality for all God`s children”……… “We refuse to be satisfied until….”
Significance of the speeches
The two speeches were of paramount value, essence and significance in terms of determining the future and destiny of the U.S. Martin Luther`s dream envisions a nation that people will live together in harmony, peace and love in which race would be non-issue. Key issues in regard to the constitution, human rights, the nation`s history, unity and cohesion and of more importance its political, social and economic future are well discussed in both speeches and envisioned.
As a wrap up it is very clear that the two speeches are very effective in appealing to the audience, changing their perspective and moving them into action. Rhetorician, Richard Weaver states that, “Rhetoric…is a positive act with consequences and results in the world. Every utterance is an attempt to make others perceive the world in a particular way and accept the changes or values implicit in that point of view”. And thus strategically employed rhetoric goes a long way in making effective any meaningful communication.
King, Martin Luther, and James Melvin Washington. I have a dream: writings and speeches that changed the world. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992. Print.
King, Martin Luther. I have a dream. New York: Scholastic Press, 1997. Print.
Obama, Barack. Barack Obama’s speeches = Los discursos de Barack Obama.. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press, 2010. Print.