Political Speeches: Opposing Speeches by Obama and Romney

I chose to compare Romney and Obama’s acceptance speeches at their respective party conventions. Their audiences, of course, are their political parties: Romney is speaking to Republicans and Obama to Democrats. But as we are in the midst of election season, both candidates were also speaking in the hopes that they would sway (in their favor) those who are unsure of who to vote for. 

Both speeches are remarkably similar in terms of format. They begin with pleasantries and banter (Obama tells his daughters how proud he is of them, then jokingly reminds them that they still have to go to school in the morning; Romney introduces his vice president as a man with a big heart from a small town, and then teases that his iPod playlist is still better than Ryan’s). Next, they adopt a more serious tone and talk about change and children; how wonderful America is and how resilient Americans are. 

Regardless of which party you support or which candidate you believe will do a better job in office, the messages that both men are giving are similar rhetorically. Consider Romney’s discussion with the audience about his life with a wife and five young boys. “I knew [Ann’s] job as a mom was a lot harder than mine. I knew without question that her job as a mom was a lot more important than mine.” Here, Romney employs ethos and pathos to persuade his audience. He uses pathos by appealing to women, by acknowledging the important role they have in society as mothers, and hoping to get an emotional reaction from his female supporters. Simultaneously, he is also uses ethos by expressing gender roles and asserting his dominance as the breadwinner of the family. America is a masculine-oriented culture that, despite modern advances, still has ideas and rules about gender.  His credibility as a hardworking, all-American and one of the “good old boys” undoubtedly increased in the minds of more conservative viewers. 

But Obama engages in rhetorical choices as well. “…it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades. It will require common effort, shared responsibility, and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one… those of us who carry on his party’s legacy should remember that not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington”. 

In this passage from Obama’s speech, he too evokes ethos and pathos with his words – he name-drops Franklin Roosevelt. Regardless of which political party you support, it cannot be denied that Roosevelt did a lot for the country and the people in it. By linking Roosevelt’s name to his own term in office, Obama strengthens his own credibility by association. He also inspires a sense of pride in America’s history and intends to spark confidence that if the Democrat party can do it once, it can do it again. 

Obviously, these are not the only places in Romney and Obama’s speeches that use rhetorical language. They are merely two examples that show that politics is not just about making policies and enforcing laws. It’s a mind game, one based on painting pictures with words and rhetorical language – and the prettier the image, the more successful the candidate. 

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How does Aristotle help your understanding of rhetoric?

Before reading Aristotle, I was unsure of what rhetoric meant. I had heard the term passed around in a communications class here and there, but had never dug deeply into the meaning of the word. Truthfully, I am still a little confused – but I’m better off than I was before. 

Aristotle stresses rhetoric as persuasion – actually, he describes it as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion” (chapter 2). This is all very confusing. But then, he breaks down the modes of persuasion for the reader into three simple bullet points: 

1. Personal character of the speaker (their credibility)

2. Putting the audience into a certain frame of mind. 

3. Proof provided by the words of the speech itself. 

So, if I am understanding Aristotle correctly, rhetoric is the study of how persuasion occurs. Once I got past the strange language and fancy words, it was easier to understand at least the basics of the topic.