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Barack Obama has always been a recognized speaker who is capable of employing various rhetoric strategies to express his opinion concerning topical issues. His speaking competence is undoubtedly well-developed, though not all of his speeches have been successful throughout the years. Besides exploiting typical rhetorical strategies, his personal charisma and easily comprehensive, yet metaphoric language as well as a clear position regarding the raised questions have contributed to his overall persuasiveness. One of the speeches of then-Senator Barack Obama is entitled “The Connection between Faith and Politics”, dated June 28, 2006. Despite some of its shortcomings in terms of rhetorical means, this speech displays sufficient rhetorical skills of the speaker and a successful exploitation of various stylistic and rhetorical devices that argue for its inclusion in the “Well Made Arguments” chapter.

In the discussed speech, Barack Obama raises the issue of the connection between politics and religion in the USA. He starts with mentioning his personal experience, when he was criticized by his political rival Alan Keyes of being not religious and not worthy of voting for. This instance of involving religious matters into political debates serves as an introduction to the issue that, according to Mr. Obama’s opinion, is quite urgent in the USA and needs comprehensive discussion. The speaker proceeds to describing his own religious views and the path that has led to accepting his faith as an integral part of his life. The speech accentuates afterwards the role of religion in political and social life of the nation. Barack Obama expresses the idea that religion has the capacity to influence people’s lives in terms of bringing social change and uniting all Americans into one strong nation. Religious pluralism is similar to the political one, yet the speaker states that it is even more essential for creating a healthy nation. He does not advocate for bringing religion into all aspects of secular life, but rather mentions in a quite liberal way that faith is a necessary component of a normal human development. His speech involves many instances referring to his personal experience and some samples from his own life aimed at proving his idea. In his speech, Barack Obama offers a rough draft of measures to be taken by progressives and conservatives in order to bring benefits for the whole country. He points out the misconceptions that exist among the Americans and which have to be eliminated for the sake of prosperity of the entire nation, which comprises representatives of miscellaneous religious groups as well as non-religious members. Finally, he expresses his hope that “we can live with one another in a way that reconciles the beliefs of each with the good of all”. The speech is presented in a framing mode as it starts and ends with recollections from speaker’s life that he decides to share with the audience.

The speech under consideration may be determined as a persuasive one with appeals both to pathos and ethos. The main purpose of the argument is to raise the issue of the connection between faith and politics and to convince the audience that people should be tolerant to each other’s beliefs as “It’s a prayer worth praying, and a conversation worth having in this country in the months and years to come”. One of the most obvious strengths exploited by the speaker is the appeal to authority. Thus, he mentions Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Marian Wright Edelman, Frederick Douglas, Williams Jennings Bryant, and Dorothy Day from the perspective of their tendency to intermingle faith with politics and social matters. In terms of positive religious examples shown by his contemporaries, he highly appraises pastors Rick Warren and T. D. Jakes and religious activists Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo. While exploiting some positive images of well-known public personalities, he also refers to Alan Keyes, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and conservatives in a slightly negative way; yet being a true liberal, he tries to avoid outright judgments or a direct opposition to their views. This way, he seems to practically implement his appeal to be tolerant to all existing religious and ideological doctrines and to adopt a non-judgmental and a liberal social stance. The appeal to prominent politicians and social activists adds credibility to his position and makes people think about the significance of his arguments.

Besides exploiting the rhetorical means of appealing to well-known people, Barack Obama emphasizes his nearness to ordinary Americans and his readiness to listen to everyone in the process of open discussion of the raised issue. Hence, he mentions his e-mail interaction with a doctor from the University of Chicago Medical School, whose letter made then-Senator reconsider his election campaign and alter some statements on his website. The doctor inspired Mr. Obama to do his best in thinking of everything in terms of “fair-minded words”. Describing this episode in detail is aimed at diminishing the distance between the politician and his electorate while subconsciously convincing the latter that he is one of them and will serve to benefit them. This stylistic device of eliminating the social distance is rather common for political speeches, yet it is still efficient in terms of persuasiveness.

Special and temporal deictic elements contribute to the credibility of the speaker. Mentioning specific dates and years as well as places like Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street in the Southside of Chicago and the Capitol Hill proves the truthfulness of the mentioned events and make the speaker look personally engaged in the matter. Besides, this way the speech seems to be written by the speaker himself rather than by professional speech writers, as is often the case with politicians. Statistical data and reference to sociological surveys increase the level of credibility as well. Stating that “90 percent of us believe in God… and substantially more people in American believe in angels than they do in evolution” is aimed at emphasizing the essential role of faith and religion in everyday life of the nation, hence drawing attention to its importance in politics.

The possibly greatest weakness of the Barack Obama’s speech is the overabundance of instances when referring to his personal experience. On the one hand, recollections of the past serve the purpose of making the speech more persuasive and involving. On the other hand, listeners who were not familiar with the speaker prior to this speech may feel confused by a great number of retrospections coming from different periods of his life that are not structured chronologically.

The speech is worth being included in the “Well Made Arguments” chapter because its strengths considerably outweigh its weaknesses. The speaker is not afraid to admit his flaws like the one pointed out by a Chicago doctor concerning the speaker’s unfairness while discussing important social problems. One of the most significant strengths of the speech is its clear and comprehensive language, which is not, however, devoid of metaphorical coloring, when it is appropriate. Stylistic means that the speaker exploits successfully include metaphors, epithets, enumeration, antithesis, gradation, and repetition. Gradation is used to emphasize the most vivid examples while enumerating the nation’s need for pluralism in all spheres of life. Rhetorical questions are used to emphasize the speaker’s ideas and to draw the attention of the audience to the following passages. Besides, they give an emotional coloring to the presentation of the raised issue. Cohesion of the presented arguments is reached by means of using various conjunctions and connectors that ensure the flow. Moreover, coherence of the speech is possible due to the logical outline of the content and an understandable sequence of the arguments.

The Barack Obama’s speech “The Connection between Faith and Politics” is a vivid sample of the well-written piece of argumentative writing with numerous examples of successful and effective exploitation of various rhetorical means and stylistic devices. Although the discussed speech cannot serve as an example of a perfect argumentative essay, it surely belongs in the chapter dedicated to well-made arguments that reached their communicative purposes.

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