Say It Like Obama: The Power of Speaking with Purpose and Vision - Shel Leanne (2009)
Chapter 10. THE SPEECH THAT MADE HISTORY ... AGAIN
This book closes with a look at another historic speech—Barack Obama's August 28, 2008, presidential nomination acceptance speech, delivered on the final night of the Democratic National Convention. Showcasing his communicative power, Obama employed a rich range of rhetorical techniques to provide an extraordinary delivery that tore down barriers, built bridges, swayed hearts and minds, conveyed vision, drove points home, persuaded, and left a strong last impression. To do this, he addressed issues of potential discomfort; highlighted shared values and history; employed biblical words and affirmed cherished principles; used the words of cherished American icons; personalized his message with references to his own experiences; provided calibrated details to make his points; used vivid imagery, dynamic imagery and symbolic references; addressed opposing views; skillfully leveraged repetition techniques such as anaphora; and adeptly employed rhetorical techniques such as alliteration, antithesis, tricolon, polysyndeton, rhetorical questions and nonrhetorical questions. Can you now identify all of these techniques? Take a look below.
2008 ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
Barack Obama moves on stage with a confident gait and bright smile, stretching his arm and waving to the live Denver audience of approximately 80,000 and to millions of TV viewers. He walks with a "presidential" air, exuding authority. He claps his hands along with his audience at times, an early sign of his connection with the audience and his comfort. He moves to the lectern and stands with a commanding posture, feet planted firmly and shoulders squared. Dressed in a formal dark suit, his tie blends the colors of blue and red stripes, sending a subtle yet significant message of unity that is underscored by an American flag pin adorning his lapel.
The physical background reinforces his image and body language, which are intended to project him as a leader. Numerous large American flags flank the podium behind him. The staging itself—adorned withlargecolumns—evokesmemoriesof Washington'sLincoln Memorial, the site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech. Obama stands before the formal wooden lectern as applause rings on for some time, his lips pressed together in a close-mouthed smile. His expression is humble, not gratifying—a look of appreciation and seriousness-of-purpose. After a long while, the applause begins to subside. Obama takes a deep breath and the timbre of his voice resonates as he begins his historic 2008 Democratic presidential nomination acceptance address:
Thank you! [The applause continues on.]
Thank you, everybody. [More applause.]
To Chairman Dean and my great friend Dick Durbin, and to all my fellow citizens of this great nation, with profound gratitude [emphasis] and great humility [emphasis], I accept your nomination for presidency of the United States. [He amplifies his volume. The words electrify the listeners. The audience applauds and claps and waves American flags].
Let me express my thanks to the historic slate of candidates who accompanied me on this journey [his tone is filled with gratitude], and especially the one who traveled the farthest, a champion [emphasis] for working Americana and an inspiration [emphasis] to my daughters and yours, Hillary Rodham Clinton. [He pinches his fingers to underscore Clinton's importance. The audience rings with applause].
To President Clinton, to President Bill Clinton, who made last night the case for change as only he can make it. [He motions his hands widely, indicating the words are heartfelt. Applause.] To Ted Kennedy, who embodies the spirit of service. [Applause]. And to the next vice president of the United States [slight pause], Joe Biden, I thank you. [Enthusiastic applause].
I am grateful [emphasis] to finish this journey with one of the finest statesmen of our time, a man at ease with everyone [he motions his hands wide] from world leaders to the conductors on the Amtrak train he still takes home every night.
To the love of my life [his eyes twinkle with emotion], our next first lady, Michelle Obama [pause for applause; Obama flashes a bright smile]. And to Malia and Sasha, I love you so much [emphasis], and I am so proud [emphasis] of you. [His tone is filled with adoration. Applause.]
Four years ago [he draws out the words], I stood before you and told you my story, of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren't well off or well known, but shared a belief that in America their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to. [He pinches his fingers; his tone is wistful].
It is that promise [he holds the "s," drawing a little more attention to the word 'promise'] that's always set this country apart [he motions his hands widely, underscoring the greatness of the country], that through hard work and sacrifice each of us [he enunciates each word with extra care] can pursue our individual dreams, but still come together [he motions his hands together] as one American family, to ensure [emphasis; he points an index finger] that the next generation can pursue their dreams, as well. That's why I stand here tonight. Because for 232 years [he motions his hand widely, conveying the magnitude of time and he stresses each word: two-hundred-thirty-two], at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary [he points his finger in the air, underscoring the word] men and women—students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors [his voice rises and falls, conveying the breadth of people involved]—found the courage to keep it alive.
We meet at one of those defining moments [he pinches his fingers and stresses the words, sounding wistful], a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more.
Tonight [he dips his voice, adding emphasis], more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can't afford to drive, credit cards, bills you can't afford to pay, and tuition that's beyond your reach. [He motions his hands widely].
These challenges are not all of government's making. But the failure to respond [he moves his index finger in a chastising manner] is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush. [He points his finger in the air again; he amplifies his volume. Applause.]
America! [A challenge rings beneath his tone as he nearly sings out the name, America!] We are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this. [A challenge rings in his tone. Applause.]
This country is more decent [emphasis] than one where a woman in Ohio, on the brink of retirement, finds herself one illness away [he points his index finger] from disaster after a lifetime of hard work. We're a better country [he motions his hands widely] than one where a man in Indiana has to pack up the equipment that he's worked on for 20 years and watch as it's shipped off to China [he brushes a hand dismissively to the side], and then chokes up as he explains how he felt like a failure when he went home to tell his family the news. [He dips his pitch low, conveying disapproval].
We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty … [Applause]. … that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes. [The audience applauds his disapproving reference to the crisis suffered in New Orleans].
Tonight [emphasis], I say to the people of America—to Democrats and Republicans and Independents [his tone crests and dips to emphasize the diverse political backgrounds] across this great land:Enough! [He puts tremendous volume behind the word. Dramatic pause]. This moment [emphasis; applause]—this moment [slight pause; applause], this election [emphasis] is our chance [emphasis] to keep, in the 21st century [he points an index finger in the air], the American promise alive. [He pinches his fingers to underscore the importance].
Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. [The audience boos].
And we are here [he motions both hands toward himself]—we are here because we love this country too much [emphasis] to let the next four years look just like the last eight. [He glides his voice subtly up and down to underscore the words, eliciting a strong audience response of support. Applause].
On November 4th, we must stand up and say: Eight is enough! [Applause. He flashes a bright, confident smile and utters a slight chuckle. The cheers go on].
Now, now, let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction [his tone is respectful and full of gratitude], and for that we owe him our gratitude and our respect. [He nods to affirm his point further. Applause].
And next week [he points an index finger], we'll also hear about those occasions when he's broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need. But the record's clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent [he pinches his fingers] of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but, really [his pitch rises; he wags an index finger in the air, expressing disapproval], what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than 90 percent of the time? [His tone is mocking. Applause]. I don't know about you, but I am not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change. [He pinches his fingers. Applause].
The truth is [he waves an index finger in the air], on issue after issue that would make a difference in your lives—on health care, and education, and the economy [he motions his hands wide, indicating the breadth and importance of the issues]—Senator McCain has been anything but [emphasis] independent.
He said that our economy has made great progress under this president. He said [he draws out the word, adding emphasis] that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. And when one of his chief advisers, the man who wrote his economic plan, was talking about the anxieties that Americans are feeling, he said that we were just suffering from a mental recession [he enunciates each word, his tone conveying disapproval] and that we've become—and I quote [he raises an index finger]—"a nation of whiners." [The audience boos.]
A nation of whiners? Tell that to the proud auto workers at a Michigan plant who, after they found out it was closing, kept showing up every day and working as hard as ever, because they knew [he points his index finger] there were people who counted on the brakes that they made. [His tone is indignant]. Tell that to the military families who shoulder their burdens silently [his voice dips] as they watch their loved ones leave for their third, or fourth, or fifth tour of duty. These are not whiners. [Emphasis] They work hard, and [emphasis] they give back, and [emphasis] they keep going without complaint. These [emphasis] are the Americans I know. [Applause].
Now, I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans; I just think he doesn't know. [He quickens his cadence, as if delivering a humorous punch line. The audience rings with laughter].
Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under $5 million a year? [He waves an index finger in the air]. How else could he propose hundreds of billions [slight mocking chuckle] in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies, but not one penny [he stresses each word] of tax relief to more than 100 million Americans? [He jabs an index finger, accusingly; emphasis] How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax [he pinches his fingers] people's benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing [he motions his hands wide, highlighting 'nothing'] to help families pay for college, or a plan [he increases his cadence, giving the sense that the list could go on and on] that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement? [The audience boos].
It's not because John McCain doesn't care [his pitch dips]; it's because John McCain doesn't get it. [Applause].
For over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy: Give more and more to those with the most [his pitch rises, emphasizing the point] and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. [He dips his pitch disapprovingly].
In Washington, they call this the "Ownership Society," [he pinches his fingers] but what it really means is that you're on your own. [He jabs his index finger in the air, as if issuing a warning. The audience laughs]. Out of work? Tough luck, [he punches the words and waves a dismissive hand that mocks the words] you're on your own. [His tone is mocking]. No health care? The market will fix it. [He waves a hand dismissively]. You're on your own. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, even if you don't have boots. You are on your own. [He enunciates each word with care: on-your-own. He draws a strong audience reaction of disapproval to the idea].
Well [he draws the word out], it's time for them to own their failure. [His voice is stern and chastising; he points a finger in the air]. It's time for us to change America. [He points a finger in the air determinedly]. And that's why I'm running for president of the United States. [His tone is resolute. Enthusiastic applause].
You see [he draws the words out], we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress [he pinches his fingers] in this country. We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage [his tone rings with rightness], whether you can put a little extra money away [he pinches his fingers to underscore the point] at the end of each month so you can someday watch your child receive her college diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton [he speaks a tad bit more closely into the microphone, pointing an index finger to emphasize the point] was president [applause] … when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 [he motions his hand upwards] instead of go down $2,000 [he motions his other hand downward], like it has under George Bush. [Applause].
We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips [he points an index finger] can take a day off and look after a sick kid without losing her job—an economy that honors the dignity of work.
The fundamentals [his hand gestures convey that 'the fundamentals' are precious] we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great—a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight. [He motions a hand gently toward his chest].
Because, in the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton's army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the G.I. Bill.
In the face of that young student, who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree; who once turned to food stamps, but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships. [Applause].
When I listen to another worker tell me that his factory has shut down, I remember all those men and women on the South Side of Chicago who I stood by [emphasis] and fought for [emphasis] two decades ago after the local steel plant closed.
And when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business or making her way in the world, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman.
She's the one who taught me about hard work. [He pinches his fingers, underscoring the point]. She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. [He touches both hands to his chest, underscoring the precious nature of his grandmother's sacrifice]. She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she's watching tonight and that tonight is her night as well. [Emphasis; enthusiastic applause].
Now [he draws the word out], I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead [his tone is mocking as he makes an allusion to McCain's assertions that he is a celebrity], but this has been mine. [Applause].
These [emphasis] are my heroes; theirs [emphasis] are the stories that shaped my life. And it is on behalf of them that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as president of the United States. [He amplifies his words; his tone is determined. Applause].
What is that American promise? [Pause for impact]. It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have obligations to treat each other with dignity [slight pause] and respect.
It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth [his cadence quickens, underscoring the importance], but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, to look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road. [He motions his hands to underscore the points].
Ours [he draws out the word, adding emphasis] is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems [his pitch dips], but what it should do [emphasis] is that which we cannot do for ourselves [he motions both hands toward himself]: protect us from harm [he holds a vertical palm in a stop sign] and provide every child a decent education [he motions his hands widely, signifying the importance]; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools, and new roads, and science, and technology.
Our government should work for us [he stresses the words], not against us. [His pitch rises and falls, adding emphasis]. It should help us [he stresses the words], not hurt us. [His pitch rises and falls]. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work. [He increases his cadence, underscoring the point].
That's the promise of America, the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation, the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper. [He slices his hand through the air, signifying the rightness of the principles.]
That's the promise we need to keep. [He point an index finger]. That's the change we need right now. [He points the index finger of his other hand. Applause].
So let me spell out exactly what that change would mean [he pinches his fingers, as if addressing a criticism] if I am president. [Applause].
Change means a tax code that doesn't reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it. [He moves a hand toward the audience. Applause.] You know, unlike John McCain, I will stop [emphasis] giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America. [He points his index finger in the air. Applause]. I'll eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow. [He cups his hand in a "C", as if placing the words in the air. Applause]. I will—listen now [he points his finger in the air]—I will cut taxes [pause]—cut taxes [emphasis]—for 95 percent [he jabs an index finger] of all [emphasis] working families, because, in an economy like this [he leans into the microphone, accentuating the point], the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle class. [He amplifies his volume. Applause.] And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal [he cuts a hand through the air] as president: In 10 years [he points an index finger], we will finally [he points the index finger of his other hand] end our dependence on oil from the Middle East. [Enthusiastic applause].
We will do this. Washington—Washington has been talking about our oil addiction for the last 30 years. And, by the way, John McCain has been there for 26 of them. [His tone is mocking. Laughter rings from the audience]. And in that time, he has said no [emphasis; slight pause] to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no [emphasis] to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil than we had on the day that Senator McCain took office.
Now [he draws out the word] is the time to end [emphasis] this addiction and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution, not even close. [He slices a horizontal hand, palm down, through the air. Applause.] As president [he moves a hand toward the audience, exuding sincerity], as president, I will tap our natural gas reserves [he motions his hands wide, conveying the importance], invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here [he taps an index finger as if pointing to the very ground on which he stands] in America. [Applause].
I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. [He points an index finger in the air]. And I'll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy—wind power, andsolar power, and the next generation of biofuels—an investment that will lead to new industries and 5 million [emphasis] new jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced. [He varies his pitch. Dramatic pause. Applause].
America [he draws out the word], now is not the time for small plans. Now [emphasis] is the time [he points an index finger in the air] to finally meet our moral obligation [he enunciates the words with care] to provide every child a world-class education [he motions his hands widely], because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. [He points an index finger]. You know, Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don't have that chance. [His tone is stern. Applause].
I'll invest in early childhood education [he motions his hands widely]. I'll recruit an army of new teachers [he stretches his arm to the side, as if reaching to pull something from far away], and pay [emphasis] them higher salaries, and give [emphasis] them more support. [He motions his hand widely, signifying the importance]. And in exchange, I'll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American: If you commit to serving your community or our country, we will make sure you can afford a college education. [He varies his volume and pitch to accentuate key words. Applause].
Now [slight pause]—now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single [emphasis] American. [Applause].
If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don't [emphasis], you'll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. [Applause].
And [he draws the word out]—and as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed [slight pause] dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most. [He amplifies his volume. His tone is indignant. Applause].
Now [he draws the word out] is the time to help families with paid sick days and better family leave, because nobody in America [he slices his hand through the air] should have to choose between keeping their job and caring for a sick child or an ailing parent.
Now [emphasis] is the time to change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses, and the time to protect Social Security for future generations.
And now [emphasis] is the time to keep the promise of equal pay [he amplifies his voice] for an equal day's work [he jabs an index finger in the air; emphasis], because I want my daughters to have the exact same opportunities as your sons. [He jabs his index finger again and generates enthusiastic applause].
Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I've laid out how I'll pay for every dime: by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don't help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget line by line [he punches the words], eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better [emphasis] and cost less [emphasis], because we cannot meet 21st-century challenges with a 20th-century bureaucracy. [Applause].
And, Democrats—Democrats—we must also admit that fulfilling America's promise will require more than just money. It will require a renewed sense of responsibility [he softens his tone, speaking the words solemnly and touching his fingertips together] from each of us to recover what John F. Kennedy called our intellectual and moral strength.
Yes, government must lead on energy independence, but each of us [he stresses each word] must do our part to make our homes and businesses more efficient. [Applause].
Yes [emphasis], we must provide more ladders [he motions his hands widely] to success for young men who fall into lives of crime and despair. But we must also admit that programs alone can't replace parents [his tone is emphatic], that government can't turn off the television and make a child do her homework [he motions a hand downward], that fathers must take more responsibility [he stretches a hand toward the audience, to emphasize the importance], to provide love and guidance to their children. [He amplifies his voice and lets the words linger].
Individual responsibility [he pinches the fingers of one hand] and mutual responsibility [he pinches the fingers of his other hand, underscoring the significance of the twin responsibilities], that's the essence [emphasis] of America's promise. And just as we keep our promise to the next generation here at home, so must we keep America's promise abroad. [He points an index finger in the air].
If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament and judgment [emphasis] to serve as the next commander-in-chief, that's a debate I'm ready to have. [A strong, direct challenge lies beneath his words; his tone is unwavering and he elicits enthusiastic applause].
[He stretches his hand in a stop sign, emphasizing the gravity of the words to follow]. For while Senator McCain was turning his sights to Iraq [he stretches his arm and motions his hand, indicating 'far away'] just days after 9/11, I stood up and opposed this war, knowing that it would distract us from the real threats that we face. [He points his finger in a chastising manner].
When John McCain said we could just muddle through [he motions his hands, accentuating the words] in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out [he points a finger toward the audience, deter-minedly] Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights. You know, John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the gates of Hell, but he won't even follow him to the cave where he lives. [He colors his tone with disappointment. Applause].
And today, today, as my call for a timeframe to remove our troops from Iraq has been echoed by the Iraqi government and even [emphasis] the Bush administration, even after we learned that Iraq has $79 billion [emphasis] in surplus while we are wallowing in deficit, John McCain stands alone in his stubborn [emphasis] refusal to end a misguided war.
That's not the judgment we need [his tone is indignant]; that won't keep America safe. We need a president who can face the threats of the future [his pitch rises], not keep grasping [emphasis] at the ideas of the past. [He lowers his pitch and stretches an arm, palm downward, conveying disapproval. Applause].
You don't defeat a terrorist network that operates in 80 countries by occupying Iraq. [The audience laughs]. You don't protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. [The audience cheers]. You can't truly stand up for Georgia when you've strained our oldest alliances.
If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice [he motions both hands to the left—as if indicating their choice is far from him], but that is not the change that America needs. [He pinches his fingers. Applause].
We are the party of Roosevelt. [He moves both hands toward his chest and amplifies his voice]. We are the party of Kennedy. So don't tell me [he amplifies his voice more, conveying indignation] that Democrats won't defend this country. Don't tell me [amplified voice] that Democrats won't keep us safe. [His tone mocks the notion that Democrats are weak].
The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered [emphasis] the legacy that generations of Americans, Democrats and [emphasis] Republicans, have built, and we are here to restore that legacy. [He cuts a hand through the air with resoluteness. Applause].
As commander-in-chief [his face is stern], I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm's way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home. [His tone is resolute. Applause].
I will end this war in Iraq responsibly and finish the fight against Al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild [he points the index finger of one hand toward the audience] our military to meet future conflicts, but I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy [he points the index finger of his other hand toward the audience] that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression.
I will build new partnerships [he motions his hands widely, signifying the importance] to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation, poverty and genocide, climate change and disease.
And I will restore [emphasis] our moral standing so that America [he slices his hand through the air] is once again that last, best hope [emphasis] for all [he stretches his arm, palm down, emphasizing the word] who are called to the cause of freedom, who long [emphasis] for lives of peace, and who yearn [emphasis] for a better future. [He progressively amplifies his voice for great effect and he generates tremendous applause. The audience begins chanting "USA! USA!"]
These [emphasis] are the policies I will pursue. And in the weeks ahead, I look forward to debating them with John McCain. [His tone is determined].
But [pause] what I will not do is suggest that the senator takes his positions for political purposes [his tone rings with moral rightness], because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and each other's patriotism. [Applause].
The times are too serious [pause], the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country [he places a hand to his chest], and so do you [he points his finger toward the audience], and so does John McCain. [He point his finger again, indicating McCain].
The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together, and bled together, and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a red [emphasis] America or a blue [emphasis] America; they have served the United States of America [he thumps a finger against the lectern emphatically and enunciates each word: U-ni-ted-States-of-A-mer-i-ca. The audience erupts in thunderous applause and chants "USA! USA!" Listeners wave flags throughout the stadium.]
[He motions a vertical palm in a stop sign]. So I've got news for you, John McCain [his face is stern; he amplifies his voice, making his challenge is clear]: We all [emphasis] put our country first. [He cuts a hand through the air. Dramatic pause. Applause].
America, our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough choices. And Democrats, as well as Republicans, will need to cast off the worn-out ideas [he motions a hand as if pushing away the antiquated ideas] and politics of the past, for part of what has been lost these past eight years can't just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits. What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose [he softens his voice, giving the words gravity], and that's [emphasis] what we have to restore.
We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. [He quickens his cadence to underscore the point. Applause.]
The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than they are for those plagued by gang violence in Cleveland, but [emphasis] don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. [His tone ridicules any notion this cannot be done and generates applause].
I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely [emphasis] we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in a hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. [Applause].
You know, passions may fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child [he motions his hands apart] or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers.
But this, too, is part of America's promise [he touches his hands together gently, underscoring the preciousness of the promise], the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength [slight pause] and grace [his voice lingers on the "c," highlighting the word 'grace'] to bridge divides and unite in common effort.
I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger [slight pause], something firmer, and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that's to be expected, because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters. [He points a finger accusingly. Applause].
If you don't have a record to run on [he wags an index finger back and forth], then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from [emphasis]. You make a big election [he moves both hands apart, indicating something large] about small things [he brings his hands together, motioning to indicate smallness]. And you know what? It's worked before, because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn't work, all its promises seem empty [he motions a hand away, as if pushing a false promise far away]. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it's best to stop hoping and settle for what you already know. [His pitch dips slightly, conveying disapproval].
I get it. I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office [he moves both hands toward his chest]. I don't fit the typical pedigree, and I haven't spent my career in the halls of Washington. But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring [he motions his hands widely]. What the naysayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me [his pitch dips and he pauses]; it's about you. [His pitch rises; he points a finger toward the audience. Enthusiastic applause].
It's about you. [More applause].
For 18 long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said, "Enough, " [emphasis] to the politics of the past. You [he draws out the word and points a finger at the audience] understand that, in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same, old politics with the same, old players [emphasis] and expect a different result.
You have shown what history teaches us—that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from [emphasis] Washington. Change comes to [emphasis] Washington. [He motions his hands widely. Applause.]
Change [he nearly sings the word and cuts a hand through the air, adding emphasis] happens—change happens because the American people demand it, because they rise up [he motions his hands emphatically] and insist on new ideas [slight pause] and new leadership [slight pause], a new politics [he slices a hand through the air] for a new time. [He pinches his fingers.]
America, this is one of those moments.
I believe [he nearly sings the words, letting them linger] that, as hard as it will be [slight pause], the change we need is coming [he dips his pitch], because I've seen it [he motions his hands to his chest; slight pause for impact], because I've lived it. [Slight pause].
Because I've seen it in Illinois, when we provided health care to more children [he motions his hands widely] and moved more families from welfare to work. I've seen it in Washington, where we worked across party lines to open up government and hold lobbyists more accountable, to give better care for our veterans, and keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. [He glides his voice up and down to emphasize the breadth of change]. And I've seen it in this campaign [his tone is filled with admiration], in the young people who voted for the first time [pride sounds in his voice] and the young at heart, those who got involved again after a very long time; in the Republicans who never thought [slight chuckle, slight smile] they'd pick up a Democratic ballot [he gives a dramatic pause to underscore the importance], but did. [He smiles. Applause].
I've seen it—I've seen it in the workers who would rather cut their hours back a day [he pinches his fingers], even though they can't afford it, than see their friends lose their jobs; in the soldiers who re-enlist after losing a limb; in the good neighbors who take a stranger in when a hurricane strikes and the floodwaters rise.
You know, this country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that's not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that's not what makes us strong [his pitch rises and falls, underscoring his point]. Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world [his pitch crests; he motions his hands wide, signifying the grandness of the USA], but that's not what keeps the world coming to our shores [his pitch dips].
Instead [he dips his voice again], it is that American spirit [pause], that American promise, that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen [emphasis], that better place around the bend. [His tone is wistful and filled with hope].
That promise [his voice lingers on the "s," emphasizing 'promise'] is our greatest inheritance. It's a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night and a promise [his voice stresses the "s," highlighting the word 'promise'] that you make to yours, a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans [he amplifies his voice, highlighting the greatness of this] and pioneers to travel west, a promise that led workers to picket lines and women to reach for the ballot. [He quickens his cadence; his pitch rises and falls. Applause].
And [slight pause] it is that promise that, 45 years ago today [pause], brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln's Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream [he progressively amplifies his voice, giving great effect to his words and rousing listeners with his reference to Martin Luther King Jr. He lets the words linger. The audience rings with enthusiastic applause].
The men and women who gathered there could've heard many things. They could've heard words of anger and discord. They could've been told to succumb to the fear and frustrations of so many dreams deferred.
But what the people heard instead—people of every creed and color, from every walk of life—is that, in America [emphasis], our destiny is inextricably linked, that together [emphasis] our dreams can be one. [He pinches his fingers, accentuating the points].
"We cannot walk alone," [he slices his hand emphatically through the air] the preacher cried. "And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. [He cuts his hand through the air again]. We cannot turn back. " [He stresses each word].
America, we cannot turn back … [His tone remains determined; he wags his index finger high in the air. Applause.] … Not [emphasis] with so much work to be done [he amplifies his volume and keeps it raised and he points repeatedly to the audience, challenging listeners]; not [emphasis] with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for; not [emphasis] with an economy to fix, and cities to rebuild, and farms to save; not [emphasis] with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend.
America! We cannot turn back. [His tone issues a challenge. Pause]. We cannot walk alone. [His tone is unwavering and resolute as he builds to a crescendo].
At this moment, in this election [his tone underscores a sense of urgency as he reaches his crescendo], we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep [emphasis] that promise [his tone issues a challenge], that American promise [his tone is wistful], and in the words of Scripture hold firmly [he speaks the word "Scripture" with reverence], without wavering, to the hope that we confess.
Thank you! [Slight pause]. God bless you! [Slight pause]. And God bless [emphasis] the United States of America! [Emphases added.]
[The audience rises in an ovation. Obama stretches his arm wide, waving to the audience. He claps his hands briefly with the audience, underscoring their unity. The audience continues on in applause].
The media, many listeners and political pundits immediately praised Barack Obama's 2008 presidential nomination acceptance speech as "magnificent," "extraordinary," "electrifying," "rousing," "unifying," and "the best since President Kennedy." The masterful and powerful delivery solidified Obama's place as one of the most effective and outstanding orators of recent times.
For More Analysis
Were you able to identify all of the rhetorical techniques? For more extensive analysis of this historic speech and discussion about the valuable rhetorical techniques in this masterful acceptance address, visit www.shelleanne.com or www.sayitlikeobama.com.