Saturday, July 5, 2008

Sam Anderson: A rehetorical analysis of Obama and his speeches

The latest issue of New York magazine (Summer issue) has an interesting piece by Sam Anderson analysing Obama's famed ability for speech.

Charting how that asset first brought him to national attention.
Obama first stepped out of the political phone booth on this occasion four years ago, when he gave the climactic keynote address for John Kerry’s otherwise legendarily droopy campaign. In ten minutes, America watched him rip off the rumpled suit of anonymous, mild-mannered state-senatorhood and squeeze into the gaudy cape and tights of our national oratorical superhero—a honey-tongued Frankenfusion of Lincoln, Gandhi, Cicero, Jesus, and all our most cherished national acronyms (MLK, JFK, RFK, FDR). Although he may have been canonized a little quickly, Obama has since managed to justify much of the hype. Over the course of his protracted death-grapple with Hillary, he delivered more game-changing speeches than most politicians muster in a full career: the momentum-swinging pre-Iowa dinner speech, the legitimizing post-Iowa victory speech, the YouTube-ready sloganeering (“Yes, we can”) after his loss in New Hampshire, and, in Philadelphia, a masterpiece—the shockingly honest (Grandma was a racist), paradigm-cracking, scandal-defusing 5,000-word disquisition about the cross-pollinating complexities of American race.

Sam highlights the audaciousness of Obama's narratives - complex, bordering on corny but executed so masterfully the audience never realises it.
It’s significant that he used his first appearance in the national spotlight, the keynote speech at Kerry’s DNC, to meta-sketch the inspirational origin of that very keynote speech: “Let’s face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely,” he said, and then unleashed, in about 60 seconds, a pithy intergenerational family saga spanning three continents and all the major events of mid-twentieth-century America (Depression, Pearl Harbor, postwar boom)—complete with such unlikely details as goat herding, a tin-roof shack, oil rigs, and Patton’s army marching across Europe. It was like a brilliant movie trailer designed to promote the incalculably awesome feature attraction of his future political career. To deny his candidacy, after that, would be to deny a very powerful narrative logic—the goats, the tin-roof shack, Patton, all of it. Every politician tries to tell stories, of course, to harness the emotional momentum of narrative in the service of an agenda. But few do so as naturally as Obama. All serious candidates have a maniacal ambition—in retrospect, Hillary’s looked unflattering because she didn’t nest it quite deeply enough in a persuasive narrative logic; Barack’s is so embedded in an attractive story that we hardly even notice it

Find the full article here:
Raise High the Rafters by Sam Anderson.
Find it in The New York Magazine (Summer Issue)

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