The keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 was delivered by Barack Obama (then Illinois State Senator) in the context of John Kerry presidential campaign. The major claim of the speaker is that America is a land of freedom and opportunity, and the people are responsible for keeping the doors of opportunity open to all. His purpose is to convince the audience that John Kerry is the candidate who represents the interests of all Americans who hope for better future. In the speech, Barack Obama addresses “Democrats, Republicans, Independents”, emphasizing the unity of the American people, irrespective of their race, background or political views. To convince his audience, the speaker makes effective use of all three modes of persuasion and the rhetorical techniques of repetition, anecdote and parallelism.

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Barack Obama uses ethical appeal when he presents his background and tells about the long way his ancestors had to make to see their children enjoy great opportunities in the US. Despite many difficulties, they “shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation”, working hard to achieve success. Detailing their struggle, the speaker establishes his credibility as a person who knows about both opportunities and problems of the US from his own experience and the experience of his family. Moreover, claiming his story to be “a part of the larger American story”, Barack Obama emphasizes his unity and imminent solidarity with the entire American nation.

The speaker makes an extensive use of pathos, appealing to the wide range of emotions of his audience. The images of a father “choking back to tears” due to his inability to pay for his son’s treatment, of a senior citizen “having to choose between medicine and the rent”, of those “whose loved ones returned with a limb missing” are carefully constructed to evoke the sympathy of the audience. While being furnished with many detailed, these images are universal enough to make the listeners recall other people who may be in the same life circumstances. After presenting negative images of the common American problems, Barack Obama instills the emotion of hope in his audience by sharing his strong beliefs that a bright day will come after a long period of darkness.

The use of logos in the speech is manifest in the Obama’s explanation of the reasons why John Kerry is the best candidate for the leader of Americans. He demonstrates that both the personal experience of John Kerry and his beliefs and principles make him representative of the interests of ordinary American people. Moreover, he shows that this person is reasonable and experienced enough to respond effectively to the external and internal threats faced by Americans. Presented consistently and with extensive supporting evidence, these arguments intend to convince the audience that John Kerry is the most suitable for the role of president in this particular context.

Barack Obama uses different rhetorical techniques to enhance the effect of his address, with the most remarkable technique being anecdote. Barack Obama interweaves many brief stories in his speech, such as the story of his family and the story of Shamus, who joined the Marines and was going to Iraq due to his strong faith in American ideals. The anecdotes make the audience think more deeply about the issues discussed by the speaker, considering their own beliefs and life circumstances. Another technique used by the author is repetition, represented with different types. Barack Obama repeats the words “let me be clear” when he moves to the issue of the enemies of the US in order to accentuate the attention of the audience on this topic. The speaker also uses anaphora, the repetition of the beginning of sentences or phrases. Thus, he starts four successive sentences with “John Kerry” and puts “I believe” in the beginning of three successive sentences. These repetitions are used to draw the attention of the listeners to the most important points, as well as to make the speech sound more solemn. Parallelism, which implies the use of structures with the same syntax, is exemplified in the sentence “And just as Lieutenant Kerry did not hesitate to risk his life to protect the men who served with him in Vietnam, President Kerry will not hesitate one moment to use our military might to keep America safe and secure”. This rhetorical device serves to emphasize that the personal experience of John Kerry warrants his ability to become an effective leader.

  • Obama, Barack (2004). Keynote Address at the Democratic National Convention. Boston, MA.