You are on page 1of 7

Rhetorical Analysis

Quintanilla 1
Rhetorical Analysis
by Melonee Quintanilla

A common refrain states that it does not matter what you say, but how you say it. Both
facets are important when it comes to words from the president of the United States. President
Obamas speech Remarks by the President on Comprehensive Immigration Reform attempts to
unite and incite his audience to modernize immigration law. He accomplishes this by reinforcing
his ethos through citing his past actions and qualifications, utilizing chronological order and
historical allusion to support his opinion, and constantly referencing both conservative and
liberal opinions. Due to the conventions of a speech, use of logos in the form of statistics is kept
to a minimum and supplemented by historical references to support a rational argument.
However, Obama captivates his audience through pathetic appeals to American values and
human sympathy. By combining these rhetorical techniques with his powerful oratory skills,
Obama develops a solid argument for renewal of immigration legislation and persuades listeners
to take action.
In order to explore the persuasiveness of Obamas speech, it is first critical to determine
the rhetorical situation. President Obama presented the speech on July 1, 2010. The controversial
Arizona immigration law was passed April of that year (qtd. in Remarks). This controversial
law allowed local police officers to stop people to check their immigration status, which raised
questions about racial profiling and state rights. Using the outcry over the Arizona law and the
divisiveness of Congress as an inspirational kairotic moment, Obama attempts to incite the
sections of his audience to a cohesive effort to change immigration law. Taking advantage of the
fresh contention over the Arizona laws and their popularity on the news also appeals to kairos
and therefore adds exigence for his listeners (qtd. in Remarks). By presenting his speech

Rhetorical Analysis

Quintanilla 2

within months of the passing of the Arizona laws, Obamas speech capitalizes on the opportunity
for a more powerful, relevant, and effective argument overall.
Although he speaks in front of the professors and alumni of American University, Obama
acknowledges that his audience also includes members of his administration, Congress members,
elected officials, faith and law enforcement, labor, business leaders and immigration advocates
(qtd. in Remarks). As the President of the United States, Obama realizes that his audience will
include most of the American public due to media coverage and the accessibility of the internet.
However, by including specific groups in his preliminary statements of gratitude, Obama
establishes those who he is reaching out to and the relevance of the topic to these groups. This is
an appeal towards ethos and pathos. Obamas thanks for the various groups establishes his
knowledge of them and establishes a sense of his humility, which engages the audience
emotionally and makes them more open to his message.
It is also important to note that Obamas choice of platform for his opinion is a speech.
This influences the structure to be shorter and easier to follow than a persuasive article, and with
a speech Obamas expressions and tone of voice can also affect the strength of his persuasion.
Our president is well known for his punctuating hand motions and charismatic tone that
contribute to his enargeia, or vivid demonstration, and ethopoeia, or his character portrayal and
adaptability of his speech to the presentation. His use of third person when he lists
accomplishments, such as we have finally delivered the promise of healthcare reform, also
draws in the audience and forges an emotional connection with them by appealing to a sense of
teamwork (qtd. in Remarks). This is an example of pathos, which is necessary to retaining
audience attention.

Rhetorical Analysis

Quintanilla 3

Similarly, Obama uses anaphora, a repetition of words in the beginning of successive


phrases, to hold the audiences attention and emphasize his points. In one example, Obama
highlights the challenges faced by his administration by repeating despite the forces of the
status quo, despite the polarization and the frequent pettiness of our politics, we are confronting
the great challenges of our times (qtd. in Remarks). Varied use of qualifiers such as many,
all, and some also alters his degree of force in his assertions and ensures a more accurate,
less biased sounding description (qtd. in Remarks). By capitalizing on his skills as an orator
and politician, Obama can lay out his opinion in a genre that best displays his talents and
advanced style, establishing ethos. However, the transcript of the speech may not accurately
reflect paragraph breaks, and the content can only go so in depth before the audience loses
interest and a time limit is broken.
Obama may be the president, but the establishment of ethos is still a major component in
the strength of his argument. Obama begins by laying out what is in essence a resume including
his past actions: facing the severe economic crises, winding down the war in Iraq,education
reform, the transition to clean energy,and health reform are a few examples (qtd. in
Remarks). By beginning with a recounting of the challenges tackled by his administration,
Obama increases his own confidence and builds his ethos by increasing the trust of his audience.
He then skillfully uses the pedestal of his accomplishments to preach to the audience a
yet unsolved issue, introduced as one of the great challenges of our time (qtd. in Remarks).
By not directly stating the issue, Obama creates suspense for his listeners until he reveals that
immigration reform is the unnamed challenge and that the system is fundamentally broken
(qtd. in Remarks). Obamas establishment of his ethos before he makes his major claim

Rhetorical Analysis

Quintanilla 4

simultaneously keeps the audiences attention and acts as a hook as he moves forward in his
speech.
That is not to say that the speech does not contain further examples of ethos. Perhaps the
strongest rhetorical technique used in Obamas speech is concession to both liberal and
conservative opinions. A striking example is the contrast between a pro-naturalization statement
from new citizen and member of the armed forces Perla Ramos versus the opinion that full
amnesty would suggest to those thinking about coming here illegally that there will be no
repercussions for such a decision (qtd. in Remarks). Additionally, although the President
critiques the deferment of the immigration issue, he lauds his Republican predecessor George W.
Bush for his courageous leadership (qtd. in Remarks). Obamas mention of and respect for
two opposing forces of the immigration debate reduces his bias as a Democrat and supports his
goal to get past the two poles of this debate and unite the parties of Congress to reform
immigration law with clauses of both penalty and amnesty (qtd. in Remarks).
Obama constantly wields history in order to support his opinion, building logos. One
prominent example occurs when he explores the past treatment of immigrants, including the
Alien and Sedition Acts, rank discrimination and ugly stereotypes, and detention and
deport[ation] (qtd. in Remarks). Historical facts are used in tandem with current statistics,
such as the southern border is more secure today than at any time in the past 20 years, and 11
million people [live in the US illegally] (qtd. in Remarks). The result is a persuasive and
logical argument for change supported by a wide range of evidence from both the past and
present.
By integrating history into his argument, Obama also ensures that his speech caters to a
wider spectrum of the American public. After his use of historical allusion, those who are

Rhetorical Analysis

Quintanilla 5

unaware of past immigration practices are educated enough on the topic to then be persuaded.
Obamas knowledge of history coupled with a broad vocabulary and appropriate word choice
also showcases his high level of education and adds to his ethos as well.
Although his argument begins by establishing ethos and uses logos intermittently, pathos
is critical to listeners involvement. The most prominent example is his reading of Emma
Lazarus poem, The New Colossus in his conclusion. The reading, especially the famous lines
Give me your tired, and your poor...your huddled masses yearning to be free appeals to the
cultural American ideal of a safe, free place for suffering immigrants and helps to persuade
readers that immigration reform is necessary in order to maintain that moral value (qtd. in
Remarks). Pathos is also created when Obama suggests that illegal immigrants fear of law
enforcement makes it difficult for people here illegally to report crimes - driving a wedge
between communities and law enforcement, making our streets more dangerous (qtd. in
Remarks). This leads listeners to realize the arguments significance, as it is tied directly to
their everyday lives and instills a sense of fear in the audience that stems from their need for self
preservation.
The conventions of a speech allow President Obama to have great variation in his
rhetorical and stylistic techniques, which contributes to his success in convincing listeners that a
change in immigration policy is needed. He successfully interweaves all three classical appeals
into his argument, creating strong audience involvement through pathos, logically sound and
well supported claims through logos, and trust in his words through ethos. His creation of style
through methods such as anaphora and enargeia ensures that the audience understands and
remembers his main points, and it adds interest to the speech as a whole. Obama also relies
heavily on kairos to establish the exigence of his speech. The relationship between rhetoric and

Rhetorical Analysis

Quintanilla 6

style remains strong throughout Obamas presentation, however, Obamas time limit of 30
minutes and the speech genre greatly reduces the depth of his argument. Further expansion on
logos through more integration of facts and figures and less emphasis on ethos and pathos would
add an extra dimension of thoroughness and scholarly claim to Obamas argument. However, this
would only be possible in a written paper.

Rhetorical Analysis

Quintanilla 7

Works Cited
The White House. Remarks by the President on Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Office of
the Press Secretary, 1 July 2010. Web. 9 Oct. 2015.