Rhetorical Analysis of Obama’s Campaign Speech

When Barrack Obama wanted to announce his interest for thepresidential nominee for the Democratic Party, he knew that he had tomake a great speech. The announcement was against the backdrop of agrowing speculation that Obama stood a chance of being the first everAfrican American nominee for the Democratic Party. He knew that if heplayed his cards well, he would end up being the first blackpresident of the USA. The high stakes of this speech meant that therewas no room for mistakes. He had to use a rhetorically appealingspeech. Obama had used a campaign speech to convince democrats tonominate him as their flag bearer. Within the text of his speech, hewas supposed to tell his life story and link to why he would be themost promising Democrat presidential nominee. The analysis of hisspeech explores the rhetorical appeal of his message towards hisaudience.

On February 10, 2007 Obama presented his speech at the Democratconvention. The speech that was televised live in several mediahouses captured the attention of many. Apart from being televised,the speech was live in that Obama was addressing the people who weregathered at the convention. The message was clear I am the mostpromising candidate so please nominate me. The numerous rhetoricaltechniques used by the speechwriter helped to make it morecaptivating. The execution of the speech in front of the audience wasalso in line with the plausible techniques in the speech. Thisanalysis looks at the rhetorical techniques used in the speech andhow they influenced the target audience.

Rhetorical Techniques


A number of public speakers know that failure to adhere to ethoscould interfere with the delivery of the message to the targetaudience. Human beings have an ego and if they sense any slightestmisconduct, they are likely to develop a negative attitude towardsthe speech and the message (McLaughn 306). It is for this reason thatmost speechwriters make sure that their text is within the confinesof ethics. Obama’s speech was not an exception.

Obama begins by thanking all the delegates who have travelled fromdespite the biting cold of winter. This simple gesture of gratitudeserves to remind the audience that indeed the speaker values theirpresence in the convention. They realize that he acknowledges thedifficulties they have gone through in order to reach at the venue.The recognition places a sense of importance on the audience. Humanbeings like to feel important. On the other hand, it is unethical tobegin addressing people without acknowledging the trouble they havegone through in order to make it to the convention. Some members ofthe audience, especially those who were brought up in the ideals oftraditional courteous behavior, may feel offended if the speaker doesnot acknowledge their presence. In order to avoid losing part of hisaudience, Obama had to pull the simple but significant gesture.

He also makes reference to appoint in life when he had to work for ameager salary but then he was happy to help the community. “I was ayoung man then I knew no one in Chicago, a group of churches hadoffered me a job as a community organizer for $13,000 a year.Iaccepted the job, sight unseen, motivated then by a single, simple,powerful idea – that I might play a small part in building a betterAmerica” (Obama 1).

Alluding to this part of his story was not a coincidence. Obama usesthe story to show to his audience that in deed he has the characterbefit of a presidential nominee and eventual president of the USA.The story strategically sells him as someone who is not driven bymoney and that he is committed to serving the community withoutexpecting much in return. Obama is well aware of the personalattributes that people look out for potential presidential candidateshence the reason for the inclusion of the story in the speech.

Obama also talks about how he went to law school in order to be acivil rights lawyer. He claims to have had interest in law so that hecould understand how the constitution works and stand a better chanceto champion the rights of the oppressed. The ethos therein serves toinform the audience that he is well educated and that he is committedto a just society. This revelation adds more points to hiscredibility portfolio because the delegates have been known to electnominate people who have a better understanding of the law.


Obama asks his audience to be the generation that ends poverty,reshapes the economy, and ensures better working conditions. He usesthe phrase ‘Let us be the generation’ to hint that the audiencehis part of his development agenda. Obama uses this technique toappeal to the emotion of his audience. He uses the example ofpoverty, poor worker welfare and a dwindling economy to invoke anemotional response in the members of his audience. Quite often, themention of such problems creates a sense of empathy among listeners(Arnold 25).

The humanity in them drives them to think of ways to end thesuffering of their fellow human beings. Lucky for them, Obama is thetrain that promises to take them to a land of no human suffering. Thetechnique used begs them to join the bandwagon of which Obama is thedriver.

Obama also reminds his audience of the happening of 9/11. The memoryof the terrorist attack causes a lot of emotion in the audience. Someof members of his audience were affected by the terrorist attack–either directly or indirectly. Upon the reminder of the happeningsof that fateful, Obama invokes a sense of fear within his audience.

When writing his speech, he was well aware that the mention of theterrorist attack would frighten people and make them sway their pointof view. It is a dirty trick but then it helps him achieve hismission. He further goes on to say that, he will make sure thatAmerica does not suffer another terrorist attack. His follow upstatement serves to influence the already emotional audience intothinking that he is the only nominee who is capable of keeping themsafe from another terrorist attack.


Sometimes appealing to ethics and emotions cannot influence theopinion of the audience in its entirety. Some members of theaudience, especially those who are conversant with rhetoricaltechniques, will only be influenced by logic and facts (Brydon andScott 56). Obama knows this too well hence the reason for theinclusion of logic in his speech.

In his speech Obama stated that, “All of us know what thosechallenges are today – a war with no end, a dependence on oil thatthreatens our future, schools where too many children aren`tlearning” (Obama 3). He uses this statement of fact to show thatindeed the USA has a problem.

Most of his audience will nod in agreement because they havewitnessed these problems firsthand. He goes further to state the factthat these problems are not static and that they prevail because theUSA lacks good leadership. He mentions that the founding fatherscreated a system that could be changed to carter for the needs of thecommon American, but then such a move will need the guidance of goodleadership.


In the context of this speech, Obama uses kairos just at the rightinstance. While talking about defeating impossibilities that havealways discouraged people from venturing out in the unknown, healludes to Abraham Lincoln who achieved a lot despite theodds.“That`s what Abraham Lincoln understood. He had his doubts. Hehad his defeats. He had his setbacks but through his will and hiswords, he moved a nation and helped free a people” (Obama 5). Obamauses Kairos in this instance because it is the right thing to say inorder to drive the point further home (Kelly et al 227).


The use of rhetorical techniques by the speaker is simply appalling.Obama makes sure to uses pathos, ethos, logos, and kairos in equalproportion. Analyzing the speech did not surprise me because Ialready knew that the speechwriter has published two books and hence,he is conversant with rhetorical techniques. The speech was appealingto me and it influenced my opinion of Obama. Had I been at thatparticular convention, I would have given him my vote immediatelyafter the convention.

Works Cited

Arnold, Vanessa Dean. &quotThe Importance of Pathos in PersuasiveAppeals.&quot Bulletin of the Association for BusinessCommunication 48.4 (1985): 26-27

Brydon, Steven Robert, and Michael D. Scott. Between one and many:The art and science of public speaking. New York: McGraw-Hill,2003

Kelly, Ashley Rose, Meagan Kittle Autry, and Brad Mehlenbacher.&quotConsidering Chronos and Kairos in Digital Media Rhetorics.&quotDigital Rhetoric and Global Literacies: Communication Modes andDigital Practices in the Networked World: Communication Modes andDigital Practices in the Networked World (2013): 227

McLaughlin, Terence. &quotThe educative importance of ethos.&quotBritish Journal of Educational Studies 53.3 (2005): 306-325

Obama Barrack. Campaign speech. The Guardian Feb. 2007. Web. AccessedSeptember 3, 2016,&lthttps://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/feb/10/barackobama&gt