The Speech Progressives Wish Obama Would Give: FDR’s 1936 “ I welcome their hatred speech.” A Neo Aristotelian Analysis

While he stood at the Madison Square Garden podium on October 31, 1936, about to deliver a speech that some say is one of the greatest political speeches in United States history, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was angry. Angry not only towards his political opponents who were desperately using any tactic that might dethrone FDR in the 1936 presidential election but “almost angry” too at his supporters who applauded for fifteen minutes, preventing the president from beginning his speech.

Even though war was brewing in Europe. Even though the economy was still foundering. Even though unemployment figures reached the twenty percentile. Even though a conservative Supreme Court had attempted to derail the New Deal. Even though a major poll had predicted a landslide for his Republican opponent Alf Landon, most astute political observers predicted, even assumed, an FDR victory in the election that was to take place in a few days. Still, the president was angry.<P?
A Neo-Aristotelian criticism suggest that the rhetorican address the canons of Aristotle ethos, pathos and logos. FDR’s 1936 speech contains all of these elements and I will address all of these but as emotions, the emotions of the rhetor and the auditors, played such a large part in this speech, I will focus on pathos. I will look at how the rhetor’s projected anger motivated his auditors, potential voters who were to, days later, give FDR the largest landslide, in modern American history. I will also concentrate considerable analysis on how FDR’s style and delivery motivated his audience.
As President Barack Obama begins his presidential campaign—it should be noted that today’s presidential campaigns begin much earlier than in FDR’s era—he faces some of the same obstacles as FDR. In a sense, more obstacles. While the economic situation today is not nearly as dire as that of 1936, Obama, unlike FDR’s Democrats controlling both houses of Congress, faces the political gridlock of a Republican controlled House of Republicans and a Senate which under today’s rules require a sixty vote super majority to get anything passed. The Democratic caucus currently falls short of that majority by three votes and that is assuming that the so-called Blue Dog Democrats—conservative leaning Democrats, will vote the president’s way. Barack Obama has a multitude of reasons that he should be angry, at least as angry as FDR was in 1936. Some of that presumed anger might have been displayed in Obama’s speech before Congress on announcing his job’s bill and while there was a considerable urgency, the current president’s delivery fell far short of what was heard in FDR’s speech that progressives still wish Obama would give. Before looking at the FDR’s “I welcome their hatred” campaign speech of 1936, a brief background of the rhetor is in order.

“People just idolized him. The most astounding thing was the pictures of Roosevelt     you saw everywhere. Bus stations, libraries, barbershops, homes — there were pictures of Roosevelt. And the entire country decided he was the savior.” —Alistair Cooke, journalist.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on January 31, 1882 in “a place like no other” Hyde Park, New York on a “large, forested estate called Springwood” and “spent his childhood among people so unlike ordinary Americans they modeled themselves after the lords and ladies of England,” the PBS documentary on FDR begins, “…the world of wealth and privilege that FDR grew up with was one that was essentially very comfortable for everybody,” but especially for young Franklin as Springwood “was a beautiful, isolated place. It was its own world, and it was entirely built around this privileged little boy.” Virtually every detail of young Franklin’s childhood “was recorded with single-minded devotion by his mother Sarah Delano Roosevelt. She kept his baby clothes, every childish drawing, each golden curl.” Biographer Geoffrey Ward posits, “If it’s the job of a mother to make her child feel that he or she can do anything, then Sarah Delano Roosevelt was surely one of the great mothers in American history.” ( )
At 14, Franklin was sent to boarding school and then to Harvard University. While there, he fell in love with his distant cousin. “E is an angel.” FDR wrote in his diary. “E” was Eleanor Roosevelt, a woman, according to Doris Kearnes Goodwin, from the same social class as Franklin yet different in almost every other way. The daughter of an alcoholic father who deserted the family when she was six, Eleanor’s life, unlike the charmed childhood of Franklin, was a “series of losses.” Two years after her father left, Eleanor’s mother died. A year later, her brother died. Her drunken father died the following year. Doris Kearns Goodwin: “From the melancholy lives of both of her parents, Eleanor took away the feeling that love never lasts, that the world is a dark and forbidding place and that you never can count on anything.” ( ) Eleanor Roosevelt was to become not only one of the most celebrated First Ladies in American history but one of the most noteworthy figures in the Twentieth Century. Mrs. Roosevelt supplied FDR, in the view of many historians, with his “liberal conscience.”

Franklin and Eleanor married on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, 1905. He was 23, she was 20. At 28, largely because of the Roosevelt name recognition forged by his Republican cousin Theodore, FDR was invited to run for the New York State Senate. Although running in a traditional Republican district, FDR ran as a Democrat. The task would be “difficult,” according to Eleanor, no Democrat had won there in 32 years and FDR then was a “horrible speaker.” But, under the tutelage of Louis Howe, a seasoned political observer who was to become FDR’s most trusted advisor until his death in 1936—just before FDR was to official launch his re-election campaign—Roosevelt won.
After only two years in Albany, President Woodrow Wilson summoned FDR to Washington to become Assistant Secretary of the Navy. This phenomenal political rise was seemingly doomed in 1921 when FDR contracted polio, a disease that claimed the lives of twenty-five percent of those who contracted it. FDR’s mother, Sarah, decided that FDR would quit politics and return to Hyde Park where she would care for him. But Eleanor would have none of it. Eleanor would do something she had never done: confront Sarah. “You’re wrong and I’m not going to let this happen. He’s going to be able to get out of this house, he’s going to walk again, he’s going to get into politics, and I don’t care what you say.” FDR spent the next seven years just getting on his feet. Democratic presidential nominee Al Smith invited FDR, who had recently announced that he would run for Governor of New York, to speak at the 1928 Democratic National Convention and was able to walk to the podium. Six months later, Smith lost but FDR won his election as governor. Just as FDR political fortunes began to rise, the economic fortune of the country began to fall. On “Black Friday” October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed, an event that marked the beginning of the Great Depression. As the depression worsened in 1932, FDR became the Democratic nominee and was elected to the office, promising a “new deal for the forgotten man.” In Roosevelt’s first term, the president attempted to implement his “first New Deal.” Yet many of his efforts were repelled by a conservative Supreme Court that defended corporate interests. Still, the 1934 midterm election, which traditionally results in gains by the opposing party, resulted in a Democratic landslide in both the House and the Senate. But, as the election of 1936 loomed, FDR’s first New Deal was floundering. Despite this, perhaps primarily due to the weakness of his opponent Alf Landon, FDR’s re-election prospects were high. In the last months of the campaign, his corporate opponents became desperate. A conservative magazine published a bogus write-in poll predicting a Landon landslide and corporations began inserting messages in worker’s paychecks claiming that FDR’s social security program would be robbing the workers of their earnings. Under this scenario, FDR was to stand at the Madison Square podium and wait for fifteen minutes for the applause to subside so that he could begin. Remarkable, one might think, but perhaps even more remarkable was that this cripple—as people with his affliction were insensitively called in those pre-politcally correct days—could stand at all.

Although no video of the October 31st speech exists, a video of another similar 1936 speech is available. In this video, the grey haired, bespectacled “cripple” stands tall at the podium—a complaint press never published film or photographs that would reveal FDR’s handicap. Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and dark tie, FDR’s face displays a wry, good humor as he effectively rips the hypocrisy of his opponent. The audience laughs as FDR bobs his head back and forth sarcastically while describing how the Republicans claim that they can solve all the nation’s problems without spending any money. FDR extends his right arm several times as he makes his points then leans back as he finishes to the delight of his audience that responds with wild laughter and applause. Although this one minute clip cannot be extrapolated to interpret FDR’s entire October 31st speech, it does reveal one important face of the president’s style: FDR’s good humor and wry smile enabled him to effectively use sarcasm against his opponents without appearing mean-spirited.

Effectively using sarcasm is but one of the many facets of FDR’s delivery, there are many. Listening to the Madison Square Garden speech, the first thing that stands out to me is the presidents early twentieth century non-rhotic Aristocratic accent, one which pronounces again to rhyme with pain not pen. (Most American adults can instantly recall how Roosevelt pronounces fear as in “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” This typifies non-rhotic speech.) This upper class accent, a Wiki entry calls it a Mid-Atlantic blend of British and English, gives FDR a manner of speaking that insinuates considerable authority. The accent, popular in American films of the 1930s, has virtually disappeared as speakers of it such as George Plimpton, Katherine Hepburn and Norman Mailer have now passed away. When its few remaining speakers such as Gore Vidal pass on, it will be presumably gone forever.
FDR’s delivery in this speech might best be described as rhythmic legato: FDR maintains a steady, rhythmic pace until wanting to make an important point in which the rhetor elongates his vowels. And effectively pauses for wild applause. In all, the speech was interrupted by applause and sometimes mixed with derisive—derisive toward FDR opponents- booing, no less than 32 times. FDR’s pitch remains firmly in the baritone range and although FDR only varies the pitch slightly- lower his voice only slightly to connote gravity and slightly raising it to delivery irony or levity—it is in no way “monotone.” While FDR’s delivery style contributed vastly to the effectiveness of the speech. The next Neo-Aristotelian canon I’ll explore perhaps contributed even more.
According to Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice author Sonja Foss, “style” in a Neo-Aristotelian analysis refers to “the language of the speech.” The rhetorician analyzes symbols are arranged in larger units such as “sentences, figures of speech, images and so on” to “determine the general effect that results: common and ordinary, forceful and robust, or stately and ornate, for example.” Ironically, it could be argued that the FDR speech encapsulated all the aforementioned styles. If anything, it was forceful and robust while using common and ordinary language:

Tonight I call the roll–the roll of honor of those who stood with us in 1932 and still stand with us today.
Written on it are the names of millions who never had a chance –men at starvation wages, women in sweatshops, children at looms.
Written on it are the names of those who despaired, young men and young women for whom opportunity had become a will-o’-the-wisp.
Written on it are the names of farmers whose acres yielded only bitterness, business men whose books were portents of disaster, home owners who were faced with eviction, frugal citizens whose savings were insecure.
Written there in large letters are the names of countless other Americans of all parties and all faiths, Americans who had eyes to see and hearts to understand, whose consciences were burdened because too many of their fellows were burdened, who looked on these things four years ago and said, “This can be changed. We will change it.”
We still lead that army in 1936. They stood with us then because in 1932 they believed. They stand with us today because in 1936 they know. And with them stand millions of new recruits who have come to know.

This remarkable segment of the speech reads more like poetry than political speech with its repetitive use of “written on it are…” The rhetor paints touching images of despaired Americans toiling for slave wages in sweatshops and even children being subjected to harsh factory conditions. FDR makes it clear and in a poetic manner that this suffering does not only effect those that suffer it but to the collective conscience of all Americans: all those who have “eyes to see and hearts to understand.” But FDR does not wallow in despair. “This can be changed. We will change it.”

As I wrote, FDR speech could also be called “stately and ornate.” Ornate passages include the following as when Roosevelt spoke of the previous Hoover administration as “see-nothing and do-nothing,” that “for twelve years the Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge!” The case to prove the stately manner the rhetor’s style is difficult to make except to say that the entire speech is delivered in a stately way.

FDR again uses a technique of rhythmic repetition as he lists a multitude of campaign promises:

Of course we will continue to seek to improve working conditions for the workers of America–to reduce hours over-long, to increase wages that spell starvation, to end the labor of children, to wipe out sweatshops.

Of course we will continue every effort to end monopoly in business, to support collective bargaining, to stop unfair competition, to abolish dishonorable trade practices. For all these we have only just begun to fight.
Of course we will continue to work for cheaper electricity in the homes and on the farms of America, for better and cheaper transportation, for low interest rates…
For all these we have only just begun to fight.
Of course we will continue our efforts in behalf of the farmers of America…
For all these we have only just begun to fight.
Of course we will provide useful work for the needy unemployed; we prefer useful work to the pauperism of a dole.
Of course we will continue our efforts for young men and women so that they may obtain an education and an opportunity to put it to use.
Of course we will continue our help for the crippled, for the blind, for the mothers, our insurance for the unemployed, our security for the aged.
Of course we will continue to protect the consumer against unnecessary price spreads…
For these things, too, and for a multitude of others like them, we have only just begun to fight.

This segment of the speech was interrupted by wild, enthusiastic applause no less than twenty times. On at least two occasions, the audio of the applause was sustained for so long that it seems to have been clipped and edited out. FDR use of action verbs, “we will fight, we will abolish, we will work, we will persist…” obviously reached the auditors in the Madison Square Garden crowd and, apparently, potential voters listening on radio too as FDR won a landslide victory a few days after the speech, sweeping all save eight electoral votes. But as effective as FDR’s style was in presenting his objectives, his use of logos that preceded the promises may have been more significant. (Even more significant is  the use and impact of emotion but I will address that later.) With that in mind, I will address “Invention” the last of three Neo-Aristotelian canons that I will explore.  (In the interest of time, I will omit Memory and Organization.)

Invention, Sonja Foss writes, falls within “three categories: 1) logos or logical argument; 2) ethos or appeal of the rhetor’s character; and 3) pathos or emotional appeal. (26) FDR skillfully uses logos to bolster the credibility of his aforementioned campaign promises.  After lambasting business interests for waging a pay envelope campaign against him, (more on that later) the president begins to introduce his objectives by pointing out that he is not bitter and that he prefers “ to remember this campaign not as bitter but only as hard-fought.”   FDR follows with two aphorisms that few could logically dispute: “There should be no bitterness or hate where the sole thought is the welfare of the United States of America,” and “No man can occupy the office of President without realizing that he is President of all the people.” The rhetor continues to build a logical argument by making a statement that contains ethos and logos: “It is because I have sought to think in terms of the whole Nation that I am confident that today, just as four years ago, the people want more than promises.”  Of course, one thinks logically, people do not want empty campaign promises and, of course, FDR’s “vision for the future contains more than promises.”  FDR then sets up his “of course we will” list of objectives by stating, “This is our answer to those who, silent about their own plans, ask us to state our objectives.”   This last statement might appeal more to pathos than logos, outrage toward hypocrisy, which I will devote considerable time to exploring but first; I will take a relatively brief look at ethos.

As I stated earlier, FDR’s delivery effectively builds ethos but the rhetor does not depend solely on that, in fact, he begins to build ethos with his very first statement: “On the eve of a national election, it is well for us to stop for a moment and analyze calmly and without prejudice the effect on our Nation of a victory by either of the major political parties.”  Ironically, the president, purportedly seething with anger, assures his audience that he will calmly and objectively analyze the choice before the electorate. The rhetor seems to be saying, “I am just an impartial observer, detached to the outcome.” FDR further bolsters his character, by listing several accomplishments which he categorizes under a broad definition of peace: “I submit to you a record of peace.”  And not only should one buy into FDR because he is an impartial observer with a record of peace but, presumably, all people of good faith stand with him: “We still lead that army in 1936. They stood with us then because in 1932 they believed. They stand with us today because in 1936 they know. And with them stand millions of new recruits who have come to know.”    Again, the auditors must have believed as they came out droves to vote for him three days after this speech. (83 % turnout according to Davis) (647) Now I will spend considerable time analyzing the emotional appeal of this historic speech but, first, it behooves me to provide a bit more background.

As I stated earlier, most observers were confident of FDR’s re-election and, perhaps, because the election did seem likely, his opponents became desperate and resorted to Machiavellian tactics to try to defeat the president’s bid for a second term.  The president’s aggressive New Deal had not yet significantly improved the nation’s dire economic situation. A conservative Supreme Court, then as now, consisting of a solid cabal of four conservatives, thwarted FDR’s bolder initiatives. Also like today, FDR endured attacks from a demagogic radio personality, in this case, a Catholic priest: Father Charles E. Coughlin. (Father Coughlin had joined with Louisiana’s Huey Long to provide a consistent double barreled attack against FDR’s policies but on September 8, 1936, Long was assassinated, leaving Coughlin as the chief FDR detractor.)  In addition, having lost his trusted advisor Louis Howe who suffered an extended period of illness until he passed away on April 18, 1936, by mid-summer, according to FDR biographer Kenneth Davis, the president seemed disinterested on focusing on his re-election preferring to while away the summer sailing in his boat Suwanee. As well, the Hearst newspaper chain and most of the press attempted to bolster the campaign of Republican Alf Landon. (638) However, Landon proved to be an ineffective campaigner. According to Davis, Landon, whose “flat-voiced speeches and campaign style were falling flat upon his audience,” was desperate to find an “electrifying issue.” The Republican nominee decided that Social Security was the issue and condemned the program as “unjust, unworkable, stupidly drafted and wastefully financed” and “a cruel hoax.”  (He did not however, as Republican presidential Rick Perry has recently done, claim it was a Ponzi scheme.)  According to Davis, FDR’s opponents also is “a broad and gaudy smear of Roosevelt” charging that New Deal was “communistic.”  This tactic was not taking hold, however, as well into October; Roosevelt led comfortably in all the polls except the “absurdly flawed” Literary Digest write-in poll which predicted a Landon landslide. Desperate, the Republicans attacked the plan’s funding. “The most serious weakness of the Social Security Act,” Davis wrote, “was indeed its financing.” FDR had adamantly demanded that no general revenues were to be used to fund the program; instead, the plan depended on employer and employee contributions. Workers in industrials plants began receiving warnings in their pay envelopes that stated that the employers would be “compelled by a Roosevelt ‘New Deal’ law to deduct 1 percent from the worker’s paychecks.” Furthermore, the messages falsely claimed that the rate could go as high as 4 percent and none of these contributions would ever be returned to the workers. “Decide before November 3,” the messages warned “whether or not you want to take the chance” of your money ever to be returned to you.  On the weekend before the FDR speech, Landon spoke in St. Louis and called social security an “invitation to federal tyranny, destructive of personal liberty.” How, Landon wondered, was the government going to keep track of the people enrolled in the program?  Will they be photographed for “mug shots?” Will they be “fingerprinted’ and forced to “wear identification tags around their necks?” Davis wrote that the Hearst press, just prior to the election, printed pictures of the alleged dog tag on the front pages of its newspapers. (643)  According to Davis, the assault was timed to occur just before the election in order to make it difficult to strike back and that “anxious fears swept through Democratic campaign headquarters.” “It infuriated Franklin Roosevelt.”  Furthermore, although his aides were advising the president that he could carry every state in the Union, Roosevelt himself believed he would carry 325 electoral votes to Landon’s 206. However, according to Davis, “imponderables” remained.  No one knew what effect “the greatly amplified Republican lies” of the preceding 48 hours would have on the electorate. (645) Under the cloud of these allegations,  Roosevelt strode to the microphone on October 31, 1936 to deliver what Davis calls “one of the greatest speeches” in American political history. FDR “delivered his speech superbly, in wonderfully various and vibrant tones and with rhythms perfectly suited to the achievement of maximum dramatic effect.” (644)

Of all the aspects of this remarkable speech by an “infuriated FDR” to investigate,

emotion looms as the most interesting which brings us to my research question:

 How does a rhetor effectively employ emotion to motivate people to act?

As I wrote earlier, FDR’s establishment of ethos combined with his perceived good nature enabled him to viciously attack his opponents without appearing vicious.  The droll FDR was also able to use sarcasm without seeming to be sarcastic.   FDR began his speech by describing his opponents as “unscrupulous” and “over-zealous enemies” who are attempting to “smear” him and “mislead the American people.”   But the American people wanted only peace not smears. “They wanted peace of mind …instead of gnawing fear.” And they sought escape from the personal terror which had stalked them…” FDR then lists a litany of the kinds of peace that Americans desire.  He points out that, “wars and rumors of war” engulf the nation and the world.) In this segment, which speaks to FDR’s style as well as his use of pathos, the rhetor numerates a multitude of things the American people desire under a broad definition of peace:

Next, they wanted peace in the community, the peace that springs from the ability to meet the needs of community life: schools, playgrounds, parks, sanitation, highways–those things which are expected of solvent local government. They sought escape from disintegration and bankruptcy of local and state affairs. They also sought peace within the Nation: protection of their currency, fairer wages, the ending of long hours of toil, the abolition of child labor, the elimination of wild-cat speculation, the safety of their children from kidnappers…

Roosevelt ends this “peace” segment which, in reality, speaks to “peace of mind” by shifting to the literal meaning of peace: “And, finally, they sought peace with other Nations–peace in a world of unrest. The Nation knows that I hate war, (interrupted by wild sustained applause) and I know that the Nation hates war.”  FDR hates war. The people hate war. By inference, the people also hate all those other things that the rhetorical use of war (absence of peace) represents: insecurity, fear, guilt, hypocrisy, child abuse, greed, bitterness, despair.

Roosevelt continues using emotion in this speech—his detractors might call it a diatribe, which could be accurate had it been delivered in a less artful way by a less skillful speaker—as he calls the “roll of honor” and as previously discussed, he lists those who are included in this “roll.”  Here, FDR speaks of “despaired…children at looms,” farmers whose acres yielded only “bitterness,” “frugal insecure…citizens” and other citizens whose “consciences were burdened” because they had “eyes to see and hearts to understand.”   But this will be changed, “I will change it,” FDR confidently states, turning despair into hope.

As every syllable that FDR speaks drips with emotion, a master thesis would likely be required to analyze the entirety of it but, for now, I will mention the two most emotional elements of the speech: FDR’s pronouncement that he had only just began to fight, which I have already detailed in the discussion on style, and his riveting admonition welcoming the hatred of his corporate detractors.

After FDR calls the “roll of honor” with those “written on it” who are despaired and burdened, he reminds his audience that the  fight has been a struggle and will continue to be a struggle after which he launches into an attack on his opposition: “hear nothing, do nothing” government and their corporate backers. The despaired millions of which he spoke looked to the government for help but “the government looked away.”  Like a symphony building to a crescendo FDR slowly builds the intensity toward the emotional zenith of the speech:

Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent. For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

And who is it, besides the administration that was responsible? FDR calls them the “old enemies of peace,” referring, apparently, to the robber barons of the late nineteenth and early twenty century: “business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.”  FDR then reaches the climax.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.  Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me–and I welcome their hatred.

The audience at The Garden again erupted into wild, sustained applause.  Then FDR tells crowd that the forces of “selfishness and of lust for power met their match” and that he “should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.”  (Davis wrote that this last message was so powerful that FDR’s staff considered asking the president to walk it back, fearing that it might amplify the allegations that FDR wanted to be a dictator. Roosevelt refused.) (645) FDR then assures the nation metaphorically that what we today call lobbyists no longer hold a key to the White House. There is only one pass key to the highest office of government, he says, and that “pass-key” will securely remain in the president’s breast pocket.  The rhetor then launches into a pointed attack at those “lonely desperate men” who insert “propaganda” in workers’ pay envelopes.  Only “reckless men” would return to the old tactic of “class antagonism.”  The rhetor, after pointing out why these “attacks” are, indeed,  “deceits,”  expresses “indignation” at these smears but then confidently predicts that the  majority of Americans, employers and workers, will express the same indignation at the polls.  FDR later closes with one final emotional appeal:

That is why we need to say with the Prophet: “What doth the Lord require of thee—but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.” That is why the recovery we seek… is more than economic. In it are included justice and love and humility, not for ourselves as individuals alone, but for our Nation. That is the road to peace.

Throughout the speech, particularly in the segments that I have just detailed, the rhetor uses emotion to paint a picture of a people who have been abused (implicitly and explicitly by the corporate ruling class) and who are suffering. Unemployed people in breadlines suffer. People who are forced to work under unsafe and horrid condition for paltry wages suffer. Even those working people with a conscience who are doing relatively well suffer. All suffer except the greedy ones who are the primary cause of the suffering.  This message of despair is followed by one of hope. I can change it. I will change it.  But could this be an empty campaign promise? One could make that argument. But only if she or he ignored the passion, compassion, anger, urgency, forthrightness, determination, will and love in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s powerful delivery.  Yes, this is a speech for the ages and one that likely will never be forgotten as long as the history of the United States remains written but, as my titles suggests, is this the speech Barack Obama should give? Better yet, can he give it?

The literal answer, of course, is no. Obama’s style and delivery differ greatly from that of FDR and, although similar, the situation is different.  In Barack Obama’s recent “Jobs Bill” speech, the urgency in his voice delivered at least a modicum of passion that we heard in the FDR speech. However, having sold out and appeased his opponents as well as corporate interests so many times in the last four years, Obama would be out of character to suddenly declare that he is going to stand up and fight.  Still, we progressives would love to hear just a bit more anger and passion from the current president.  But the question still looms how should any rhetor use emotion to get people to act?  Three elements need to be in place.

First, the situation must call for it. If say, a president or, for that matter,  a member of a school board were asking voters to re-elect him or her,  times were good and everything was running smoothly, an argument containing merely ethos or logos could work. I have done a great job, just look at my record and how wonderful things are. Want more of the same? Re-elect me.  On the other hand, if times are desperate and people are despaired, a message to instill hope is likely needed.

Secondly, the rhetor must have established credibility.  If Roosevelt had not been standing up against corporate interests and fighting against a conservative Supreme Court, his message that he had just began to fight would have rang hollow.

Lastly, the auditors must possess within them emotions that may be manipulated into action. Those feelings could range from mild discontent to abject despair. People who are content cannot generally be moved to action.

These three principles are the minimum requirement for an impassioned call to action to achieve its desired result. Based on the evidence provided in this single speech, clearly, the rhetor must establish sufficient logos and ethos in order for an emotional appeal to be effective.  The speaker must possess sufficient skills in delivery otherwise, the appeal might be perceived as nothing more than  a laundry list of campaign promises or, worse yet, a diatribe or rant. In addition, the speechwriter must find the proper language to convey the message.

In preparing this , my first rhetorical analysis, I was given a choice to use a “classical” Neo-Aristotelian approach or “genre criticism.”  As a nascent rhetorician, I likely would have chosen the former in any case because, as, flawed as it may be, Neo-Aristotelian criticism forms the basis from which other modern forms of criticism flow. Without a doubt, this method is preferable to “genre criticism” if for no other reason than I had decided to analyze a single speech. That said, it would be interesting to compare this speech in a genre that might be called “eleventh hour campaign speeches.” (I remember having had the privilege of attending Al Gore’s final campaign speech on Miami Beach on the eve of the 2000 election which was literally delivered at the eleventh hour the night before the election.) The FDR speech would be an excellent artifact to analyze metaphorically.

For this paper, I was asked to seek out similar analyses on FDR’s speech but an extensive search yielded no results. In the class text, there is an excellent Neo-Aristotelian analysis of Richard Nixon’s “Vietnamization” speech and although the piece provided me with an excellent template for a political speech, there is nothing in particular in that analysis of a policy speech that is relevant to this analysis of a campaign speech. (Foss, 21)

In conclusion, it is clear that a skilled speaker, using the appropriate language, delivered in the appropriate manner to auditors who may be receptive to the message, can utilize emotions to motivate people to act. Of course, emotion alone can’t work without the other rhetorical devices of style, invention and delivery being in place as well.  The above analyzed artifact may provide the perfect template for any rhetor who desires the best rhetorical tone, style and delivery to get people to act.

Postscript: As I put the finishing touches on this analysis, Barack Obama has, according to the pundits, come out swinging in a speech today (September 19th, 2011) on the deficit proposing middle class tax cuts to be financed by tax increases on the wealthiest Americans. According to Robert Reich appearing on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, the “new” Obama was “feisty” and even sarcastic making fun of Speaker John Boehner. Reich, who in recent days, has been very critical of Obama, says that Obama has painted Republicans into a corner. Referring to the no-tax increase that Republicans are forced to sign, Obama reportedly said the only pledge that counts is the one to uphold the Constitution. (Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell)

— H. Nicole Anderson San Lorenzo


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