Monday, July 6, 2009

On The Fourth Of July

Speech By: President Barack Obama
Title: On the Fourth of July, Overcoming America’s Challenges
Date: July 4, 2009
The White House
Occasion: Weekly Message - Independence Day
Length (words): 746
Video Posted:

President Obama is a particularly gifted orator. No matter how you view his policies, he has a gift for oratory few can match. It was said of the actor Orson Welles, that he had the ability to read from the telephone directory, and make it sound exciting. The President might well be counted in such company.

But good material helps. So, in honor of this past weekend’s festivities, let’s take a look at the President’s Fourth of July address to the American people.

It’s traditional for the President to recognize important national holidays, particularly one of historic significance like Independence Day, then use the occasion to promote the administration’s agenda. This does not fail that tradition.

The first task of any speech is to establish a shared identity with the audience. This is a theme we will refer to in almost every speech we examine. He starts by wishing everyone a happy fourth of July, and talks about how it’s a chance for family and friends to get together - things most Americans will identify with.

He then goes on to talk about how the American Revolution succeeded against long odds - “that a small band of patriots would declare independence from a powerful empire;” A style note - For the most part, the word “that” is to effective writing, what the phrase “you know” is to effective conversation - it detracts. I usually go through a speech and remove the word “that” from about 90% of the places it appears. Here, it is used twice more in succession to emphasize points. Repeating a specific word or phrase to help the audience recognize each new point the speaker makes, is an effective speech technique. Here, it might work.

But then a new repetitive phrase “It is what,” is introduced. Frankly, this is a far better repetitive phrase. I would edit out that.

Speaking of over-used repetition, he begins sentences with “And” seven times. Some claim you shouldn’t ever start a sentence with the word “And” - usually those folks who also claim you can’t end a sentence with a preposition - another “rule” that isn’t true. Nothing in English grammar forbids either, but both can be employed too often. In this case, that frequency, seven times in a work with only 43 sentences - is too often.

He makes a pitch for his administration’s policy priorities, and then turns to confront “the naysayers” who oppose those policies. He never defines exactly who those naysayers are, and that’s perfectly fine for two reasons - it allows the audience to define in their own minds who the opposition might be, and it denies any specific person or group, the chance to rebut the President’s contention or attack his policies.

It also reinforces the shared identity with the audience “We versus they” - especially when “they” is amorphous - is always a good technique.

In the end, I hope you all took the President’s most sage advice - to kick back and enjoy the holiday weekend.

From the Bully Pulpit - Tom

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address

The White House

July 4, 2009

Hello and Happy Fourth of July, everybody. This weekend is a time to get together with family and friends, kick back, and enjoy a little time off. And I hope that’s exactly what all of you do. But I also want to take a moment today to reflect on what I believe is the meaning of this distinctly American holiday.

Today, we are called to remember not only the day our country was born – we are also called to remember the indomitable spirit of the first American citizens who made that day possible.

We are called to remember how unlikely it was that our American experiment would succeed at all; that a small band of patriots would declare independence from a powerful empire; and that they would form, in the new world, what the old world had never known – a government of, by, and for the people.

That unyielding spirit is what defines us as Americans. It is what led generations of pioneers to blaze a westward trail.

It is what led my grandparents’ generation to persevere in the face of a Depression and triumph in the face of tyranny.

It is what led generations of American workers to build an industrial economy unrivalled around the world.

It is what has always led us, as a people, not to wilt or cower at a difficult moment, but to face down any trial and rise to any challenge, understanding that each of us has a hand in writing America’s destiny.

That is the spirit we are called to show once more. We are facing an array of challenges on a scale unseen in our time. We are waging two wars. We are battling a deep recession. And our economy – and our nation itself – are endangered by festering problems we have kicked down the road for far too long: spiraling health care costs; inadequate schools; and a dependence on foreign oil.

Meeting these extraordinary challenges will require an extraordinary effort on the part of every American. And that is an effort we cannot defer any longer.

Now is the time to lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity. Now is the time to revamp our education system, demand more from teachers, parents, and students alike, and build schools that prepare every child in America to outcompete any worker in the world.

Now is the time to reform an unsustainable health care system that is imposing crushing costs on families, businesses, large and small, and state and federal budgets. We need to protect what works, fix what’s broken, and bring down costs for all Americans. No more talk. No more delay. Health care reform must happen this year.

And now is the time to meet our energy challenge – one of the greatest challenges we have ever confronted as a people or as a planet. For the sake of our economy and our children, we must build on the historic bill passed by the House of Representatives, and make clean energy the profitable kind of energy so that we can end our dependence on foreign oil and reclaim America’s future.

These are some of the challenges that our generation has been called to meet. And yet, there are those who would have us try what has already failed; who would defend the status quo. They argue that our health care system is fine the way it is and that a clean energy economy can wait. They say we are trying to do too much, that we are moving too quickly, and that we all ought to just take a deep breath and scale back our goals.

These naysayers have short memories. They forget that we, as a people, did not get here by standing pat in a time of change. We did not get here by doing what was easy. That is not how a cluster of 13 colonies became the United States of America.

We are not a people who fear the future. We are a people who make it. And on this July 4th, we need to summon that spirit once more. We need to summon the same spirit that inhabited Independence Hall two hundred and thirty-three years ago today.

That is how this generation of Americans will make its mark on history. That is how we will make the most of this extraordinary moment. And that is how we will write the next chapter in the great American story. Thank you, and Happy Fourth of July.

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

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