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A Rhetoric Analysis of Barack Obama’s Speech “The Perfect Union” Essay

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Updated: Aug 5th, 2021

“The Perfect Union” was a speech delivered by Obama in 2008. The speech has elicited argumentative debates among people. Obama’s speech is criticized for having rhetoric statements and sensitive topics that no one would dare talk about. This essay provides an argumentative rhetoric analysis of Barack Obama’s speech – “The Perfect Union”.

The Audience

In his speech, Obama is very conscious and aware of his audience. His primary target audience is the American population and especially the voters. After addressing the entire American population, he goes further and splits his audience into different groups.

The second group that he addresses is the White Americans. In his speech, he lets them know that there are racial wounds that continued to affect them and many generations. Obama cautiously addresses the challenge of racial discrimination, making sure he does not cause more pain or divide people further through race. However, he does not shy away to put his point across and make his stand known.

Thirdly, Obama addresses the black Americans. As a matter of fact, he is aware that people see him as a black American. Therefore, the people are keen to see how he handles the issue of race.

His message for them does not show any favoritism of race. He notes that, ‘a similar anger exists within the segments of the white community’ (Obama Par. 35). While addressing them, he explains at length that there existed a general feeling among the white when the blacks got better services. The feeling was that of paying for mistakes they did not commit.

Obama shows his wealth of knowledge on the issue that affects people of America. He selects his words carefully while addressing racism that has for many decades affected American people He crafts his speech to be convincing and instead of the issue of race eliciting pain, this time it soothes. The audience is rather calm and does not elicit any aggressive emotions. This is a clear demonstration that he knew his audience well and their needs.

Obama then makes his point clear, aiming to give a solution to the challenges faced by the people of America. He cautions the American people from thinking that forgetting about racism would solved the problem.

The message contained in his speech is that of peace and unity. He wants them to learn to live with one another and appreciate differences in race. Obama ensures that he has addressed the two groups equally so that he unites them together as one people and one audience. He further discusses at length the importance for Americans to speak in one voice and work together in unity.

Rhetorical Fallacies

In his speech, ‘A More perfect Union’ Obama’s opening statements reveals the purpose the speech intended to meet. Obama obtains his first statement from the United States Constitution, ‘We the people, in order to create a perfect union’ (Obama par. 1.). These words reframe and capture the rationale of the Constitution.

Obama employs three rhetoric strategies in his speech. His speech rest upon: emotional, ethical and logical fallacies. He identifies himself with his audience persuasion. The famous quotes he derives from the constitution, makes even those who do not know the constitution, feel the importance of messages communicated (Stoner & Perkins 93).

His audience is aware of racism and Obama speaks of what has generally been unspoken. He achieves his philosophies by speaking facts, about his biological, intellectual and cultural life. The senator speaks about his background and does not deny his race; however, he does not bring it up in the speech (Ifill 54). Burke notes that, Senator Obama accomplishes his speech through, body language, variation of tones and gestures (78).

In his speech, Obama criticizes Americans’ old stain of slavery. He praises the constitution though uncompleted and assures his audience that the solutions to their problems were in the constitution. According to the senator, the constitution has stains due to nation’s original sin of slavery (Obama par.3), ‘…and the underlying roots of inequality and division in America’ (3).

Obama feels that the constitution provided ‘the answer to the slavery question… ‘a Constitution that promised people liberty and justice a lie that he says has been perfected over time’(4). He continues to add that the promises made on the paper were unaccomplished. Towards the end of his speech, Obama tells a story about Ashley. ‘ I am here because of Ashley’ (59). He uses this compelling and appealing approach of a moving and memorable story to seek sympathy from the voters.

Obama also uses repetition as a rhetoric approach to persuade his supporters. In his speech Paragraph 45, he pleads with his audience not to accept to be divided along their areas of weakness. In his entire speech, there is a constant repetition of the word race. In paragraph 26, he identifies race as a problem in the American society.

He says ‘But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now (Obama para. 26). In paragraph 45, he believes that the nation could deal with race by assuring his listeners and saying ‘We can tackle race only as spectacle (45). Other preceding paragraphs also explain the evils caused by racism. This, he uses to express his disapproval of racism in America and encourages people to live and work together to solve challenges created by racism

Obama uses various strategies to connect with the targeted audience. His persuasive appeal proves he is a successful writer and a speaker. His unquestionable ability to move and convince his audience using compelling and sufficient evidence like the constitution, his pastor and his family leaves one fully convinced.

Obama expresses a sense of disappointment over what he calls the ‘unfinished’ document. Actually, he uses a tone of deep disappointments to disapprove slavery (Obama Para. 6.). In fact, an ironical tone is felt when he says slave trade continued for decades and the burden left for to the generation to come. Therefore, his ability to pass his intended information using the application of different stylistic devices is achieved.

Obama changes his tone and uses direct tone. He says..‘I believe deeply we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve the together’ (Obama para. 6.) There is directness in his speech, which continues with to the end, he makes unity a constant remainder in the rest of the speech.

In his speech, Obama sets to give assurance and hope to his supporters. He uses encouraging words like ‘we can do that’ (46), ‘We can tackle race only as spectacle….’ (45) and ‘we can come together and say, “Not this time.”’ (48). By the end of the speech, it is clear where he derives his campaign slogan ‘Yes we can’ and what it meant to all Americans.


This extensive argumentative analysis has revealed that Obama used different rhetorical elements to talk cautiously about a topic on race that many would not dare to discuss. As a matter of fact, Obama’s ability to give a complex and a convincing speech is evident. From the analysis, we can conclude that, Obama is a successful writer and speaker who knew his audience needs. He employed the use of different figures in speech and stylistic devices to pass sound messages to people without any incidents.

Works Cited

Burke, Kenneth. (1966). Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: University of California Press. Print.

Ifill, Gwen. (2009). The breakthrough: Politics and race in the age of Obama. New York: Doubleday. Print.

Obama, Barack. (2010).. Web.

Stoner, Mark. & Perkins, Sally. (2005). Making Sense of Messages: A Critical Apprenticeship in Rhetorical Criticism. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Print.

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Further Study: FAQ

📌 What are the rhetorical devices in A More Perfect Union speech?

In A More Perfect Union, Barak Obama incorporated numerous rhetorical devices, with the most prominent being allusion and enumeration. He also uses analogy, direct address, repetition, rhetorical questions, figurative speech, and parallelism.

📌 Why did Barack Obama’s A More Perfect Union speech work?

The A More Perfect Union speech worked because Barak Obama addressed relevant subjects, including inequality and racial tensions, with confidence and clarity. He used appropriate rhetorical devices to make his public speaking more persuasive and memorable.

📌 What is Barack Obama’s speech style?

Barak Obama’s speaking is persuasive and comprehensive. He is authoritative, yet you feel as if he is one of the public. He uses an uplifting voice and doesn’t hesitate to show his human side.

📌 What is A More Perfect Union speech summary?

A More Perfect Union is about racial prejudices and tensions that were particularly apparent at the time. Barak Obama expressed his concerns and explained that the only way to end racial inequality and injustice in the country is to believe that everyone has the power to do so.

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