The speech by John F. Kennedy after his election in 1960 is an outstanding example of a brilliant inaugural address. This genre of political discourse unites the audience in terms of a single nation and lists the traditional values. Thus, the orator should outline the connections between the past and the future and praise the institution of the presidency as well as the governmental model. Kennedy went to the polls, calling America to reach the new frontiers. His primary objective was to improve and stabilize the economy and restore the position of the United States in the Cold War. Therefore, in his inaugural message Kennedy outlines such words as freedom, peace, hope, trust, human rights, proudness, changes, and revolution. These words constitute the ideological core of his speech.
The victory of Barack Obama carried a significant element of surprise not only for the American society but also for the whole world. At the same time, it was an incredible achievement for all African Americans since the days of the civil rights movement. Obama’s life and career allowed them to feel equal to the rest of the Americans and hope for a better attitude in the future. Therefore, in his victory speech, Obama outlines the unity of all Americans and insists on the need to overcome racial and class barriers. He uses such opposite adjectives as young and old, rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight, disabled and not disabled to mention all categories of the population. Moreover, Obama, as well as Kennedy, uses his victory to show that America is ready for significant changes.
The speeches of both Obama and Kennedy belong to the epideictic or display rhetoric. According to Aristotle, this kind of rhetoric is often used for certain formal occasions and reflects essential historical events in the life of the people. Therefore, the orator uses the inspiring style of language and speech patterns as well as certain rhetorical techniques. However, in terms of display rhetoric both speeches have a number of differences. In contrast to the inaugural address, the victory speech is more emotionally intense since it is a candidate’s first reaction on the election results. While the inaugural address speaks about future perspectives to some extent, the winning speech does not carry any new information and focuses not on the content of speech but on the winner’s reaction. However, Obama and Kennedy’s speeches are interesting not only in terms of technique and style but also in terms of connection with the audience.
In public speeches, including the political ones, the concept of topoi plays a crucial role. Topoi or topics ensure acceptability and relevance of certain realities, events, persons to the public. In both speeches, there are a number of common topics. First, it is presidential gratitude to the voters. John Kennedy outlines that the role of the people in the implementation of the chosen course is incomparably higher than the role of the president. “In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course.” Barack Obama outlines that the victory is not so much his personal achievement, but the achievement of the whole country because America has chosen the first African-American as their president. “But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you. It belongs to you.”
The second common topic in both speeches is the consideration of national unity as an instrument for the successful solution of the future problems. Obama insists that “Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. I promise you, we as a people will get there.” Such words consider the people as the essential part of the presidential actions. “In your hands, my fellow citizens … will rest the final success or failure of our course” insists Kennedy. Both Presidents strongly associate themselves with the people using such pronouns as our, my and we. These words form a strong connection between the speaker and the audience and outline indivisibility of the personality of the president and the people in the struggle for a better future.
However, there are certain differences in the content due to the character of both speeches. In his inaugural address, Kennedy as the new president wants to inspire the audience for a better future and at the same time pay homage to ancestors’ achievements. The indirect manifestation of these achievements is the readiness to defend such national traditions as freedom and equality. Kennedy assures “the survival and the success of liberty.” At the same time, the purpose of victory speech is to summarize the campaign and its postulates and express gratitude to everyone who supported the presidential candidate. Thus, Obama pays significant attention to his own political history and members of his team. At the same time, both speakers outline the religious aspect of their victory as well as the position of religion in the history of America.
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The style of Kennedy’s speech contains numerous words with positive connotations and the modal verb “must.” The speaker also uses the adjective “every” to intensify the connection with public. America and Americans can be described as peaceful, responsible, conscious, and brave according to Kennedy. The speaker also uses parallel structures and reiterations to make certain claims especially memorable. “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.” To enhance the stylistic effect, Kennedy uses such hyperbolic constructions as “explore the stars,” “conquer the deserts,” and “tap the oceans.” Another crucial topic of his speech is a representation of the president as a strong-willed man and a courageous leader who knows how to take full responsibility. Kennedy outlines that he does not “shrink” but ready for the new challenges.