Linked here is a transcript from a speech made by the, then, Senator of Illinois, Barack Obama. In the speech, Obama utilizes several rhetorical techniques to create a marxist ideological critique of the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq. He makes use of repetitious, memorable quotes to enhance his argument, as well as draws upon historical precedents to balance his claims. His use of language reflects the audience to which he is addressing his concerns as well. Given that the speech is political in nature, he delivers it with the rhetorical tactics of a politician. He is addressing a group of constituents and media representatives in the hopes of dissuading the American public from supporting the war.
The tenants of Marxist critique, outlined by scholars Roderick P. Hart and Suzanne M. Daughton, are comprised mainly of an analysis focusing on the justifications for marginalization by those in power. These justifications can take several forms and appeal to several fields, including religious, educational, political, financial, patriotic, and bureaucratic. Marxist ideological critics tend to be repetitious and tendentious. They identify material conditions and realities constructed by rhetors in power, focusing on the hierarchy of privileged and marginalized values and how these values maintain or deconstruct the status quo. In short, they ask a lot of hard-hitting questions. For these reasons, I believe Obama is creating a marxist ideological criticism in this speech, as he employs many of the tactics that fall into this realm of criticism.
Firstly, he reinforces ethos of the self by identifying his American roots and support for our armed forces. He is quick to point out that his speech doesn’t identify as anti-war, or that he isn’t against warfare overall. I would infer that he aims to avoid the taboo labels and illegitimacy that some anti-war rhetors possess. Further, because America is a warring nation, he feels the need to justify his opposition in a particular case.
Let me begin by saying that although this has been billed as an anti-war rally, I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances. The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in history, and yet it was only through the crucible of the sword, the sacrifice of multitudes, that we could begin to perfect this union, and drive the scourge of slavery from our soil. I don’t oppose all wars.
This is a marxist tactic used to create a sense of identity and oneness with the rhetor’s audience, and Obama employs it frequently. The theme of “opposition” is used often throughout his speech, and he repeats the phrase “I don’t oppose all wars” three times within the first few minutes. A further sense of ethos is developed as he states,” I don’t oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism”, which serves to reinforce his support for the American armed forces.
The critique of power figures appears several minutes into the speech, when Obama begins to discuss his views on the Iraq war. What perplexed me was the avoidance of common political rhetoric or even diplomatic phrasing, when he labeled the Bush Administration’s actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. “What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war.” By attacking the intellectual justifications, or lack thereof, in the administration’s decision, he has created an image of an inept leadership bent on serving selfish and political interests outside the American public’s knowledge.
What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne. What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income — to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression. That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.
After giving his audience a mixture of personal and justified criticisms of the administration, he continues on to offer his opinion on the perceived enemy, somewhat offering his opposition an olive branch.
I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity. He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.
The aim of this statement is to reel in support from those who perceive the US government to have good intentions. Few would disagree with Obama’s assessment of Saddam Hussein, however he quickly turns his gaze back to the administration and how he would prefer to see the conflict resolved.
You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to wean ourselves off Middle East oil, through an energy policy that doesn’t simply serve the interests of Exxon and Mobil.
He concludes by offering his own preference for armed retribution for the September 11th attacks. By doing this, he utilized his marxist criticism of the Bush Administration and conjured a rhetorical image of action that will lead to justice and peace.
We may have occasion in our lifetime to once again rise up in defense of our freedom, and pay the wages of war. But we ought not — we will not — travel down that hellish path blindly. Nor should we allow those who would march off and pay the ultimate sacrifice, who would prove the full measure of devotion with their blood, to make such an awful sacrifice in vain.