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Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Obama's Recourse to Logos in the Face of Nuclear Night

As a rhetorician I have been especially impressed with Obama's recourse to consummately logical argumentation. One could profitably teach today's speech at American University as a model of Aristotelian logos in political speech (and one that goes on to thematize logos in politics as it performs it -- lovely!) in an undergraduate course on public argument. When people speak of Obama's soaring rhetoric -- which we will all miss in a Hillary Clinton administration, these are not her strengths -- we tend to mean his compelling frames, memorable phrasemaking, poetic flights, and subtle spinning. There is some of that in today's remarks on the nuclear deal at American University (the citations of Kennedy and Reagan not least) -- but as in his earlier presser on the Deal a few weeks ago, this speech is one that counts on the compelling force of logical and evidentiary argument. It seems to be the seriousness of the topic that calls forth the emphasis on Aristotelian logos. I consider Obama's argument absolutely compelling and recommend it for that reason, but as a model of high-stakes political argument that does not emphasize pathos appeals in the usual manner these days ("stridency" in the President's parlance today), I recommend it again for that reason. I recommend it because this faith in logos in distress is an underappreciated dimension of the substance of Obama's original campaign slogan: Hope.

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