How does a president advocate an idea to the general public, when a faction of his Congress is rallying against him? Barack Obama had to do just that on October 1st, 2013, the day the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” came into being. On that same day, a faction of Congress known as the Tea Party initiated a movement within the Republican party in protest of the new law–by voting to defund the government and in essence “shut down” the entire system. In this speech, President Obama attempts to both reiterate the value of his health care plan and to denounce the actions of the Republican Party.
The Affordable Care Act has been a trademark of the Obama administration since the time the president first campaigned. He has always been a strong advocate for universal healthcare, and it was one of his main goals and projects upon becoming president. During the first four years of his presidency, Obama had been working to finalize this plan, and after he was reelected, it was finally time to instate it. Republicans have shown outward hostility toward what they termed “Obamacare,” ever since Obama suggested it as a democratic candidate. They’ve accused him of being a “socialist,” and have remained convinced that the health care plan was bound to fail. For many, Republican and Democrat, the Affordable Care Act has become intrinsically linked to Obama’s presidency, for better or worse. And this why, strategically, the Republicans targeted the Affordable Care Act. In doing so, they not only attack one of the least popular policies among Republicans, but they degrade the entirety of the Obama administration in the process.
The speech Obama had planned to make on October 1st was one originally meant to acknowledge and celebrate the commencement of the Affordable Care Act. Instead, he learned that the Republicans were planning to shut down the government on the same day, and as the president, he would naturally need to address this issue. However, the Affordable Care Act was still going to be launched, which meant that during his speech, Obama now had to focus on acclaiming it and addressing the government shutdown. The speech begins on the topic of the problem of the government shutdown, then switches into a passage about the value of the Affordable Care Act, before circling back to reiterate the unnecessariness of the shutdown once again. In this rhetorical analysis I will focus first on the president’s use of language first as he addresses the government shutdown, and then later as he reaffirms the advantages of the Affordable Care Act.
Obama opens his speech up by immediately diving straight into the problem of the government shutdown. After a very brief descriptions of what the Republicans in Congress had done that morning, he states that “This Republican shut down did not have to happen, but I want every American to understand why it did happen.” The use of the word “Republican” as the description of “shutdown” is significant, as it emphasizes the fact that the shutdown was caused by the Republican party. This is a very strategic use of language, especially since this speech is one of the first to address the issue of the shutdown. Immediately, the people listening to the speech are learning to associate it with the Republican party, and later we’ll see, with economic disfunction.
The main rhetorical device Obama uses to incriminate the Republican party is logos. In other words, he uses logic to point out the lack of logic in the Tea Party’s actions. As he states, “the irony that the House Republicans have to contend with is they’ve shut down a whole bunch of parts of the government, but the Affordable Care Act is still open for business. And this may be why you’ve got many Republican governors and senators and even a growing number of reasonable Republican congressmen who are telling the extreme right of their party to knock it off, pass a budget, move on.” Pointing out that there are Republicans who are against what their own party is doing really makes the faction causing the shutdown seem ridiculous. It also makes Republican citizens question their own party, because if the people who they support aren’t supporting each other, who’s to say if the Tea Party is doing the right thing? President Obama goes on to list the ways in which shutting the government down endangers the US economy, puts millions of people out of work, and puts government institutions meant to improve the lives of its citizens on hold. He mentions how the Republicans’ stated “goal” of the shutdown was to do away with the Affordable Care Act, but that shutting down the government doesn’t actually do anything to accomplish this. And this leaves Americans to wonder: Why didn’t Congress simply reject the Affordable Care Act when it was still a bill which needed their approval? Isn’t that their job? In essence, what Obama is trying to prove through facts is what the Tea Party has done does not make sense, and citizens should not support it.
In this segment in particular, Obama’s audience consists of more than the American people, even if that is who he is addressing directly. It’s also targeted at those watching in different countries, and to Congress as well. Obama stresses in the beginning of his speech that it is a faction that is causing this huge commotion. A faction. In other words, if someone is watching from another country, he wants them to know that most Americans support a reaction such as this. He makes it clear towards the closing that it’s not responsible or mature for the Republican Congressmen to act this way: “That’s not how adults operate. Certainly, that’s not how our government should operate.” To the Republican Congressmen, he states that he will not negotiate with them because of how absurd they’re being, saying “I’m not going to allow anybody to drag the good name of the United States of America through the mud just to refight a settled election or extract ideological demands. Nobody gets to hurt our economy and millions of hardworking families over a law you don’t like.” He wants the Republicans to understand that this is their mess that they’ve created, and now they have to clean it up. He knows that many of them don’t agree with him, which is why he used logos more than pathos or ethos. Facts and logic are hard to argue, and using them in the way Obama has makes it easy to expose the lack of logic behind the Tea Party’s actions. Throughout this section of the speech, Obama talks in a professional, even tone, which contrasts once again with the implied ridiculousness of Congress Republicans. It makes him easier to believe when he is reacting so calmly and confidently–almost like a teacher making an example of a misbehaving student.
In the second part of his speech, the president uses pathos and logos in order to stress the value of the Affordable Care Act. He tells three stories about women who haven’t been able to get health insurance, and how it’s been negatively affecting their life. He then broadens this statement to include all Americans who have struggled without health insurance, and will now be able to get health insurance. This is an emotional appeal to anyone who has ever been without health insurance or cared about who doesn’t have health insurance. The stories he tells of those who struggled are meant to tug on the audience’s heart strings, making us feel sympathy for those who live in poverty and can’t keep themselves healthy because of it. In contrast, it invokes relief, knowing that anyone who needs health insurance is able to have it. He then uses logic in the form of statistics to rebut negative assertions about the Affordable Care Act made by Republicans. And throughout this section of his speech, President Obama puts more emotion into his voice, implying that he is excited about the new law, and that his audience should be as well.
No conclusion yet.