Presidential Persuasion

Obama's speech a model of persuasion
Obama’s Speech A Model of Persuasion

In CNN’s article, Obama’s Speech A Model of Persuasion, writer David Kusnet broke down President Obama’s speech about the change in his military policy towards Syria on September 10, 2013. He focused on the different persuasion tactics Obama used to convince the American public that his policy was the right choice for America. Kusnet picked out seven specific tactics and referenced the parts of the President’s speech when those tactics were used. The seven tactics Kusnet found Obama using are the following: identifying with the audience, telling a story, bringing it home, invoking the American system, answering questions, offering hopeful news, and appealing to American patriotism.

According to the article, days prior to the speech as much as two-third of Americans were against military action in Syria. Afterwards, those polled who watched the speech, 61% were in favor of military action. “The poll suggests that he did what presidents rarely do: change people’s minds, if only temporarily,” wrote Kusnet. It appears that President Obama’s persuasive methods were very effective on the audience that viewed his speech.

Overall I thought the article was well written and succinctly backed up each persuasion device Kusnet noticed Obama use. I thought each point was well back up except for the first one, were he claimed Obama identified with is audience. He said that Obama’s statements of “resisted calls for military action” and “Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people” were identifying himself with the audience. That is not immediately obvious to me especially since the vast majority of us cannot relate to being gassed or the military requesting us for action. I think a better choice from Obama’s speech to back up Kusnet’s point of the President identifying with his audience would have been, “On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons.” When he says “the world” he is referring us as well as himself feeling the same thing from viewing the tragic images and video that came out of Syria at that time.

The second persuasion device Obama used that Kusnet pointed out was story telling. I absolutely agree that the President used story telling in his speech, especially talking about how U.S. soldier died from being gassed during WWI. Use that device is very effective. Telling a great story transports people imaginations into the place you want them to be. According to research, people who are highly engaged in a story a less likely to notice false information and more favorable response (Green, 2000). By taking people to a moment American suffered from poisonous gas Obama as able to relate more to those who are suffering from the same thing in another country.

The next persuasion tactic used by Obama in his speech Kusnet called “bringing it home.” Though Obama’s story was a good one and helps make the suffering of others more related able by mentioning American soldiers in WWI, it was an event that happened a long time ago. With no one alive that experience that war, the President brought it home by bringing up the possibility of our current soldiers suffering the same fate. By making that connection Obama raised the concerns of his audience about our current soldiers.

Invoking the American system is another tool Kusnet pointed out that Obama leverages in his speech. Though not an official form of persuasion, it can be used to persuade people to join his side. By invoking the American system, Obama is likely get more people on board with his method of waiting on congress before he makes any actions. The American people like want to see their government collaborate with one another rather than fight each other (O’Conner, 2014). Obama appeals to that sentiment by saying he will wait on congress which is more likely to get Republicans to agree with new position on Syria.

Being president of the United States, Obama will naturally have lots of critics and people questioning his positions and decisions. People in the media accused Obama of being on a slippery slope that could end up bing a full on war in reference to helping the people of Syria. He showed his opponents that he understands their worries and addressed them. I thought this was a very effective persuasive method he used in getting people to feel more comfortable about interfering with the problems in Syria.
Kusnet also points out that Obama used what he called “offering hopeful news.” I didn’t see how the news of Russia proposing to put pressure on Syria was exactly that helpful and persuasive. Especially given our history with Russia as being complex and frequently not very cooperative. I think Kusnet was reaching on this point a bit. This would only be positive people who care deeply about having foreign countries involved in our international diplacy decisions.

That last persuasive tactic that Kusnet writes that Obama use in his speech is appealing to American patriotism. The President concluded his speech by saying “that’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.” This is a strong use of pathos appeal to his audience’s emotions to sway them in his favor. Using pathos triggers an emotional response from the audience such as happiness or fear(Higgins, 2012). Since most American’s take a lot of pride in the values they hold, using pathos is an extremely effective means of persuading American people.

David Kusnet’s article broke down Obama’s use of persuasive devices for his speech to persuade the American people to support his desire to help the people of Syria. Though I agreed with most of his points, a couple of them I thought were reaching.

Citations

Green, M., & Brock, T. (2000). The Role Of Transportation In The Persuasiveness Of Public Narratives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 79(5), 701-721.

Higgins, C., & Walker, R. (2012). Ethos, logos, pathos: Strategies of persuasion in social/environmental reports. Accounting Forum, Volume 36(Issue 3), 194-208.

Kusnet, D. (2013, September 11). Opinion: Obama’s speech a model of persuasion – CNN.com. Retrieved March 20, 2015, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/11/opinion/kusnet-syria-obama-speech/index.html

O’Connor, P. (2014, November 19). Poll Finds Americans Want Parties to Work Together. Retrieved March 20, 2015, from http://www.wsj.com/articles/wsj-nbc-poll-finds-americans-want-parties-to-work-together-1416439838

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