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Analysis on Clinton’s Rhetoric in Inaugural Address Essay

On January 21st, 1993, Bill Clinton spoke to America on what they could expect of his term as president. In his inaugural address, he motivated a nation using multiple forms of rhetoric. Although later scandal shattered his ethos, during his inaugural address his ethos is strong demonstrated by references to previous presidents and a confident tone. He also exploits a significant amount of logos, referring to the struggles of the people at the time with various things such as communism, the depression, and fascism. His kairos on discussing these issues is excellent, while the matters were still relevant yet not too much of a threat to frighten people. He also employs logic or logos by demonstrating with artistic appeals that he was the correct choice. Clinton’s inaugural address spoke to the people and made them feel confident by using logos, ethos, pathos, and kairos. Ethos is the Greek word for character, and in English means how credible one or how reliable their character is (book).

Clinton addresses this issue multiple times throughout his speech. To win the presidential election one must command the trust of many, Clinton restates this fact and thanks the people for electing him (par. 37) saying that they, by voting, have sprung a positive change onto America. He illustrates that the position he is in requires significant ethos to acquire, and therefore he should be trusted. He then further states that he alone is incapable of alone, and will need the help of not only congress, but also the American people to change the nation (par. 38). He has an understanding that the president’s power is limited, and relies heavily on the support of other factions of government (i.e. congress, house of representatives etc…). By reiterating his knowledge of the amount of checks and balances in place and his duty to serve the people, he builds upon his ethos. He also develops his ethos by using various references to past prominent political figures. He draws parallels to himself and George Washington (par. 11), and also references a belief of Thomas Jefferson’s (par. 18).

By comparing himself to such postitive and credible figures he progresses towards people viewing him with the same regards. He compounds his ethos by using a form of logos called artistic appeals. These are appeals that are made through reasoning and logic as opposed to inartistic appeals that are made through data and statistics. His first artistic appeal concerns change. He cites recent how communication is much easier, allowing the world to become global. He also speaks on how technology has change so rapidly that it is “almost magical (par. 12)”. He then digresses onto how we need to embrace this change and make it our friend. Stating how the economy is poor and there are hungry jobless people, he comes full circle and say we have not embraced the change, and he will lead America flourish with the change. Clinton later asserts that although times are hard, Americans have a history of persevering through crises from the revolution to The Great Depression (par. 8); and that the determination that led us through the horrors of our past will guide us through our pains in the present.

Although Clinton’s logic behind his artistic appeal may be shaky, it is phrased in such a way that it motivates. His artistic appeals are the link in his speech between all of the other types of rhetoric. Although Clinton uses many different forms of rhetoric throughout his speech, the most convincing and abundant form is pathos. In his opening he alludes and appeals to the listeners sense of capitalism by referencing the founding fathers view of a bold declaration of independence with the backing of God (par. 42). By orientating the greatness and boldness of America with the will of God, he brings positive emotions to the surface. Clinton also states the nation’s need for each individual to rely on each other, because no one man can change a country alone (par. 38). He unifies the country with these words, by exemplifying the countries interdependence on each individual. Also, he discusses change in an anthropomorphic way, stating that we must make change or friend (par. 13).

By comparing how we adapt to change in technology to how one develops friends or enemies, he draws on listeners past experiences and emotions in dealing with people. This appeal is designed to suggest that each individual has the choice on whether or not change will be his or her friend, making the listener feel the need to embrace change as Clinton has stated. He draws on a sense of nationalism in his speech by giving the democratic government of the United States an enormous compliment by stating “Our democracy must be not only the envy of the world but the engine of our own renewal (par. 19).”

This statement not only makes the assumption that a government is the envied by the rest of the world, but also further states that it will shape the United States as it changes to flourish in the new era. This resounding statement evokes a strong sense of confidence and national pride by making each individual who was apart of the democratic process feel as though they have played a role in the best political system possible. Clinton uses pathos throughout his speech as the binding factor between all other forms of rhetoric. Without pathos, this speech would lose much of its authority.

Although generally not considered one of the three main branches of rhetoric, Kairos, literally meaning in ancient Greek the supreme moment, plays a considerable role in the prose and allusions Clinton makes throughout his speech. He speaks of how poor the state of the world economy is, and rallies people by referencing the AIDs epidemic (par. 32). Without the right time period context neither of the references would hold any weight in his speech. At the time, people were very worried about both of these issues, however if spoken about earlier, it would have not held as much value because people were not as concerned by it. He references how technology is becoming so amazing that it is nearly magical, and the world is becoming more unified because of it (par. 12).

Highly functioning computer were just being introduce into the public, and many were wary on its potential effects on society. By illustrating that he was aware of the vast technological changes and how it affected each individual in the countr, he solidified his position as not only the president of the United States, but the pioneer into a new form of leadership that involved capitalizing on technologies potential. Nearly all of Clinton’s prose and references are influenced by the time period in which gave his inaugural address.

In his speech, he not only makes use of references that would only be relevant to his time, but also induces a strong sense of confidence and passion for what will be in the future. Clinton uses a variety of different rhetorical devices in his inaugural address to assure the crowd that they made the correct decision. He uses pathos to rally the emotions of the crowd, gains their trust with strong ethos, and builds upon both by using a form of logos called artistic appeals to persuade them with reason. Alone none of these would make a significant or compelling argument, however, when used in collectively, as in Clinton’s inaugural address, they create a very compelling and persuasive argument.


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