web analytics

Obama Turns Page on His Winning Rhetorical Style — and the Iraq War

Analysis of Obama’s ‘Turn the Page’ Oval Office address

AUSTIN, TX, September 7, 2010 – President Barack Obama, in his second Oval Office address announced the “American combat mission in Iraq has ended [and] Operation Iraqi Freedom is over”.    The seventeen-minute long speech, Obama acknowledged President George W. Bush, but neither thanked him for his role as former Commander-in-Chief nor credited him with the ‘Surge,’ other than as a reference to the current operations in Afghanistan.  The Surge, the change in military tactics during the height of the conflict, is widely credited with changing the course of the war.  The analysis was performed by the Global Language Monitor.  GLM has been analyzing presidential speeches since the turn of the century.

Not surprisingly, the President’s tone was sober, direct, and matter of fact, even workmanlike.  There were small rhetorical flourishes, such as referring to “our troops are the steel in our ship of state”.  He clearly proclaimed his devotion and admiration for the troops at the same time distancing himself from the war, its causes and execution. His emphasis was on ‘Turning the page’.

His address contained about half the number of passive constructions (7% vs. 13%) as his previous Oval Office address in June.  His sentences were some 5% shorter while the length of his paragraphs increased some 20%, which allowed him to more fully express his thinking.

When compared to other presidents’ addresses over the last several decades, this speech compared most closely from a ‘hearability’ or ‘readability’ point of view to President Reagan’s “Tear Down this Wall” speech;  however, rhetorically this was not the case.

As for grade-level (using the standard Flesch-Kincaid metrics), this speech was on with Obama’s more recent efforts (between ninth and tenth grades).  As noted previously, Obama has moved away from the rhetorical style of his most widely praised oratorical efforts, the ‘Yes We Can’ victory speech in Grant Park and his 2004 Democratic Convention effort in Boston).  (The actual numbers are 9.5 and 7.4 and 8.3 respectively.)  In doing so, he seems to have abandoned his earlier formula that resulted in the direct emotional impact of his campaign oratory.

[Note:  this article clocked in at a 12.3 grade reading level.]

In May 2003, President Bush gave his now infamous ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech declaring an ‘End To Major Combat In Iraq’.  However, during the speech, he never actually uttered ‘Mission Accomplished’.  Those words were on the ship returning to the San Diego Naval Base, as is the tradition, from overseas duty.   Fortunately for President Obama, his backdrop was the Oval Office and pictures of his wife and family.