Dear Commons Community,
James Fallows writes in this week’s edition of The Atlantic that President Obama’s eulogy of Clementa Pinckney on Friday was “his single most accomplished rhetorical performance” of his career. Fallows indicates that while the culmination of singing Amazing Grace surely touched the hearts of all who saw it, the speech itself was remarkable. Fallows writes:
“I think Barack Obama’s eulogy yesterday at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston was his most fully successful performance as an orator. It was also one that could have come only at this point in his public career—and not, for instance, when he was an intriguing figure first coming to national notice, as he was during his celebrated debut speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston 11 years ago; or when he was a candidate fighting for political survival, as he was when he gave his “Race in America” speech in Philadelphia early in 2008…
Here are the three rhetorical aspects of the speech that I think made it more artful as a beginning-to-end composition than any of his other presentations:
— The choice of grace as the unifying theme, which by the standards of political speeches qualifies as a stroke of genius.
— The shifting registers in which Obama spoke—by which I mean “black” versus “white” modes of speech—and the accompanying deliberate shifts in shadings of the word we.
— The start-to-end framing of his remarks as religious, and explicitly Christian, and often African-American Christian, which allowed him to present political points in an unexpected way.”
Fallows was a former speech writer for President Jimmy Carter and knows his topic well. The media will show clips of this eulogy for decades to come whenever referencing President Obama.