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2014 SOTU: Is There Such Thing as Sincerity in Politics?

The President’s fifth State of the Union speech eloquently addressed a copious list of present concerns in the United States of America.  Members of Congress watched as Obama employed all of his versatile oratory skills to deliver an elegant, tenacious, and inspirational speech. Ultimately, like many political speeches, his goal was to further motivate devotees and convince antinomies. With an ambitious agenda involving goals such as new gender based employment policies, immigration reform, accessible education, environmental sustainability, not to mention the continuous goal of closing Guantanamo, it is difficult as a viewer not to wonder how candid these promises are. Is there value in how genuine a president comes across as? Although actions always speak louder than words, can we put weight to politicians’ vocalized intentions? Let’s take a look at Obama’s most convicting arguments and statements of the SOTU, while comparing its official response by the Republican Party.

Obama began his speech by illustrating diverse examples of American citizens in the work force, and their roles in society and daily activities. He then introduced the statement: “It is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong”. Rhetorical devices were evident here, as the President consistently used Ethos, Pathos, and Logos throughout his discourse. He then went on to claim that 2014 would be the “breakthrough year for America” – a year of action, which would include opportunity for all, regardless of race, gender, and sexuality.

Obama tapped into the elemental beliefs of the country. “…In America, our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams.  That’s what drew our forebears here…Opportunity is who we are”, he says. The SOTU speech reinforced the underlying theme that hope, achievement, and aspirations are what keep the United States of America running. Furthermore, the President bluntly stated that female employment policies are an embarrassment. Equal labour amounts to 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. “It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men episode”, added Obama jokingly. He declared that it was time for a change.

Deeply shaped by Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama charged up his audiences yet again with dignifying oratory. Admitting that while the President has not struggled  with gaining a positive public opinion, his power to persuade the various members of Congress is arguable. Indeed, the official Republican response to the 2014 State of the Union tried to contravene his efforts.

Cathy McMorris Rodgers, one of four Republicans to deliver a rebuttal to the State of the Union, was chosen for the official GOP har vokse response. The new face of the GOP was the first to avoid the so-called “curse” of past embarrassing Republican responses, filled with water-breaks, mistakes, and awkward pauses. The U.S. Representative for Washington’s fifth congressional district was strategically chosen in hopes of highlighting Republican women in order to combat aggressive criticism from Democrats about the party’s approach to women’s issues. Her response aimed to desperately exhibit a non-existing image of the GOP by capitalizing on her own personal life story. Sitting on a couch next to an actual fireplace, Rodgers’ rhetoric was woven around her tiny hometown of Kettle Falls, and her childhood raising animals, even pitching in the anecdote of her help to the family orchard and fruit stand. This classic Republican strategy of trying to mask their authentic image is banal and indiscreet. Although Rodgers was more successful than past responses, true earnestness and goodwill did not shine through in this rebuttal.

Obama’s 2014 State of the Union speech concluded with the spirit of citizenship; the notion to pursue individual dreams, but then still come together as a family and a community, ensuring success for future generations. The President touched upon the sense of common purpose and the obligation to serve communities, essentially tapping into the political ideology of sacrificing for the common good. “Nothing in life that is worth anything is easy”, he said, “…America has never come easy.  Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy…But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow – I know it’s within our reach. Believe it.”

Obama’s brilliance in public speaking provides for his extremely powerful and effortlessly accomplished rhetoric that he is notorious for. His proof of being a remarkable speaker demonstrates that Obama is indeed gifted in the art of persuasion. Anyone who watches the SOTU cannot argue against this. Perhaps the level of sincerity of a speaker depends on his or her audience’s emotional perspective. An eternal optimist for example, might be more receptive towards the President’s message, and thus feel that it was far more propelling and sincere than his opponent’s response. However, pessimists, realists, or skeptics alike might assert that a politician, no matter how talented in public speaking, will still be nothing but a “bull-shitter”. The power of political eloquence can really have a toll on one’s perception. However, the question still stands if true sincerity can exist in the political realm – especially in a divisive and partisan structure such as the one found in United States of America.

– Lara Gosselin

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About Lara Gosselin

Concordia University Undergraduate student, Majoring in Political Science with a double Minor in Law & Society and Marketing. Lara has lived in Montreal for the past seven years, although remains tied to her hometown of Toronto. Her interest in U.S. politics derives from her numerous travels across the country, and second home in the southern-state of Florida. Lara joined the Political Bouillon in hopes to contribute to the active and opinionated student atmosphere of the city.

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