Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fireside Chat 2.0: Obama's weekly address

A few days before the election, I celebrated Obama's "ability to present a complex idea in understandable terms - to break it down, to present it as a narrative or a lay down a cause-and-effect chain." He continues to do so in his weekly addresses, posted on Whitehouse.gov.

Today, after defining the stimulus as "only a first step on the road to economic recovery," he lays out a four-part economic agenda to complete that journey -- stemming the tide of foreclosures, getting credit flowing again, reforming a "broken regulatory system," and getting "exploding deficits" under control once the economy begins to recover. Nothing rhetorically remarkable in that outlay. The explanation of how it all fits together, though, is vintage Obama:
No single piece of this broad economic recovery can, by itself, meet the demands that have been placed on us. We can't help people find work or pay their bills unless we unlock credit for families and businesses. We can't solve our housing crisis unless we help people find work so that they can make payments on their homes. We can't produce shared prosperity without firm rules of the road, and we can't generate sustained growth without getting our deficits under control. In short, we cannot successfully address any of our problems without addressing them all. And that is exactly what the strategy we are pursuing is designed to do.
Anaphora -- the five-times-repeated "we can't do x without y" -- binds a complex cause-and-effect chain together here. The rhetorical effect is to get the listener's buy-in to the whole package, while getting across the staggering array of crises that Obama is proposing to tackle systematically and simultaneously. By appealing to our ability to grasp the causal connections in a complex problem, Obama projects his own ability to do so.

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