The Making of Barack Obama: The Politics of Persuasion

SKU: 978-1-60235-467-8

Edited by Matthew Abraham and Erec Smith

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978-1-60235-467-8 (paperback, $27) 978-1-60235-468-5 (hardcover, $60) 978-1-60235-469-2 (Adobe ebook on CD, $20). © 2013 by Parlor Press. 243 pages, with notes, bibliography, glossary, and index.

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The Making of Barack Obama: The Politics of Persuasion provides the first comprehensive treatment of why Obama’s rhetorical strategies were so effective during the 2008 presidential campaign, during the first four years of his presidency, and once again during the 2012 presidential campaign. From his “Yes We Can” speech, to his “More Perfect Union Speech,” to his Cairo “New Beginnings” speech, candidate-Obama-turned-President-Obama represents what a skilled rhetorician can accomplish within the public sphere. Contributors to the collection closely analyze several of Obama’s most important speeches, attempting to explain why they were so rhetorically effective, while also examining the large discursive structures Obama was engaging: a worldwide financial crisis, political apathy, domestic racism, Islamophobia, the Middle East peace process, Zionism, and more.

The Making of Barack Obama will appeal to politically engaged, intelligent readers, scholars of rhetoric, and anyone interested in understanding how the strategic use of language in highly charged contexts—how the art of rhetoric—shapes our world, unites and divides people, and creates conditions that make social change possible. For those new to the formal study of rhetoric, editors Matthew Abraham and Erec Smith include a glossary of key terms and concepts. Contributors include Matthew Abraham, René Agustin De los Santos, David A. Frank, John Jasso, Michael Kleine, Richard Marback, Robert Rowland, Steven Salaita, Courtney Jue, Erec Smith, and Anthony Wachs.

What People Are Saying . . .

From the inspiring slogans and speeches of his campaign to the eloquent successes and failures of his presidency, Barack Obama has been extravagantly praised and sarcastically criticized for the distinctive power of his rhetoric. The essays in this collection persuasively analyze that rhetoric in all its specific tactics and general strategies, in its idealist yearnings and its pragmatic compromises, in its ambitious strivings and its political obstacles. —Steven Mailloux, President’s Professor of Rhetoric, Loyola Marymount University

With its timely and engaging focus on the rhetorical performances of Barack Obama, this collection makes a significant contribution to the study of contemporary public rhetoric and political discourse. The contributors analyze a variety of political speeches—on topics ranging from racial politics, to the U.S. military’s use of torture, to conflict in the Middle East—and critically examine the rhetorical strategies employed by Obama to negotiate diverse national and international audiences, to navigate political and material constraints, and to construct and reinvent his personal and political identity. The book invites a deeper exploration into Obama’s use of persuasion, and with its analysis of how his performances before multiple and composite audiences are both flawless and flawed, enriches our understanding of how rhetorical performances function as sites for intervention and political agency and how rhetorical actions both enable and limit social change. —Mary Jo Reiff, Associate Professor of English, University of Kansas

By confronting topics often avoided in politically correct discourse—including religious identity, racial belonging and the cultural politics of difference—The Making of Barack Obama doesn’t hesitate to engage divisive and difficult issues; producing some of the most challenging, insightful and provocative perspectives to date. —Rhea Lathan, Assistant Professor of English, Florida State University

A readable yet critically engaging collection, The Making of Barack Obama: The Politics of Persuasion offers a robust look at the deft rhetorical strategies deployed by the first African American President. Moving beyond sentimental, hypercritical or otherwise dismissive readings of his oratory, these essays explore how Obama’s speeches have addressed substantive issues, such as globalization, the American dream, political gridlock, and the legacy of racism and religious bigotry. This book will appeal to rhetorical scholars and laypersons alike. —David G. Holmes, Professor of English, Pepperdine University

In The Making of Barack Obama, Matthew Abraham, Erec Smith and their contributors have reached the analytical depth Obama's own rhetoric warrants. Taken together, the essays in this collection treat Barack Obama's rhetoric with both the respect and suspicion it deserves; in the juxtaposition of those responses, we learn a great deal about linkages between persuasion and identity in contemporary U.S. and global politics. A difficult project pulled off very well! —Seth Kahn, Associate Professor of English, West Chester University of Pennsylvania

The Making of Barack Obamahelps us recognize how rhetoric both made and unmade Obama. These insightful essays about key speeches help us see how Obama is neither a saint nor the devil, not someone to deliver us from evil or one who defines evil. The lesson the book teaches is important: A politician with rhetorical skills can’t change the realities that shape our politics. —Robert Jensen, Professor, School of Journalism, University of Texas at Austin

The Making of Barack Obama: The Politics of Persuasion makes a very important contribution both within and beyond the field of rhetorical studies. Within rhetorical studies, it provides one of the most comprehensive examinations of Obama’s rhetoric to date. Obama has become a popular topic for rhetorical analysis both at conferences and in journals, but this volume goes beyond those efforts by aiming to provide a definitive account of Obama’s election and first term rhetoric. By looking at Obama’s rhetoric from a variety of angles, and providing sustained, careful analysis of both his rhetorical acts and the situations and kairos that surround those acts, the book goes deeper into the president’s rhetoric than most other texts. It also provides interesting historical accounts of the invention and reception of many of Obama’s landmark speeches. In all these ways, it serves as a major contribution to both the growing body of literature on Obama’s rhetoric and the larger field of presidential rhetoric.—Ryan Weber, Assistant Professor of English, University of Alabama–Huntsville

About the Editors

Matthew Abraham is Associate Professor of English at the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ. His work on Edward Said has appeared in Cultural Critique, Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association, Journal of Cultural and Religious Theory, College Composition and Communication, South Atlantic Quarterly, and JAC: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Rhetoric, Culture, and Politics.

Erec Smith is an Assistant Professor of English and Writing at York College of Pennsylvania. Smith has published on the connections of rhetoric and Buddhist philosophy. As a rhetorician and former diversity officer, Smith sees fecundity in the rhetorical analysis of diversity and identity constructions. He is currently exploring and publishing in Fat Studies and the effects of being labeled and self-identifying as “fat.” Smith is an editor for College Composition and Communication, and sits on the executive board of Spells Writing Lab, a community writing center based in Philadelphia.

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