Over the campaign season and in the last few days, particularly after Obama's Inauguration, I have been thinking about my graduate studies, which culminated in my thesis, which examined the January 20, 1961 inauguration speech and crisis rhetoric of John F. Kennedy in light of Aristotle's seminal book, The Rhetoric, which influenced classical rhetoricians from Quintillian to Cicero, and laid the foundation for Presidential speeches in most any context. Aristotelian rhetoric, briefly defined as the ability to find all means of persuasion in any given situation (legal, political, social), considers the enthymeme as the "body of persuasion." One can think of the enthymeme as a shortened syllogism, an important persuasive technique most good orators innately understand and employ, along with the other three means of persuasion--ethos, pathos, and logos. I have marveled at the masterful oratory skill of our new President. He is moving. And there is substance. The ancient Greeks, I think, would be proud.
Part of my studies involved reading hundreds of speeches by various Presidents, mostly Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy. Among the speeches JFK delivered, some of the most fascinating are the exchanges between Kennedy and Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Also, I read the speech the JFK never delivered---the one he had already prepared before the fateful day in Texas. Last month, I learned about an undelivered speech by another miraculous orator, Martin Luther King, Jr. MLK would often have scraps of paper in his pockets. When he was killed, there was a list titled "Ten Commandments on Viet Nam," notes for a speech he was to give a few weeks later. Tragically, he was killed and never gave the speech. But I was deeply moved when I heard the audio of Coretta Scott King, his wife, who read it three weeks after MLK's death. The first of the ten she reads is "Thou shall not believe in military victory." You can hear Coretta Scott King deliver the reading here.
At any rate, all the election excitement had me thinking again about my graduate studies, persuasion, enthymemes (and the poetic use of anaphora in political rhetoric strategy), and the remarkable connections between Obama's speeches and Aristotelian rhetorical principles.