After his formal address to a Joint Session of Congress last Wednesday about his health care reform proposals, President Obama went out on the stump to seek the support of the public. According to CBS News, by Saturday, when he got to Minneapolis to speak "to more than 10,000 people at the Target Center," it was for the fifth time that week.
The setting was like that of his stump speeches during his campaign for the Presidency and, as in those times, he called upon two of his familiar rhetorical devices: the human interest story and anaphora, or the repetitive use of a key phrase. (For a fuller discussion of anaphora, please see my earlier blog about his Inaugural Address and my prior blog on his health care speech.)
Saturday's human interest story was about a campaign appearance candidate Obama made in Greenwood, South Carolina, and about a city councilwoman there named Edith Childs. Ms. Childs is known as the "Chant Lady" because she had a reputation for stirring up crowds at public meetings by chanting. Here's how Obama described his event in Greenwood to his audience in Minneapolis:
Suddenly I hear this voice shout out behind me: "Fired up?" And I almost jumped out of my shoes. But everybody else acts like this is normal and they all say, "Fired up!" And then I hear this voice: "Ready to go?" And the people around me, they just say, "Ready to go!" I don't know what's going on. So I look behind me, and there's this little woman there...[and] for the next five minutes, she starts chanting. She says, "Fired up?" And everybody says, "Fired up!" "Ready to go?" "Ready to go!" And this just keeps on going. And I realize I'm being upstaged by this woman. And I'm⎯she's getting all the attention, and I'm standing there looking at my staff and they're shrugging their shoulders. But here's the thing, Minneapolis. After about a minute, maybe two, I'm feeling kind of fired up. I'm feeling⎯I'm feeling like I'm ready to go.
Then, as any good speaker would, Obama segued from Ms. Childs' story to his own message, and he did so with his own repetitive phrases:
And it goes to show you how one voice can change a room. And if it changes a room it can change a city. And if it can change a city it can change a state. And if it can change a state it can change a nation. If it changes the nation it can change the world. It can bring health care to every American. It can lower our costs. It can make your insurance more secure.
Returning to Ms. Childs' technique, Obama asked the crowd in Target Center,
I want to know, Minnesota, are you fired up?
The crowd shouted back,
Ready to go?
The crowd shouted back,
Ready to go!
Obama led the crowd in two more rounds of the chant, with a crescendo of volume, laughter, and applause each time, and then concluded:
They can't stop us. Let's go get this done. Thank you, everybody. God bless you.
These rhetorical skills helped Barack Obama win the election. Will they help his health care reform plan win?