Research of Rhetorical Devices in LBJ War on Poverty Speech

On January 8, 1964, Lyndon Johnson delivered his first State of the Union speech to a joint congress. The speech mostly highlighted the problems that the Americans were facing at the time, commonly poverty, racial discrimination and high taxation rates. In his speech President Johnson declared a ‘War on Poverty’, a speech that exemplifies the use of several rhetorical devices such as pathos, ethos, repetition and logos. This essay analyses the use of pathos and repetition in Lyndon Johnson’s battle on poverty.
Throughout his speech, Johnson employs lots of pathos to rally more support for his agenda and to instill a feel of togetherness in the people. He mentions the ‘cynics and critics at home and abroad who question’ their purpose and competence. In this sense, he appeals to the emotions of the Americans to come together and support his agenda so that they can prove the cynics and the critics wrong. He also appeals to the people to forget their differences and unite so that they can achieve their goals and hence tremendous success. Johnson also takes the moment to mention the ‘plans and programs of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’ which they must carry forward. This statement invokes a sense of sorrow for the untimely death of their former president who had great plans for his people and therefore, now they must unite regardless of their status in order to finish what Kennedy had started. The mention of helping ‘young Americans, escape from squalor and misery and unemployment’ evokes a sense of humanitarian spirit and pity in the people by urging them to be compassionate for the poor. This gives them more reason to support his agenda

Repetition has also been largely used by Johnson in his speech. The word ‘as the session’ has been used repeatedly to emphasize the significance that the session will have in creating a positive impact on the lives of the American people than any other session before. Johnson has also used the word ‘we must’ several times to stress what his administration will do for the American people; but not without the peoples support. So he needs them to support him. By saying ‘our population… our economy… our peoples’, Johnson aims to underline how important this agenda is for the people and therefore, they should own and support it. Johnson further emphasizes that what he is pushing for ‘can be done’ within a short duration and without necessarily increasing the budget. ‘In a lack of’ is used severally in the speech to indicate that there are many basic necessities that the ordinary citizen lacks and that can be corrected by giving them opportunities to develop their capacities hence reducing poverty. Lastly, ‘his hopes’ has been used repeatedly in the speech to stress the challenges that the American people face and that will be addressed in his agenda. He stresses that the American people can be more hopeful now as they will have more opportunities and less discrimination.

In conclusion, Johnson and his administration seem to be more passionate about matters regarding civil rights, human poverty, racial discrimination, unemployment and inequality, and so their priority is to fight these vices in the society. Through the use of repetition and pathos in his speech, he has managed to bring out his arguments very strongly and convincingly.

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