Rhetorical devices in LBJ’s War on Poverty Speech

Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson faced a significant challenge in maintaining stability while developing his independent government. As a result, it was clear that his state of the union address would have a huge impact on his presidency after he took over a country in chaos. In the White House, he still had a slew of stalled legislation from his predecessor, as well as a slew of Kennedy-era advisors. In the seven weeks between the Dallas tragedy and his annual message to Congress, his considerable political skills, embrace of an evocative issue, and tenacious lobbying efforts set the stage for a dramatic start to his legacy. His topic on the “Unconditional War on Poverty” was intriguing and interesting to all the parties involved. This paper shall focus on the rhetoric devices of imagery, pathos and repetition that the president utilized to make his speech a success.

The greatest aspect of Johnson’s speech is his use of imagery to capture the attention of his audience. Metaphors represent abstract ideas or thoughts using symbols or objects. The object or the action used gives a different meaning depending on the context of use and the audience. It gives a meaning that is more significant and deeper. For instance, Johnson speaks about, “Our chief weapons in a more pinpointed attack will be better schools, and better health, and better homes” (Johnson line 23). He appeals to the American promise rather than personal ambitions. He addresses the bureaucracy of politics and uses the previous congressional session to challenge the sitting congress. This imagery of competition is important to qualify, because these politicians have run for election so in his reference to competition, he appeals to instinct. As a result, the audience is not only entertained by the poetic poignancy, but the president also gets to pass a deeper message in the fiscal prudence.

The speech also utilizes pathos, emotion-arousing words and tone. The president also appeals to the pathos and emotions of the audience through his tone and selection of words. The president promised that “I pledge a progressive administration which is efficient, and honest and frugal” (11). Efficiency, honesty and frugality are the critical attributes that people can expect from their government. He further states that “Let us carry forward the plans and programs of John Fitzgerald Kennedy — not because of our sorrow or sympathy, but because they are right” (9). The speech uses impressive emotional persuasion because of the approach the president used to pass his message. For example, he could have dictated that it was his Constitutional duty to ensure the country prospers through any means possible. The appeal to the American promise generated greater interest from all the audience and established his presidential legacy.

The president utilizes the repetition through the anaphora technique greatly in his speech, especially in the last part. Anaphora is the stylistic repetition of phrases or words at the beginning of successive lines. He repeatedly says “we must” in twelve lines as he outlines the plans to prevent and end poverty (28-40). The anaphora aims to create an aura of unity with the people in the fight against poverty. As a result, it generates a theme of urgency and promise, which create the overall rhetorical power of the message. It creates an atmosphere of confidence and dependence from his audience. The fact that he uses of promises and urgency makes him part of the war on poverty rather than an onlooker.

In conclusion, Lyndon Johnson’s “State of the Union” address utilized numerous rhetorical devices that made it successful in a period when the country was faced with uncertainty. He utilized the elements of imagery, use of pathos and emotion-arousing words, and anaphora to create an appeal to his audience to support his cause. The imagery allowed him to create a poetic address that kept his audience entertained while passing deeper messages. His persuasive tone, use of repetition and the appeal to pathos and emotions were aimed at generating support from the Congress and the ordinary Americans.

Works Cited

Johnson, B. Lyndon. “State of the Union.” Youtube. 1964. Web. 12 Mar. 2017. From https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fv9aim1QJzM&t=1229s

Johnson, B. Lyndon. State of the Union. 1964. Web. 12 Mar. 2017. From http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/lbj1964stateoftheunion.htm

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