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Caribbean American Heritage Book
REVIEWS OF PAST BOOKS
The team of Sandra Bernard-Bastien, Elliot Bastien and Husani Bastien, has written several books on Obama’s and Clinton’s rhetorical techniques.
The most recent is Yes We Can: Obama and Clinton Walk the Talk. Published by Arrow Publications it is available on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Yes-Can-CommunicationPerformance-Elections-ebook/dp/B006NYKY3A)
with a a substantial portion of the book given as a “Look Inside”.
A review of an earlier book entitled Presidential Rhetoric: Clinton and Obama Across the Interface of Race which appeared in South Florida Caribbean News of October, 2009 is copied below.
FT. LAUDERDALE - Trinidadian Sandra Bernard-Bastien has written the first rhetorical analysis of Obama’s speeches. Entitled Presidential Rhetoric: Clinton and Obama Across the Interface of Race, the book examines the rhetorical styles of the two presidents, whom the author asserts, display a striking similarity - “The similarity between the two left-handed presidents born in the month of August is uncanny. Both were given the same name as their fathers at birth. Both were brought up by their maternal grandparents and had minimal or no contact with their fathers, who both died in car accidents.”
The list of circumstantial similarities, much longer than that quoted here, serves to excite the reader’s curiosity about the rhetorical similarities that are described later in the book.
In order to analyze the rhetorical styles that Presidents Obama and Clinton use to communicate across the racial divide, Bernard-Bastien studied Clinton’s eight presidential addresses to the Congressional Black Caucus’ Annual Dinner and six of Obama’s major speeches. These latter include the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Congress which first brought Obama to the world’s attention; his Iowa concession speech to Hilary Clinton; his speech on Race in America that was crucial in diffusing the incendiary rhetoric of his former pastor; his speech accepting the nomination to run for president; his speech at his own presidential inauguration; and his landmark speech on Healthcare Reform to the American Medical Association.
The book asserts that “Obama’s rhetorical style was similar to President Clinton’s, both rhetors displaying, in part, a debt to the soaring oratory of Dr. Martin Luther King.” And although the analysis is based on Rhetorical Theory, the book has not been directed solely towards academia, even though the author invokes “the Aristotelian system of argument which is
constructed on the appeals of ethos, logos and pathos,” and uses rhetorical terms such as anaphora, ennumeratio, tricolon, and scesis onomaton. Bernard-Bastien takes the time to explain these terms in everyday language which enhances the reader’s understanding and appreciation of how the orators use what Aristotle defined as the “available means of persuasion.”
The author’s line by line scrutiny of the speeches emphasizes to the reader how carefully crafted they are. For instance, it is a deliberate technique that Obama utilizes when he punctuates his speeches with expressions such as “This year, in this election” or “At this moment, in this election.” This seeming repetition is a linguistic pause that is used for emphasis. The technique, we are told, is known as scesis onomaton.
The use of repetition by Obama is crucial to what the author terms his rhetoric of hope as she maintains that his speeches “relied heavily on rhetorical techniques characterized by repetition.” His signature phrase “Yes we can” when repeated at the beginning of a sentence is invoking the well known rhetorical device of anaphora.
Bernard-Bastien’s use of the term “rhetoric of hope” is derived from the importance of the role that hope played in Obama’s election campaign. She argues that “Since hope is a learned concept, and since repetition has long been considered a basic method of learning, it is assumed in the book that those rhetorical devices which exhibit repetition would be intrinsic to the rhetoric of hope. The analysis of Obama’s speeches confirmed the frequent use of those
rhetorical techniques that had repetition embedded in them. Devices such as anaphora, epiphora, tricolon, enumeratio, to mention a few, helped him to accelerate and reinforce the engagement process.”
In the analysis of Clinton’s speeches, the book answers three questions: “(1) How did President Clinton manage to maintain the support of African-Americans while at the same time falling short of their expectations? (2) How has his rhetoric contributed to this warm relationship with black America despite a failure to live up to its policy expectations? And, (3) what aspect of his rhetorical strategy was responsible for the maintenance of this warm relationship?” The author skillfully explores Clinton’s rhetorical style, a style that endeared him to African Americans through “his speaking in the voice of great African-American preachers, particularly Martin Luther King Jr.”; “through his familiarity with the cultural grammar and patterns of language” in invoking, for example, “Ezekiel and the Dry Bones”; through his identification of the Republicans as the common enemy; through his alluding to his personal relationships with African-Americans; and through his awareness of the significant events that had occurred within their community.
Like Obama, “Clinton invokes the Martin Luther King style of repetition.” The author notes that in the 1994 address to the Congressional Black Caucus, “Using King’s style of repetition of phrases, or anaphora, Clinton repeats the phrase ‘we have begun’ five times and in quick succession: ‘We have begun the hard work. . .’ ‘We have begun the work. . .’ ‘And we are making a beginning at that.’ ‘We are making a beginning at that.’”
This timely book illustrates how the two presidents skillfully handled the challenge of interracial communication by utilizing classical rhetorical techniques. In so doing it also alerts the reader to the effective use of rhetorical devices in a much broader context of communication. Published in September 2009 by the German publishing company, VDM Verlag Dr.
Muller Aktiengesellschaft & Co. KG, it is available on Amazon.com.
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