Great Society Speech Analysis

Lyndon Johnson was convinced that liberal nationalism and the power of the federal government could transform society. His faith grew out of his youthful experiences with poverty in Texas, his political apprenticeship during the New Deal, and his desire to surpass Roosevelt’s legacy. When he took office in November 1963, after John F. Kennedy’s death, Johnson inherited the early initiatives to address poverty that the Kennedy administration had under consideration.

With characteristic enthusiasm and expansiveness, Johnson declared a war on poverty in 1964 and pushed legislation through Congress to establish the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). In this speech, the purpose Lyndon B. Johnson outlines his vision and goals for “The Great Society,” a massive web of government programs and legislation aimed at societal improvement and progress. This speech was given during the University of Michigan’s graduation commencement ceremony on May 22, 1964 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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The speech that was delivered was persuasive, however the intended audience (college graduates) has yet explored the world to fully grasp the level of maturity to devote oneself to Johnson’s plan of action. The actual speech starts out with a formal address to the Governor of the state of Michigan, the state senators and congressman, and the members of the University of Michigan who probably all played a part in getting Johnson to speak at the commencement. The speech that Johnson gave at the University of Michigan commencement ceremony was not a normal commencement speech.

This speech had a purpose. It was almost like an advertisement for the programs that he was introducing, and how they would help these graduates and all other Americans achieve a better quality of life at the present time and in the future. The speech was also aimed towards educator’s to continue the ideals spreading to future generations to come. The speech reaches out to a wide variety of people, but some citizens that this speech may not apply to would be the elderly generations considering that there is not much that could change in the remaining years they may have.

On May 22nd of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke to the graduating class of the University of Michigan on The Great Society, saying, “ … in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward, to the Great Society … “ In his address, he used rhetoric to inspire young Americans to take action to better their country. In order to successfully impact them, President Johnson utilized the persuasive proofs as well as an understanding of his audience. ogos, is an appeal to the logical mind of the audience, and is derived from arguments within the issue a speaker presents. President Johnson definitely made an attempt to persuade his listeners by presenting them with anecdotal and statistical evidence. For instance, he referenced the Peace Corps, which were founded at Michigan, and the good works they did, much like the works he was asking the graduates to do for America and her citizens.

He also mentioned statistics related to the areas he hoped his audience would seek to improve, like the 54 million Americans who never completed high school and the 100,000 students who would not go to college because they could not afford it. He satisfied both the desire to better society that is common in the minds of college students and the need for numeric, factual support they learned to ask for through their education. By presenting this balanced, well-reasoned argument, President Johnson was able to give a persuasive, motivating speech to his listeners.

Ethos, the ethical appeal, is the basis for a speaker’s credibility in regards to the subject he or she speaks on, and depends on the audience’s perception of his or her character, intelligence, and motives. As president of the United States, Johnson’s reputation preceded him, and posited him as a credible source on the topics of American society and policy, especially given that this speech was presented before his decision to enter Vietnam, while his approval rating was still high.

His delivery techniques also built up his ethos. By maintaining even volume, a slow and clear speech pattern, and appropriate voice fluctuations, as well as allowing for responses from his audience and presenting the information in a way that listeners could easily follow, Johnson demonstrated his preparedness and ability to easily communicate with a variety of audiences, both of which also bolstered his credibility.

Altogether, these elements helped to represent President Johnson as a trustworthy and informed source on the topic of building up American society. The final proof is pathos, the pathetic appeal, which is the speaker’s attempt to stimulate emotion in the audience. While expounding upon principles of his plan for The Great Society, President Johnson presented reasoning supported by values held by the majority of Americans and that most citizens are particularly passionate about.

He first said, “The purpose of protecting the life of our Nation and preserving the liberty of our citizens is to pursue the happiness of our people …” then later he added that, “The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all …The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents … It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods …” He wraps up his introduction of The Great Society with a powerful comment on what he hopes it will become: “ … But most of all, The Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work.

It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor … ”. As Johnson described his goal for America, he essentially painted a picture of the American dream and he detailed the concept of The Great Society, something that is individual to every citizen, but is held as a common value by the entire society. His persuasive techniques that applied directly to the students’ emotions would certainly have inspired them to construct a better America as per Johnson’s plan. By exciting the audience’s emotions in regards to building The Great Society, Johnson successfully addressed the rhetorical situation and called his audience to action.

In addition to using the persuasive appeals, President Johnson’s speech was pointed precisely at his direct audience. He started out by greeting everyone present, the governor, the president of the university, congressmen, and the students, which he called his “fellow Americans”. His speech is actually an address at a graduation ceremony, so, fittingly, he focused mostly on the student element of his audience in his address. Johnson began with a few jokes about college and the ‘coeducational opportunities’ available to students at the university, like the boy whose education was “a real value” because “it stopped his mother from bragging about him. Then, after his humorous introduction, he turned to a more somber tone, telling the graduates that he had “… come today from the turmoil of [their] capital to the tranquility of [their] campus to speak about the future of [their] country …” then dove into the ethical, logical, and emotional appeals that would impact the students the most. By understanding his target audience and how to motivate them most effectively, President Johnson presented a very persuasive appeal for them to help build a Great American Society. Interestingly, President Johnson seemed to transcend his immediate audience, and present a potent persuasive speech that had, and still has, relevance to a much broader audience than he initially intended.

Because his persuasive appeals easily extend to a much larger audience, he presented a speech that was both timely and timeless, and that truly accomplished his goal of explaining the Great Society and calling citizens to action. In summary, President Lyndon B. Johnson used rhetoric to inspire the University of Michigan graduating class of 1964, as well as the rest of the nation for many years to come. By identifying each of the three persuasive proofs, ethos, logos, and pathos, and applying each one to his specific target audience, the graduates, as well as his broader audience, he was able to successfully portray. The Great Society he hoped to see their generation create, and to motivate them to act upon what they learned in college in a way that works in the best interests of the country.

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