Martin Luther King Jr. vs. President Obama
Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama have both written and performed their fair share of speeches throughout their respective lives. The two speeches that are being compared are President Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” letter. President Obama spoke this speech while his was campaigning for the presidency in February of 2007, while his was running against Senator Hillary Clinton. During the speech, he addresses the topic about his pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, and he also addresses the broader issue of race in the United States.
He does this by using the words from the Preamble of the Constitution as a framework.
The background of Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter is totally different. At the time that King was writing his letter; he was incarcerated in the Birmingham City Jail for protesting for civil rights in Birmingham Alabama.
He wrote his response to eight moderate, white clergymen who had called his previous demonstration as “unwise and untimely…extreme measures [that were] lead … by outsiders” (King 202). He wrote in disappointment because he thought if anyone would understand his reason for standing up and protesting, it was the clergymen. King’s letter better fits an anthology than Obama’s essay because of King’s primary and secondary audience, logical presence, and the author’s stake in the subject toward audience. The primary and secondary audience of a speech is one of the most important components. The primary and secondary audiences are different for the two influential men.
The primary audience for King is the eight clergymen who addressed King; while, his secondary audience was the nation itself. It was used to help broadcast his message and the message of many other African American people in the south. King answers in his letter, “Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas… but since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticism are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms” (King 203). King makes his primary audience well known when he addresses their letter that was pointed at King and his followers. Leff and Utley confirm that King did have a direct audience in mind while writing when they say; “King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was a direct response to the clergymen’s statement.” (3). King makes his primary audience very clear by addressing them by name in the heading of his letter. While, Obama kind of hides his primary audience throughout his speech. As stated by Dilliplane, “Part of the reason why this speech… was significant was because of the specific rhetorical challenges the candidate faced in responding to the Wright controversy” (3). Unlike King, President Obama did not come out and state that he was answering his critics like King did. It took President Obama thirteen paragraphs to address his controversial reverend when he says: “I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy” (Obama 240). This controversy was a major problem to many voters when they looked at President Obama and his beliefs. It took him entirely too long to address such a pressing matter.
Another important part of writing is the logical presence that writers give to their audiences. The logic behind both of the writers is also different. King’s information is presented very logically. He touches both audiences on their own levels making the letter personal not only to the people to whom it is directly written but everyone. He also brings in references from the New and Old Testament to appeal to the clergymen. It is about connection between author and reader, and King does this by “… ground[ing] his identity in the religious, intellectual, and political values of the American tribe, and it enacts a form of agency that sustains connection between author and reader even in the presence of disagreement” (Leff and Utley 11). King uses a logical way to connect with the reader on his/her own level. King does this by mentioning Saint Thomas Aquinas when saying, “To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law” (King 207-208). This touches the clergymen on their own level because they are religious, and it touches the ordinary citizen because the statement is logical.
On the other hand, President Obama also presents his arguments and statements in a logical manner. He appeals to the masses by presenting himself as a normal citizen with normal problems but also addresses problems that are deeply rooted in American history. He ties both of these entities together logically. He does this by describing his church setting as follows, “The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and, yes the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America” (Obama 242). It shows that he is just another African American citizen in America through his experiences at church and at the end shows the ugly truth of the black experience. Logic is an important step in reaching the audience. Another important part of these men’s writings is the stake that they have in presenting them to the public. The stakes of both authors are extremely different when writing their literature. King’s stake in writing this letter to the clergymen was to try and help the African American race become equal in the eyes of the law. He did this by speaking to the clergymen on their level, when he stated, “I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown [Birmingham]. Like Paul I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid” (King 204). King was trying to change America when he wrote letters exactly like this one. While King was looking out for an entire race, President Obama was looking out for himself. He would do this by answering his critics about Reverend Wright.
According to Dilliplane, this was the best way it could be done, “First, Obama needed to reject Reverend Wright’s controversial statements while not rejecting the pastor’s symbolic representation to and of the black community” (Dilliplane 3). And sure enough, President Obama said, “As such, Rev. Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity” (Obama 241). President Obama denounced Rev. Wright but not as a pastor but on his political views and even brought in the topic of unity. He answered his critics and provided a smooth transition to get out of the controversy. After the three keys of rhetoric that have been discussed, I believe that King’s Letter better suits the learning environment. I choose King’s essay over Obama’s essay because of his primary and secondary audience, logic, and the author’s stake in the subject toward audience. King had a clear primary and secondary audience that he voiced his opinions to through his work. His logical reason and steps to portray his opinion touched the clergymen closely by using religion as a tool, but it also touched the ordinary citizen by explaining the religious passages in simpler terms.
Finally, King’s overall stake in the matter was not just his own benefit. In fact, King was in jail while he was writing, and he was still fighting, non-violently of course, to improve a race. He was looking out for others and put them in front of his own well-being. Even though Barack Obama is the current President and is a great speaker, what Martin Luther King Jr. accomplished in a jail on the margins of newspapers, helped changed America for the better. He did it by covering all of his bases in the art of rhetoric to usher his point to the clergymen and citizens of the United States of America. Works Cited List
Dilliplane, Susanna. “Race, Rhetoric, and Running For President: Unpacking The Significance of Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” Speech.” Rhetoric and Public Affairs. 127-152. Academic Search Premier. Web. 25 Feb. 2013. King Jr., Martin Luther. “Letter From Birmingham City Jail.” Reading the World: Ideas That Matter. 2nd ed. Ed Michael Austin. New York: Norton, 2010. 202-218. Print. Leff, Michael, and Utley, Ebony. “Instrumental And Constitutive Rhetoric In MartinLuther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham City Jail.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7.1 (2004): 37-51. Academic Search Premier. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. Obama, Barack. “A More Perfect Union.” Reading the World: Ideas That Matter. 2nd ed. Ed Michael Austin. New York: Norton, 2010. 238-249. Print.
Cite this Martin Luther King Jr. vs. President Obama
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