Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope by Mark S. Ferrara (review) [Williamson]

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2016-07-19 01:23Z by Steven

Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope by Mark S. Ferrara (review) [Williamson]

Rhetoric & Public Affairs
Vollume 18, Number 4, Winter 2015
pages 748-750

Jason G. Williamson
Department of Communication Studies
University of Georgia

Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope. By Mark S. Ferrara. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2013; pp. 204. $45.00 paper.

In Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope, Mark S. Ferrara attempts to piece together the historical, intellectual, and literary influences of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign rhetoric, primarily as the “rhetoric of hope” was constructed leading up to the 2008 campaign and employed during that campaign, as well as its reemergence for 2012. Ferrara defines the rhetoric of hope as “deliberately constructed political discourse that envisions social betterment brought about by the force of shared values and culminating in a promise of a ‘more perfect union’ in the future” (11). The utopian idealism that percolates throughout Obama’s campaign discourse is of particular interest to Ferrara, especially as American rhetorical tropes are employed to discursively construct Obama as a “quasi-prophetic” figure who possesses the leadership skills necessary to move the country closer to collective salvation (14–15). Ferrara repeatedly observes the rhetoric of hope relying on a dialectical tension between the ideal and the actual, promising to transform the current status quo into a salvific telos.

The book is primarily organized into two major sections, with the first half (chapters 1–5) dedicated to locating historical and literary influences of Obama’s rhetoric of hope and the second half (chapters 6–10) investigating the values and characteristics of this rhetoric, concluding with a comparison of Obama’s two presidential campaigns. The opening chapters outline the manner in which utopian tropes derived from Judeo-Christian thought (chapter 1) as well as the European Enlightenment (chapter 2) influence Obama’s rhetoric. In the three chapters that follow, Ferrara continues [End Page 748] pulling on individual threads, such as slave narratives (chapter 3); the presidential traditions of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt (chapter 4); and the influence of fiction, music, and popular culture (chapter 5), arguing that these threads, woven together, form Obama’s rhetoric of hope.

In the second half, Ferrara moves beyond the antecedents of the rhetoric of hope, presenting a reading of Obama’s campaign rhetoric as an amalgam of multiple influences. Chapter 6 analyzes the role of American values in the rhetoric of hope, culminating in Obama’s embodiment of the American Dream, a combination of individual determination and community awareness with a heavy emphasis on “work” as an operative term, a theme that the president continues in his second term, as evident in the most recent State of the Union address. Ferrara approaches Obama’s discourse with an Aristotelian conception of rhetoric and places a heavy emphasis on the deliberate decisions of the rhetor, highlighting Obama’s role as a writing subject constructing his own narrative persona in chapter 7. Ferrara, an assistant professor of English at State University of New York at Oneonta, reads Obama’s autobiographical narratives as an effort in which Obama “casts himself as a prophet of change situated by virtue of his unique American story to usher in a new global order” (135). Ferrara locates Obama within the tradition of political autobiographical works in American history “from John Smith to Benjamin Franklin to Malcolm X,” arguing that Obama intentionally constructs his own story in such a way as to build on American mythologies (125). The climax is perhaps seen in Obama’s 2008 tour of the Middle East and Europe (chapter 8), where his narrative positions Obama as a figure that can unite American ideals with a global, multicultural audience. The final two chapters track the continuation of the 2008 campaign themes in 2011 and 2012, underscoring the claim that “the rhetoric of hope contains a neat circularity that is the product of intentional design” (187). Whether by intent or not, the characteristics of the rhetoric of hope obviously manifest in Obama’s campaigns.

Throughout, Ferrara’s analysis casts light on many aspects of Obama’s rhetoric that the reader will find intuitive. Although his prose is occasionally too driven by quotations and not enough of the author’s own voice, the text and analysis is accessible for a wide audience. Readers who study presidential rhetoric will immediately note the pronounced absence…

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Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope by Mark S. Ferrara (review) [Ellis]

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Religion, United States on 2016-07-19 00:24Z by Steven

Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope by Mark S. Ferrara (review) [Ellis]

Utopian Studies
Volume 27, Number 2, 2016
pages 382-386

Cameron Ellis
Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

Mark S. Ferrara. Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope, Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2013. 204 pp. Paper, $29.95, isbn 978-0-7864-6793-8

Mark S. Ferrara’s principle scholarly interests lie within the fields of religious studies and Asian philosophy, as indicated on his State University of New York–Oneonta English faculty page and demonstrated in his other books Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber (co-edited with Ronald R. Gray, Peter Lang, 2009) and Palace of Ashes: China and the Decline of American Higher Education (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015). However, it is his interests in rhetoric and political discourse, cultural studies, and world literature that make Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope such an insightful and pleasant contribution to the commentary on and criticism of the outgoing president. Ferrara wastes no time using his resources to contextualize the significance his study of the president has—especially as of 2008, which saw Obama being elected for the first time—by citing a Chinese proverb: “chaotic times make heroes (shi shi zao ying xiong)” (19). Although not mentioned explicitly, this proverb alludes to Obama’s inheritance of an extremely precarious geopolitical situation left festering by the Bush administration. (In fact, even though I wanted him to “go there,” Ferrara steers clear of the dangerous intricacies entwining Obama’s legacy in terms of Bush’s. The first explicit mention of Bush does not even appear until page 99.) Not only is this book a wonderful contribution to the study of American history and political science, but also it is a decidedly welcome addition to utopian studies by way of its analysis of one of the most important figures to date.

The advantage that adopting a utopian analytic in such a case study as Obama is that Ferrara liberates the conversation he seeks to facilitate from regressing into polemics and partisan politics, the kind that one sees most negatively worked out in other works on the president such as Stanley Kurts’s Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism (Simon and Schuster, 2010), Dinesh D’souza’s Obama’s America: Unmaking the American Dream (Regnery Publishing, 2012), and Bob Thiel’s Barack Obama, Prophesy, and the Destruction of the United States (Nazarene Books, 2012), which read into the president signs and symptoms of America’s downfall. While it is quite clear that Ferrara is a champion of Obama, it never feels as though he is hitting his reader over the head with his views. Rather, Ferrara encourages his reader to recall that, regardless of one’s political alliance, Obama ran two successful campaigns on a positive message: hope. One of the greatest strengths of Ferrara’s book resides in his skill of presenting this aspect of the president while refraining from sentimentalism and nostalgia. Instead the reader is offered a well-researched piece of scholarly labor by one of the best in the field of rhetoric and political discourse.

I came to this book as an outsider to American history, but after reading it I feel as though I have a much-improved sense of the American tradition insofar as that tradition is one rooted in idealism. Ferrara helps his reader better understand how Obama captured this idealism and utilized it in terms of his political rhetoric. “Since this is a rhetorical study,” Ferrara writes early on, “… I am grateful to be spared the burden of aligning the word with reality—a task best left to the political pundits. My interest is specifically in the evocation of a better future toward which we progress gradually, one that offers a sort of collective salvation” (14–15). Drawing heavily on Obama’s own writings—namely, Dreams from My Father (2004) and The Audacity of Hope (2008)—Ferrara exercises academic rigor and resists needless sentimentalism by skillfully integrating these popular texts into the web of political speeches and interviews that flood the information highway. Starting in chapter 1 Ferrara grounds his study of Obama’s rhetoric of hope in the Judeo-Christian religious tradition: “Images of collectivist rebellion against the evils of…

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Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope

Posted in Barack Obama, Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy, Religion, United States on 2016-07-18 23:59Z by Steven

Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope

204 pages
softcover (6 x 9)
Print ISBN: 978-0-7864-6793-8
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-4766-0339-1

Mark S. Ferrara, Assistant Professor of English
State University of New York, Oneonta

The historical and literary antecedents of the President’s campaign rhetoric can be traced to the utopian traditions of the Western world. The “rhetoric of hope” is a form of political discourse characterized by a forward-looking vision of social progress brought about by collective effort and adherence to shared values (including discipline, temperance, a strong work ethic, self-reliance and service to the community).

By combining his own personal story (as the biracial son of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya) with national mythologies like the American Dream, Obama creates a persona that embodies the moral values and cultural mythos of his implied audience. In doing so, he draws upon the Classical world, Judeo-Christianity, the European Enlightenment, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, the presidencies of Jefferson, Lincoln, and FDR, slave narratives, the Black church, the civil rights movement and even popular culture.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • Introduction: Idealism and the American Mind
  • One–Judeo-Christianity and the Rational Utopia
  • Two–American Founding Documents
  • Three–Slave Narratives, the Black Church and Civil Rights
  • Four–The Legacy of Three Great Presidents
  • Five–The Force of Fiction, Music and Popular Culture
  • Six–Values and the Content of Character
  • Seven–Constructing the Narrative Persona
  • Eight–Universalism, Globalization and the Multicultural Utopia
  • Nine–Rhetoric and the Presidency
  • Ten–The 2012 Campaign
  • Chapter Notes
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Index
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