What Barack DID Say in Berlin

08/02/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

If I could forecast stock performance as I do rhetoric, I could be the King of Wall Street. In my post of July 22, "What Will Barack Say in Berlin?" I discussed Barack Obama's past use of a rhetorical device called anaphora (a figure of speech repeated over a string of phrases, clauses, sentences, or paragraphs). Sure enough, when Obama delivered his speech yesterday he employed anaphora in four different sequences. Full disclosure: I did not actually predict that he would use the device but, given the parallels with John F. Kennedy's 1963 speech in Berlin and his use of anaphora, the probability was a virtual slam dunk.

In Kennedy's speech, he lauded Berlin as a bastion of freedom against the tide of Communism sweeping across Europe, and extended an invitation to the world by saying "Let them come to Berlin" four times in a one paragraph. Evoking Kennedy, Obama also praised the city and extended his own invitation to the world by echoing the phrase "Look at Berlin" in six successive sentences.

Obama also echoed Ronald Reagan's 1987 speech in Berlin. At the height of the Cold War, Reagan delivered a historic address at the Brandenburg Gate near the infamous Berlin wall that the Russians had erected to divide the city. Reagan famously said, "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Evoking Reagan, Obama spoke of tearing down other walls six times in three paragraphs, four of them in the central paragraph, "The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down."

Obama's two other uses of anaphora were purely his own. He had a long, wide-ranging list of proposals to create a better world; by using repeated figures of speech as linkages, he brought uniformity to the diversity. In sounding his calls to action, he began nine consecutive paragraphs with the phrase "This is the moment ..." Then, extending his calls to action, he segued to a series of seven rhetorical questions, each beginning with the words, "Will we...?"

True to his rhetorical bent, Obama adds not only continuity to his speech, but also rhythm. He varies the pacing of his repetitions to create a tempo. Look at the four instances of anaphora in a rhythmic context:

1. The six repetitions of "Look at Berlin" occurred in a series of short sentences near the beginning of the speech where a quicker pace is needed to capture audience interest.

2. In the middle of the speech, where the audience is ready for a more substantive discussion, Obama's six references to tearing down walls stretched out over four paragraphs.

3. Deeper into the middle, the nine "This is the moment ..." occurrences stretched out over even longer paragraphs.

4. Near the end, where the pace must quicken to start a build to a strong finish, Obama deployed his seven "Will we...?" questions in short sentences.