After Barack Obama won the Iowa Caucuses last January, a New York Times blog titled, "Germany's Got a Crush on Obama," reported that "The Berliner Morgenpost over the weekend ran with the headline, 'The New Kennedy.' The tabloid Bild declared, 'This Black American has become the new Kennedy!' And the headline for the editorial in the Frankfurter Rundschau read simply, 'Lincoln, Kennedy, Obama.'"
The association of Obama with Kennedy was due, in large part, to their shared oratorical talents. Now, that association becomes even more pertinent. On June 26, 1963, Kennedy delivered his historic "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech. On Thursday, 45 years and one month later, Obama will culminate his whirlwind overseas tour with a stop in Berlin to deliver his own high profile speech.
Given a recent poll that the German public prefers Obama to John McCain by 67 percent to 6 percent, the Illinois Senator is very likely to be well-received. In fact, some forecasts estimate that the crowd for his speech in front of a victory column known as the Siegessäule is expected to top 100,000.
What will he say?
The conservative columnist, William Kristol, sees parallels in the state of the world in 1963 when Kennedy was confronted with the threat of Communism, and in 2008, when Obama is faced with the threat of terrorism. Kristol anticipates that Obama, like Kennedy before him, will sound a rallying cry for freedom in his Berlin speech.
I see parallels in their speaking styles; particularly in their use of a rhetorical device called, anaphora, which is defined by the excellent web site http://www.americanrhetoric.com/ as "a figure of repetition that occurs when the first word or set of words in one sentence, clause, or phrase is/are repeated at or very near the beginning of successive sentences, clauses, or phrases; repetition of the initial word(s) over successive phrases or clauses."
Kennedy's most famous use of anaphora came in his January 1961 Inaugural Address when he used the word "ask" five times within three sentences. What is not as famous is that, in that same 14-minute speech, Kennedy used the word "let" 16 times.
Two and half years later, Kennedy returned to the repetition of "let" in his Berlin speech: "There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say -- There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say, in Europe and elsewhere, we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Let them come to Berlin."
Barack Obama set his own precedent for anaphora in his landmark 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston where he had a string of five consecutive uses of "if." "America! Tonight, if you feel the same energy that I do, if you feel the same urgency that I do, if you feel the same passion that I do, if you feel the same hopefulness that I do -- if we do what we must do, then I have no doubt that all across the country, from Florida to Oregon, from Washington to Maine, the people will rise up in November, and John Kerry will be sworn in as president."
In his March, 2008 speech on race in Philadelphia, Obama used "this time" six times starting with: "This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native-American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem..."
What will he say this time in Berlin?
You'll find more about Barack Obama's speaking style in my forthcoming book, The Power Presenter, to be published by John Wiley and Sons in February, 2009.
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