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Reconsidering Obama

Reflections on Rhetoric


Edited By Robert E. Terrill

Perhaps no other presidential candidate or sitting president has attracted as much attention from rhetorical critics as Barack Obama. Much of this work was conceived and written during Obama’s initial presidential campaign, or relatively early in his two terms in office. This book provides rhetorical critics an opportunity to revisit their published work on Obama in light of events that have occurred since its publication. In each chapter, these eminent critics begin by summarizing the analysis and conclusions in their original essays on Obama, and then reflect on their previous conclusions, revising or extending them in response to developments since the publication of the original work. The chapters provide a glimpse into the inventional strategies of practicing critics and into some of the ways that that critical insights may evolve over time. Scholars rarely have an opportunity to publish essays that reflect on their own previous work, even though few resources can be of greater use to both beginning critics and to established scholars seeking to continue to hone and reflect on their critical practice. This book, then, makes an important contribution not only to the existing literature on the 44th president of the United States, but also and perhaps most significantly to the study of the art and craft of rhetorical criticism.


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Chapter One: Rhetorical Charges: Mercurian Figures and Democratic Hope after Obama (Peter Simonson)


c h a p t e r o n e Rhetorical Charges Mercurian Figures and Democratic Hope after Obama PETER SIMONSON University of Colorado Boulder Rhetorical Charges Peter Simonson Like Walt Whitman, Barack Obama contains multitudes. The line presented itself to me in June of 2016 as I read the original articles being revisited in this volume and drifted toward the wildly varying uptakes of Obama since he came on the national scene. It struck me as a more promising lead than others I’d scribbled out for this essay, charted initially like most of my work on a yellow pad of scrawled thoughts, snippets of quotes, references, and emerging thematics. Invention for most of us is a meandering, recursive process belied by the neat typographic essays that, if fortune smiles, eventually reach publication. Out of curiosity, I offered the Whitman- and- Obama line up to Google, where I found that Los Angeles Times columnist Robin Alcanian had used it as a lead in her short reflection in May 2008 on a song recently posted to YouTube—“There’s No One as Irish as Barack O’Bama.”1 For Alcanian, the line captured Obama’s multiple roots— Kenya, Kansas, Hawaii, Indonesia, Chicago, and, as the song’s title suggested, Ireland. Recorded by Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys (who later transmogrified into the decidedly less queer Corrigan Brothers), the song became a popular sensation across continents and media, generated a copyright dispute and a Wikipedia page, and provided the title for at least two scholarly...

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