Friday, 17 April 2009

Obama's rhetoric

Times Higher Education published this letter from me in its 9 April issue:

In his interesting article on rhetoric, Tom Palaima suggests that the title of Barack Obama's book The Audacity of Hope (2006) was inspired by Martin Luther King ("Tools of the trade", 2 April).

In fact, Obama had a more direct and personal source of influence. In his earlier book, Dreams From My Father (1995), he recounted the profound impact on him of a sermon by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, titled "The Audacity of Hope".

Obama used the phrase in his 2004 Democratic Convention speech. After Wright's explosive, racially tinged sermons came to light last year, Obama adapted it again in the landmark speech that addressed the race issue and distanced him from his former pastor.

Wright's mistake, he argued, was not that he had talked about racism, but that he spoke as if no progress had been made. "What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow." Obama used Wright's own phrase to rebut his negative conclusions about the state of US society.