Award Date

May 2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

First Committee Member

David Henry

Second Committee Member

Jacob Thompson

Third Committee Member

Sara VanderHaagen

Fourth Committee Member

John Tuman

Number of Pages

148

Abstract

Over the course of his presidency Barack Obama responded to 15 incidents of gun violence. Moments of tragedy serve as one of the greatest tests of presidential leadership as they require the chief executive to articulate a definition of tragedy that enables citizens both to understand and to work through the experience. It is through the act of definition that presidents increase their rhetorical power, thereby allowing them to advocate or advance specific policy proposals. This thesis examines seven of President Obama’s memorial speeches: Fort Hood, TX (2009); Tucson, AZ (2011); Newtown, CT (2012); Washington, D.C. Navy Yard (2013); Fort Hood, TX (2014); Charleston, SC (2015); and Orlando, FL (2016). Faced with a divided government and an increasingly polarized political scene, President Obama turned toward the American people to resolve the issue of gun violence. A close reading of the texts reveals that he constructed a rhetoric of transformation which aimed to transform the audience from passive spectators of tragedy to agents of change. President Obama sought to initiate his audiences’ transformation through the use of agency, identification, Scripture, and grace, framing tragedies generally and gun violence more specifically as events amenable to collective action.

Keywords

Epideictic Rhetoric; Gun Violence; Obama; Barack; Presidential Rhetoric; Rhetorical Criticism; Rhetorical Leadership

Disciplines

Communication | Mass Communication | Rhetoric

Language

English


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