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Although quantity is not quality, and any good rhetorian will tell you that you cannot just count words to find out what a given speech was about, you can look at clusters and context. And quickly get a sense of where the ‘heart’ of a public declaration lies.

After this 3 second crash course in speech analysis – let’s use Barack Obama’s speech as an example. Also because I reckon you might want to be updated on that…

New York Times has made a pretty graph. Kudos for including past years’ speeches! See it here

“job” is the winner with over 45 mentions. More than twice as many as the 2nd and 3rd most frequent words (“energy” and ‘economy”) which gives you a cluster of domestic issues. Which is what the State of the Union is supposed to be about. So can the “oh, he only mentioned Israel once” people please stop? (Obama said the US will “stand steadfast” with Israel)

Iran got a bit of attention. Nothing worth a fanfare: Obama called on tehran to “recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution” over its nuclear programme, and added “we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon” (this might include taking Iran to the UN Security Council in march for a new round of sanctions, if tehran keeps obstructing the diplomatic talks with the IAEA – there is a meeting today in tehran that nothing will come of, for example. and possible a meeting in the end of the month with the P5+1 that..well..also looks like a dead-end and another victory for the Iranians who are essentially dragging their feet because it’s in their interest. that way they can create as many facts on the ground and hope to enter negotiations from a stronger position than they are in now. and also letting the sanctions bite so they look weak (looking weak being an old diplomatic tactic, invented by the Europeans  Look weak, and you actually become the strong in the diplomatic game as the other side cannot demand so much from you. Interestingly  both the Palestinians and the Iranians are currently using that tactic with the West. Talk about turning the tables! (in Arab diplomacy, looking weak IS being weak. hence Israel banging war drums in order not to have to actually bang them and start a war). Okay, that was me going out on a tangent! )

Full text available many places. here’s Politco’s (there is a video too)

I don’t think it’s a great speech, even if he opened by quoting JFK — his writing staff is becoming overly fond of using the “Brian-trope” (in this speech it’s a Brian. it’s not the technical name of what he’s doing. Obama uses the anecdotal in practically *every* speech – of how he’s met someone and asked them a question, and” here’s the answer and that ladies an gentlemen is what i am talking about”-section. (see his 2012 victory speech for another recent example — there it’s the dad with horrifically ill child). You can’t tell a story instead of making an argument (when you do, it’s the logical fallacy known as the “anecdote”).

Having thus pulled a face over the not-making-me-excited rhetoric, what is left is just to wish America good luck with the project of steering the economy back, and making the everyday life better for its citizens. Hmm… pretty much what Israel’s next government ought to be focusing on too!

 

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