BARACK OBAMA, “REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT A MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR THE VICTIMS OF THE SHOOTING IN TUSCON, ARIZONA” (12 JANUARY 2011)
- Eulogies are often considered predominantly epideictic in nature. What are the main characteristics of an epideictic speech? What parts of this speech would you categorize as epideictic? Whom does President Obama praise and whom does he blame?
- Early in this speech, President Obama quotes Psalm 46 from the Bible. How does this psalm relate to the rest of the speech? Why might he choose this particular passage?
- What is the persuasive purpose of President Obama’s speech? What does he want his audience to do? Do you think it is typical for an epideictic speech to have a persuasive purpose? Why or why not?
- During his speech, President Obama refers to particular audience members. What are the effects of this audience interaction? Do you think it was a good or bad idea?
- President Obama emphasized that Christina Taylor Green was born on September 11, 2001. What effect does this information have on the speech? Why do you think he included it in his remarks?
- Watch the recording of President Obama delivering this speech (available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztbJmXQDIGA). How does he use pauses, cadence, gestures, and facial expressions to communicate his message?
- President Obama’s remarks in Tucson were praised by people across the political spectrum. Why do you think this speech resonated with people, regardless of their political affiliation? How does Obama avoid alienating political opponents?
- After President Obama delivered his remarks in Tucson, many turned their attention to the speechwriter, Cody Keenan. Research Keenan’s process of composing the Tucson remarks. What goals did he have in mind as he composed it?
- Eulogy and funeral orations were an important part of classical Athenian oratory. Read a translation of Pericles’ funeral oration from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. What components of Pericles’ speech were present in President Obama’s speech? How do these speeches differ in structure and tone?
- President Obama delivered many speeches after instances of gun violence. Find one other speech on this topic. How do these speeches compare to each other? How are they different?
- President Donald Trump delivered a speech after the shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada on October 1, 2017. How does his speech compare in structure and content to President Obama’s speech in Tucson? How does it differ?
- Watch Obama’s “Remarks by the President on Common-Sense Gun Safety Reform” (video available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pj_3M_RvKVY). How does President Obama’s message in this speech differ from those in his Tucson speech? What are the goals of this speech and do you think he achieves those goals?
- Many people who were born on September 11, 2001 have written or spoken about their experiences of growing up knowing that their birthday signified a devastating event. Research some of the accounts of those born on 9/11. How are some of the experiences similar? How are they different?
- Did President Obama’s speech have any effect on gun laws in Arizona? What debates did it inspire, either in Arizona or in the nation-at-large?
- Research the current debates regarding gun ownership and use in your state. Have any of these policies been challenged recently? How have local colleges and universities responded to recent gun violence? What do you think about the gun policies in your state?
- Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or college newspaper outlining your opinions about gun ownership and use in your state.
- The Second Amendment of the Constitution states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Discuss with your class how to interpret this amendment in light of national conversations about gun violence and gun control in the United States.
- Read the article “Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms” in the American Journal of Public Health (available here: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.2014.302242). How are national conversations about gun violence and mental health issues intertwined?
- After instances of gun violence, there are often calls not to “politicize” the tragedy. What does “politicize” mean in this case? Do you agree that it is inappropriate to politicize deaths from gun violence? Hold a debate with your class concerning whether “politicizing” gun violence is right.