18 November 2008

Senator Barack Obama's "A More Perfect Union" and Michel Foucault’s The Order of Discourse (Rhetorical Theory)

Michel Foucault’s The Order of Discourse can easily apply to Senator Barack Obama’s speech, "A More Perfect Union," that addresses race in America; the political speech delivered on 18 March 2008 concerned the taboo subject of racism and how racism affected our religious rhetoric. According to the text, “Foucault remarks that the tendency of Western philosophy since the demise of the Sophists has been to deny discourse its own reality…The desire to locate truth in something other than discourse itself has…spawned several mistaken beliefs…[Foucault questioned] the will to truth [and attempted to] restore to discourse its character as an event” (1432). Likewise Obama seeks to “locate truth” in discourse. Senator Obama discusses the discourse of race in America in a reasonable and logical manner, yet he also seems sincere, full of character, and an expert on the topic. Toward the beginning of The Order of Discourse, Foucault states, “I should not like to have to enter this risky order of discourse” (1460). Obama’s speech is a “risky order of discourse.” Racism in America is, in many ways, ingrained and embedded within the American culture. Deep wounds still exist as well as a deeply wounded history. Foucault remarks, “In a society like ours, the procedure as exclusion are well known…We know quite well that we do not have the right to say everything, that we cannot speak of just anything in any circumstances whatever, and that not everyone has the right to speak of anything” (1461). Foucault’s statement sums up Senator Obama’s dilemma. His pastor has made spoken words and should not have been uttered, publicly at least. Obama states, “We’ve heard my former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation and that rightly offend white and black alike.” In our society, it is simply not acceptable to transmit racism in a public and formal manner. Racism exists, but it is most often in the subtleties and comforts of familiar spaces and private home. Thus, Obama’s willingness to have an honest conversation on the taboo subject of racism in America is and was a “risky order of discourse.”

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