Barrack Obama Speech (Critical Discourse Analysis)


Critical Discourse Analysis of Barrack Obama Speech

1.      Introduction

The analysis of President Barrack Obama speech is concerned on verbal aspects of the speech and the social context when the speech was delivered. Text analysis is a very important process in discourse analysis generally and in CDA particularly. As stated by Faiclough (1989), the first stage in text analysis is description to find out linguistic features such as features of vocabulary, grammar, types of speech act, the directness or indirectness of expression and features to do with the overall structure of interactions. All these features will finally lead to the uncovering of power relations and ideological processes in discourse.

The second stage of discourse analysis is the interpretation stage. In this stage, the analysis is concentrated on the cognitive process. Interpretation of text involves interpretation of surface and utterance, meaning of utterance, local reason and text structure and ‘point’. Interpretation of text concerns more on specific features of the text.

The third stage of the discourse analysis is the explanatory stage. The stage is concerned with the relationship between interaction and social context. It is the relationships between transitory social events (interactions) and more durable social structures which shapes and are shaped by these events.

The speech was delivered in 8th of September 2011. This speech was delivered by Barrack Obama to the tell about Job Act.

2.      Textual Analysis

a.      Vocabullary

In the speech Obama was trying to convince that Job Act is a good solution for the serious economic crisis. Obama thinks that the economic crisis happens in America is very serious.

  • Some  negative words employs by him in describing the crisis:

urgent time for our country (paragraph 1)

jobless (paragraph 1)

made things worse (paragraph 1)

compact erode (paragraph 3)

  • ongoing national crisis (paragraph 4)

nation’s woes (paragraph 5)

the decks too often stacked against them (paragraph 3)

an outrage (paragraph 10)

scrape by (paragraph 2)

burdened (paragraph 30)

literally falling apart (paragraph 12)

unemployment insurance (paragraph 17)

unfair (paragraph 15)

These are difficult years for our country (paragraph 40)


These negative words are used by Obama to show to the congress how terrible the recent condition of American society cause by economy crisis.

  • He used some vocabularies to tell the congress the hope of the people

real life concern (paragraph 2)

fair shake (paragraph 2)

fair share (paragraph 2)

decent salary (paragraph 2)

good benefits (paragraph 2)

a great school (paragraph 12)

no more earmarks (paragraph 13)

no more boondoggles (paragraph 13)

no more bridges to nowhere (paragraph 13)

back on their feet (paragraph 22)

  • He tried to make sure of all the Republicans to put aside all of political intention and give more attention to what the Americans want. It reflects on some phrases and sentence he used:

-          …millions of Americans who are watching right now, they don’t care about politics (paragraph 2)

-          …the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans… (paragraph 5)

-          It’s not just Democrats who have supported this kind of proposal …(paragraph 9)

-          This idea came from a bill written by a Texas Republican and a Massachusetts Democrat… (paragraph 15)

-          It’s the kind of proposal that’s been supported in the past by Democrats and Republicans alike (paragraph 15)

-          Now, I realize there are some in my party who don’t think we should make any changes …(paragraph 22)

-          I’m also well aware that there are many Republicans who don’t believe we should raise taxes… (paragraph 23)

-          This isn’t political grandstanding… (paragraph 27)

-          …Congressional action… (paragraph 31)

-          … a belief that we’re all connected, and that there are some things we can only do together… (paragraph 38)

-          We all remember Abraham Lincoln as the leader who saved our Union.  Founder of the Republican Party (paragraph 39)

-          No single individual built America…(paragraph 42)

  • He also urged the congress to pass the Act by using certain expressions:

-          They believed in a country… (paragraph 3)

-          But we can help (paragraph 5)

-          We can make a difference (paragraph 5)

-          You should pass this job plan right away (paragraph 6, paragraph 9, )

-          Pass this job bill (paragraph 8, paragraph 10, paragraph 15, paragraph 16, paragraph 17, paragraph 18)

-          …we can give it to them, if we act now (paragraph 12)

-          …from getting started as soon as possible. (paragraph 13)

-          And it has to stop (paragraph 15)

-          Pass this bill (paragraph 15, paragraph 17)

-          …they don’t have luxury of waiting 14 months (paragraph 45)

-          …meet our responsibilities (paragraph 42)

-          …this plan is the right thing to do right now (paragraph 47)

-          You should pass it (paragraph 47)

b.      Connective Values of the text

Cohesive features may be vocabulary links between sentences – repetition of words or use of related words. They may be connectors which mark various temporal, spatial and logical relationships between sentences which can show the ideology and the power of the speaker.

  • Repetitions

There are certain words and expression repeatedly said by Obama which can show his intention in delivering this speech.

-          Job (47 times)

-          America (22 times)

-          American (29 times)

-          Pass (25 times)

-          Plan (16 times)

-          Bill (11 times)

-          Congress (9 times)

From the words which repeatedly used above, it can be interpreted that the idea of President Barrack Obama in the Job Act speech. It can be interpreted that the bill should be passed by the congress, because it is a plan which will create a big impact to the American in America, mainly related to the job availability.

  • Connectors

The most frequently used connectors in the President Obama’s speech are but (16 items) and while (8 items).

The connector but is mostly used to contrast two different things. First, it is used to show the contradiction of the reality and the possibility, one of the example:

They pay for this benefit during their working years.  They earn it.  But with an aging population and rising health care costs, we are spending too fast to sustain the program. (Paragraph 22)

This kind of but was used by President Obama to show what possibility could happen in the coming period. It can be interpreted that he wanted to say that America should have a future plan to face any kind of possibilities, and Job Acts is one of the good plan.

Second, the connector but in the speech was used to strengthen the previous statement when it used in the sequence of statements, as it can be seen:

Now, the American Jobs Act answers the urgent need to create jobs right away.  But we can’t stop there… (Paragraph 28)

This kind of but was used to show that America should do more. The bill is not the only way to get out from the crisis. It needs a further action from.

Another connector which are frequently used by President Obama is while. Both connectors are used to compare different realities happened in the same time. As it can be seen in the example bellow:

while they’re adding teachers in places like South Korea, we’re laying them off in droves (paragraph 15)

while most people in this country struggle to make ends meet, a few of the most affluent citizens and most profitable corporations enjoy tax breaks and loopholes that nobody else gets. (paragraph 23)

The comparison of the two realities has a function to show that there are contradictions happen. In the speech it is usually used to compare good thing and bad thing. Bad thing happened in American and good thing happened in other countries. It implies that there are a lot of bad things happened in America which needs to be fixed. One of the ways to fix it is through the Job Act.

c.       Grammar features

  • The use of pronoun

There are 93 use of ‘we’, 31 use of ‘you’, 33 use of ‘I’, 46 use of ‘our’, 22 use of ‘their’, 89 use of theirs. The most frequently use of the pronouns in the speech are ‘we’ and possessive pronoun ‘their’. There are two ways in using the pronoun ‘we’ in this speech. The first ‘we’ was used to address the president and members of congress. It is another way of saying ‘we are one without any differences’. It is the way to melt the differences between the Democrats and Republicans in the Congress. By saying ‘we’ the Republicans will consider Presidents Obama as the part of them, even in fact he is Democrat, and they will consider about passing the act as they are one unity.

The second ‘we’ was used to address American people in general. The function of this pronoun is to show the toleration. It is used to make an effect that President Obama also experienced the things they experienced. It creates an image that President Obama is part of them and understands what they feel. By creating that image then people will sympathize and support the Job Act.

The most frequently use possessive pronoun in the speech is ‘they’. This possessive pronoun is addressed to the possession of American people. It is used to show tell the congress about the American people condition and what happen to them, so that the Congress can consider the effects of passing the Act.

  • Modality

The modality ‘must’ was used only once, ‘should’ was used 22 times, ‘will’ was used 50 times, ‘would’ was used 13 times, ‘can’ was used 45 times.

The modality of ‘can’ and ‘will’ are mostly used in the speech. This typed of modality implicate a future hope and possibility. As it is reflected in some of the examples:

-          We can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy (paragraph 4)

-          There are steps we can take right now to improve people’s lives. (paragraph 5)

These sentences can be interpreted as an implication of a possibility of doing something to help the economy. The modality ‘can’ was used in saying something which is able to be done, but it has not been done yet in the present time.

The ‘will’ modality used in the sentences is an implication of future effect or future action as the effects of the Job Acts. The use of ‘will’ in a sentence is used to create an optimism that something is going to happen, or an action is going to be done. That is why President Obama use the ‘will’ to create the optimism both for the Congress and the American people about the expectation toward Job Acts. Here are some examples:

-          It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for long-term unemployed. (paragraph 6)

-          My administration can and will take some steps to improve our competitiveness on our own. (paragraph 30)

Another modality which was frequently used in the speech is ‘should’. Compared to ‘must’, the modality ‘should’ was used much more frequently because ‘must’ is only use for once. It implies the power relation of the speaker, President Obama and the hearers, in this case members of Congress. The use of ‘should’ sound less imperative than ‘must’, it shows that President Obama has less power than the members of Congress. He orders the Congress to pass the bill in a polite way.

  • Parallel Structure

In the speech President Obama was employing many parallel structures in almost every part of the speech.

-          They believed in a country where everyone gets a fair shake and does their fair share — where if you stepped up, did your job, and were loyal to your company, that loyalty would be rewarded with a decent salary and good benefits; maybe a raise once in a while. (paragraph 3)

-          It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for long-term unemployed. It will provide — it will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business. It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled, and give companies confidence that if they invest and if they hire, there will be customers for their products and services.(paragraph 6)

-          It will put people to work right now fixing roofs and windows, installing science labs and high-speed Internet in classrooms all across this country.  It will rehabilitate homes and businesses in communities hit hardest by foreclosures.  It will jumpstart thousands of transportation projects all across the country. (paragraph 13)

-          It will lead to new jobs for construction workers, for teachers, for veterans, for first responders, young people and the long-term unemployed. (paragraph 19)

From the few examples of parallel structure employed in the speech above, we can see that the parallel structure has some function in the speech. First, it has a function to make a hyperbole effects. The hyperbole has a good effect to the hearer because it can blow their expectation or image of something on their head.

Second function of the parallel structure is to give the addition information to make something more detail. This kind of thing can cause the hearer, in this case American people and members of the Congress have a better idea about the detail of the Job Acts.

3.      Interpretation analysis of the relation between the productive and interpretative process

a.      The level of social situation

The text is in the form of speech delivered by Barrack Obama. The speech generally sent out to all of the American society but specifically sent out to the member of Congress, it can be seen from quotation bellow:

Those of us here tonight can’t solve all our nation’s woes.  Ultimately, our recovery will be driven not by Washington, but by our businesses and our workers.  But we can help.  We can make a difference. (Paragraph 5)

The words Washington and we in the sentence above are interchangeable. That is why we, in the sentence represent the members of Congress and the President. From the sentence it clearly seen that the use the speech is specifically delivered to the Congress. It also can be seen from the sentence, “But we can help”. ‘We’ in the sentence must be those who can do something related to the Job Act, and those are the members of Congress.

The topic of the speech is Obama’s plan about Job Act in the middle of a serious economic crisis occur in America. Obama in this speech tried to show to the congress that the Job Act needs to be passed.

The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis(paragraph 4)

Those of us here tonight can’t solve all our nation’s woes. (paragraph 5)

The bold words presuppositions in the above examples are issue in American society that President Barrack Obama assumes to be in the intertextual context of American economic crisis. To understand those words, the interpreter should have an assumption to get the correct interpretation.

b.      The level of social institution

In the speech Obama is in the position of American President. He sent the speech specifically to the member of congress. In America, president is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government. The president is further empowered to grant federal pardons and to convene and adjourn either or both houses of Congress under extraordinary circumstances. Barack Obama is the president from the Democratic Party.

Members of congress are House of Representative and Senate, the legislative branch in America. The 112th members of congress (2011-2013) consist of Democrat (51 seats) as the majority party, Republican (47 seats) as minority party, 1 Independent and 1 Independent Democrat with all total 100 seats. An Act of Congress is a statute enacted by government with a legislature named “Congress”. In the United States, Acts of Congress are designated as either public laws, relating to the general public, or private laws, relating to specific institutions or individuals. (source:

Thus, he tried to tell the congress some reasons why the act needs to be passed. Becaise, the congress not only consists of Democrat Party but also the Republic Party which can possibly reject the Act because of the political reason.

That is why before saying the main point of the acts, he started it with some rhetorical questions, flash back, analogy, and the use of assertive statement rather than directive.

  • Rhetorical Question

-          “What will this speech mean for the President?  What will it mean for Congress?  How will it affect their polls, and the next election?” (paragraph 1)

-          Should we keep tax loopholes for oil companies?  Or should we use that money to give small business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers? (paragraph 25)

-          Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires?  Or should we put teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs? (paragraph 25)

These rhetorical questions are employed by President Barack Obama in deliver his speech to the members of Congress. The rhetorical questions are used to avoid the directedness. In the first example President Obama told the Congress what the main concern of the speech is without directly said it. He delivered the question to avoid the multi interpretation by the members of Congress.

In the second and third examples, telling the Congress what should do and what decision to take without imperative words.

  • Flash back and analogy

President Obama tried to tell what should do by the members of Congress by flash back to some past or historical events and make those events as analogy.

-          We all remember Abraham Lincoln as the leader who saved our Union.  Founder of the Republican Party.  But in the middle of a civil war, he was also a leader who looked to the future (paragraph 39)

-          where would we be right now if the people who sat here before us decided not to build our highways, not to build our bridges, our dams, our airports?  What would this country be like if we had chosen not to spend money on public high schools, or research universities, or community colleges? (paragraph 40)

-          How many jobs would it have cost us if past Congresses decided not to support the basic research that led to the Internet and the computer chip? (paragraph 41)

-          President Kennedy once said, “Our problems are man-made –- therefore they can be solved by man.  And man can be as big as he wants.” (paragraph 48)

Those are the past events which are used by Presidents Barrack Obama in the speech. The analogy was made to give the members of Congress a consideration so that they can pass the bill. Some past events which are used as analogies above, are those which has a good ending and beneficial. Those imply that President Barrack Obama was trying to say that the Job Acts will be as beneficial as those past events.

  • Speech Act expression

Instead of using directive expression, in some parts of the speech, President Barrack Obama preferred to use the assertive expression. But the message in the speech did not change.

-          In fact, this larger notion that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everybody’s money, and let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own — that’s not who we are.  That’s not the story of America. (paragraph 36)    

By adding the sentence, ‘that’s not who we are’ in the last sentence it changes the meaning of the whole text. The message in the statement above is in fact, ‘don’t dismantle government to restore prosperity and refund everybody’s money, and don’t let everyone write their own rules, and don’t tell everyone they’re on their own.”

The only chance President Obama used directive expression is when he asked the Congress to pass the bill.

-          Pass this job bill (paragraph 8, paragraph 10, paragraph 15, paragraph 16, paragraph 17, paragraph 18)

While in almost every part of the speech, Obama used the commissive expression. Commissive expression is expression By employing the ‘should’ modality and conditional clause ‘if’. As it can be seen in the following examples:

-          We should have no more regulation than the health, safety and security of the American people require (paragraph 35)

-          If we want them to start here and stay here and hire here, we have to be able to out-build and out-educate and out-innovate every other country on Earth. (paragraph 28)

The use of indirectness which is employed in the form of rhetorical questions, flash back, analogy, and the use of assertive statement rather than directive implies that President Obama, in this case is less powerful than the Congress. One of factor that makes the Congress more powerful is because the Congress are the one who decided whether an act will be passed or not.

c.       The level of society as a whole

The Democrat Party is the majority in the 112th congress, but Republic Party who plays role as the opposition always tried to find a way to criticize and disagree at some of law and policy. That is why in the processing a law, there is always a debate between Republican and Democrat whether the law needs to be passed or not.

President is in the executive branch in, while members of the Congress is in the legislative branch. The executive branch and legislative branch has the same power in democracy system. But in passing an Acts/bill into a law, Congress has more power. It is because in the process of passing a bill into a law, Congress plays as the final judges. Below are the stages of passing a bill into a law:

1)      Signature by the President of the United States,

2)      Inaction by the President after ten days from reception (excluding Sundays) while the Congress is in session, or

3)      Reconsideration by the Congress after a presidential veto during its session. (A bill must receive a 2/3 majority vote in both houses to override a president’s veto). (source:

In the speech, President Barrack Obama used a lot of pronoun ‘I’ as a representation of himself as the President of America.

-          I am sending this Congress a plan that you should pass right away (paragraph 5)

.     In addition to the trillion dollars of spending cuts I’ve already signed into law… (paragraph 22)

The statement said by President Obama in the sentence above means that he as the President of America has signed up and agreed with the bill. So the next stage for the bill is the reconsideration from the Congress before it gets passed.

4.      Explanation of the relationship between discourse processes and social processes

Explanatory is concerned with the relationship between interaction and social context. It is the relationships between transitory social events (interactions) and more durable social structures which shapes and are shaped by these events. (Fairclough, 1989).

The President Obama speech will be looked at as an element in social processes at the institutional and societal levels to show how its ideology, power relations, and power struggle at these levels.

In terms of the institutional level, this discourse is in relation with a number of institutions: political parties, political institutions, and governmental institutions. The institutional processes which can be seen in this discourse are the struggle between the President as the executive and the Congress as the legislative on the other side. President Obama speech is a reflection of the struggle in solving the economic crisis. His struggle in fighting the economic crisis in America has been done from the beginning of his leadership in Washington. The economic issues are the main concern of Obama’s governmental cabinet. He even started to promote several programs in solving the economic crisis during his campaign.

Obama as the President of Democrats party most of the time has different point of view with the members of Congress who come from the Republican party, as the two parties basically has different ideology and concern. Republican party is standing as the opposition in the Congress. In power relationship, President Obama was struggling against the Congress to make sure that the bill will be passed. Congress in this case consists of Democrats and Republicans. As the Democrat is Obama’s party, then the possibility for them to pass the bill is bigger than the Republicans. That is why Barrack Obama used certain expression to make sure the Republicans that there is nothing political in the bill. The way Obama used the expression to convey the Congress, especially Republicans, can be considered as the struggle of power.

At the societal level, we look the relationship between discourse and social structures. This is not one-way relationship. As well as being determined by social structures, discourse has effects on social structures and contributes to the achievement of social continuity or social change. The social relationship in this discourse is between President Obama – a member of executive branch, a president, and a politician. The other participant of the speech are specifically the members of Congress –legislative brach, a law passer, a member of Democrat and Republic party, and generally to American people. The social changes happens caused by this speech is positive, because in delivering his speech Obama tried to ensure the Congress in a polite and diplomatic way, without criticizing any institution of government. He only performed the reality and fact of what happening in America without manipulating them. In the terms of speech maker, social relationship affects him in creating an image of a good president who always consider his people and the prosperity of his country.

5.      Conclusion

The linguistics features employed to imply the power and ideology in the speech are; vocabularies, connective value (repetitions and connectors), grammatical structures (rhetorical question, flash back and analogy, parallel structures, modalities, the use of pronouns).

In the second stage of discourse analysis cognitive process of Barrack Obama is revealed through the use of rhetorical question, flash back and analogy, and commissive speech act. The way of President Obama shows his cognitive process was affected by the social background of the text itself.

. The explanatory stage showed the relationships between transitory social events (interactions) and more durable social structures which shapes and are shaped by these events. In the speech the social structure which shapes the events are the stages of passing a bill into a law. The stags of passing a bill is put Congress in the higher position in the social structures.


Fairclough, Norman. 1989. Language and Power. London: Longman.

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