November 2, 1998
Political Persuasion in the 1997 State of the Union Address
Every year the President of the United States of America addresses the Union on what has been done in the past year and what is in store for the next. This is what we know as The State of the Union Address. On February 4, 1997, President Bill Clinton delivered a powerful speech in front of a mostly Republican Congress trying to persuade them to become more of a bipartisan chamber. He also tried to persuade the people of this land that what he has done, and will do are for the good of the people. Clinton uses two specific devices.
When President Clinton approached the podium to deliver his speech to congress and the American people, he took into consideration how congress and the people would view him after he delivered the biggest speech of the year. He never tried to impress, rather, he tried to persuade the audience. He went about this by using symbolic expression. Symbolism has the power to affect others and us both mentally and physically, as described in Charles U. Larson’s, Persuasion: Reception and Responsibility. An example of this in the Presidents speech is when he says, “we must be shapers of events, not observers.” What Mr. Clinton meant by this is that people of their communities must not stand around and take orders but to be leaders and take command. Citizens must run this country by not letting anything pass us by. Another example of symbolic expression is when the President says, “they (the people) put us all right here in the same boat, they gave us all oars, and they told us to row.” What the President is illustrates here is that the people did their part and voted for the politicians, now they, the elected officials, must do their part to make a good thing the best. A final example of symbolic expression is when President Clinton says, “as the Internet becomes our new town square” What he is getting at here is that the Internet is quickly becoming the center of attention because it is easy to access information as well as talk to anyone with the touch of a computer mouse.
Clinton also uses Vance Packard’s eight “hidden needs.” They are, the need for emotional security, the need for reassurance of worth, the need for ego gratification, the need for creative outlets, the need for love objects, the need for a sense of power, the need for roots, and the need for immortality. Vance Packard, the author of, The Hidden Persuaders, developed eight “hidden needs” used in selling products. Not only are they used for advertisment, but it is a good tool for persuasion. President Clinton uses seven of the eight “hidden needs” in his speech. The one not used is the need for love objects.
The need for creative outlets and the need for roots are the two least used in 1997’s State of the Union Address. In fact, they are only used one time each. An example of the need for creative outlets is when the President mentions, “Citizen service is an American responsibility which all Americans should embrace” The need for creative outlets is described as mass production, part of a production cycle, in the Larson text. As citizens of the United States, we are a part of one big company and should do things together to get everything accomplished. The need for roots has essentialy the same meaning. It’s a brand of loyalty. When Clinton mentions that we need to take action on various subjects like the economy and the enviornment and to build a more perfect union, he is asking citizens to be loyal to out country.
The need for immortality is also demonstrated in the speech when Clinton says, “a celebration of our common culturecan remain the world’s beacon not only of liberty, but of creativity, long after the fireworks have faded.” Because the United States is the “immortal” power of the universe and no one can make it crumble. The need for a sense of power was demonstrated numerous times throughout the speech. When Clinton mentioned the fact that bipartisan foreign policy was the strength throughout the Cold War and when he asked congress to do the same with education, there was a sense of power and influence there. As Larson mentions in his text, “the bigger the engine, the better.” Another example is when Clinton says, “We’ve worked hard to tear down trade barriers abroad so that we can create good jobs at home,” he expressed that when we can agree to work together with other countries, for example, on trade, we are a powerful and unstoppable machine. The second most used “hidden need” is the need for emotional security. When President Clinton mentioned that we must maintain a strong and ready military, which alone is a sense of security. Also, by saying, “this plan will balance the budget and invest in our people while protecting Medicare, Medicaid, education, and the enviornment.” Clinton exemplifies a sense of security.
The “hidden need” that was most widely used in the State of the Union Address is the need for reassurance of worth. From beginning to end, President Clinton makes the audience feel valued for what they do and for who they are. When Clinton mentions long-term health, Social Security, and Medicare for the long run, it makes people feel worthy of living in such a great land with a great government. Not only does Clinton make the native born citizens feel worthy, but he also makes the immigrants feel the same way. He did this by saying, “to restore basic health and disability benefits when misfortune strikes immigrants who came to this country legally, who work hard, pay taxes and obey the law. To do otherwise is simply unworthy of a great nation of immigrants.”
Finally, Clinton uses the need for ego gratification to perfection. As Larson says in the text, people need their egos “stroked” to make them feel as if they were really special. The President is a very important person, but he is in fact human. A perfect example of ego gratification in the speech is when he says, “but I really believe one of the reasons the American people gave me a second term was to take the tough decisions in the next four years that will carry our country through the next 50 years.” A second example is when he says, “Now we must keep our economy the strongest in the world.”
The 1997 State of the Union Address was one of the most powerful speeches delivered in recent times. President Bill Clinton used two specific devices to try and persuade a Republican majority in congress and the rest of the citizens in the United States that what he has done the past year and what he will do in the next is good for the American democracy. First, the President used symbolic expression by telling the people that they must be leaders and not followers. President Clinton also used Vance Packard’s eight “hidden needs.” Although Clinton is highly persuasive, it is yet to be seen whether the American people will continiue to respect his presidency.