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response to a political-personal crisis. Obama negotiated the controversy surrounding his personal relationship with Reverend Wright by acknowledging racial dispari- ties in the United States without placing blame for those disparities. Through this approach, Obama successfully maintained a post-racial rhetorical stance that appealed to extremely diverse audiences. We further argue, however, that the speech failed to accurately represent a racially differentiated United States of America. By sanitizing the country's histories of chattel slavery and racism, Obama's speech reified many harmful racial tropes. Our essay exposes the potentially damaging strategies Obama employed to resolve his political- personal crisis and considers the rhetorical implications of a post-racial discourse.

The essay proceeds in four sections. In the first section, we explain the rhetorical situation and consider historical and rhetorical antecedents of political-person- al crises for African American candidates. The second section is an analysis of the speech for Obama's suc- cessful post-racial strategies in addressing the Wright controversy. The third section examines the potentially harmful tropes Obama employed as he addressed the larger issue of American race relations. The essay's discussion of implications concludes with a contribution to the study of post-racial rhetoric.

The Rhetorical Situation and Political-Personal Crisis

Barack Obama entered the political limelight in 2004 with his Keynote Address to the Democratic Na- tional Convention. Since then, the man and his messages have become popular subjects of academic study and critique (Asante, 2007; Burnside & Whitehurst, 2007; Clayton. 2007; Dorsey & Dfaz-Barriga, 2007; Dumm, 2008; Frank & McPhail, 2005; Fraser. 2009; Harris. 2009; Harris-Lacewell & Junn. 2007; Hill, 2009; James, 2(K)9; Marable, 1990,2009; Mazama, 2007; Mcllwain, 2007; Rowland & Jones, 2007; Walters, 2007). Some rhetorical scholars credit Obama's ecumenical discoui^e for its ability to "recast the American dream from a conservative to a liberal story" (Rowland & Jones. 2007. p. 425) while others fault him for *'Ígnor[ingj the historical and social realities of American racism" (Frank & McPhail, 2005, p. 583). Obama's "A More Perfect Union" speech offers rhetorical critics the op- portunity to study his response to a pressing and pivotal rhetorical situation.

The rhetorical situation involving Reverend Wright was as a political-personal crisis for Obama. According


The Western Journal of Black Studies. Vol.

to Bitzer (1968), a rhetorical situation is "a complex of persons, events, objects, and relations presenting an actual or potential exigence which can be completely or partially removed [by] discourse" (p. 6). In March 2008, Obama's "exigence"—or the "imperfection marked by urgency"—was a political-personal crisis ignited by the circulation of Wright's incendiary remarks about the U.S. government (Bitzer, 1968. p. 6). Candidates and incumbents encounter political-personal crisis situations when a personal event, association, or state- ment becomes a concem for the public; that is, when the populous becomes skeptical of a politician's ability to govern, lead, or faithfully execute their positions because of a personal happening. Candidates respond- ing to a political-personal crisis may choose to ignore the situation, deny the situation, briefly address and then attempt to move away from the crisis, or appear open and willing to answer all questions and concerns (Tuman, 2008),

The historical and rhetorical antecedents that are most informative for our analysis are those involving raced candidates whose political-personal crisis was related to their visible identification as nonwhite—an exigence that can be neither ignored nor denied (Hill, 2009, p. 61 ). Successful raced candidates have dissolved voter concerns about their race and have been elected into office by employing rhetorical patterns of direct addresses in the form of the Jackson model, a neo- accomodationist approach, or a post-racial approach.

Speaking about race in frank yet non-confronta- tional terms is often referred to as the "Jackson model" and most closely aligns with the political-personal crisis strategy of appearing open and willing to answer diffi- cult questions and concems (Walters, 2005, p. 16). Jesse Jackson ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1984 and 1988, and although he did not win. he did succeed in gaining widespread support, especially with middle class blacks who considered Jackson "'a sym- bolic advocate of their own interests" (Marable, 1990, p. 23). Jackson's (1988) now famous appeal to "the real rainbow coalition" (p. 1) allowed him to address tough moral issues like racial equality because he believed that they were the keys to political success and equality for all (p. 9). Walters (2005) argues that Jackson's two campaigns were "the most important mobilizations of the Black community in presidential politics to date," modeling a serviceable rhetorical strategy for raced candidates who followed (p. 16).

Another observable rhetorical strategy of raced candidates is the neo-accommodationist approach (Marable, 1990, p. 25). Accommodation is a strategy

33, No. 3, 2009

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