The student blog for Drake University first year seminar entitled Visual Politics

Friday, September 3, 2010

Oval Office speeches

On August 31, President Barack Obama chose to announce the end of American Combat Operations in Iraq with an Oval Office Address to the nation. This is only is second address from the Oval Office (the first regarded the infamous BP Gulf Oil Spill).The president, respected as an outstanding orater has often preferred to use that talent to its fullest extent and made speeches to live audiences on location. In this case; however, made the conscious decision to make this speech from the Oval Office because of the aura it provides. Within the office there are symbols and messages meant to express a point all their own which has little to do with the President's speech.

The Oval Office itself is a symbol of control and strength. CNN's Xuan Thai quotes Presidential historian Robert Dalleck as saying: "[When] a talk to the nation is given from that office, [it] is underscoring his executive powers, his leadership." At this point President Obama is in need of appearing to be the figure in control, a decision-maker, as much as he needs the good news he delivered on Tuesday. The American Democratic Party is projected to recede greatly in power during the mid-term elections and its greatest weapon is the first racial minority to become president. In 2008 his charismatic call for Hope and Change called to a great many people and whether or not you agree with what he has done Obama has done what he said he was going to do to our country during that election. By appearing in the Oval Office the President stops appearing to be a politician and starts to become (in the public eye) a statesman. The president appears to be involved in the business of running the country and can't be taken away from his work rather than in the business of running for office and doesn't have time for his work.

The Office also has a certain sense of intimacy (Thai). Behind Obama are pictures of his family like any that may be found on an office desk in any lowly cubicle from Portland Maine to Portland Oregon. It's not especially significant, but it creates a connection with the observer. The observer can also see the American flag and a flag displaying The Great Seal of the United States of America. It's just you and the President.

Interestingly, if one compares the Obama's speech to Former President George W. Bush's address to the nation on the evening of September 11 2001 one will notice a few subtle differences. First the Flag with the Great Seal only shows the claw holding a fistful of arrows on 9/11 last Tuesday the Olive Branches were visible and higher up than the arrows. Secondly, though both desks are remarkably clear for men who held quite possibly the most demanding jobs in the world Former President Bush does have a pile of leather-bound binders in the lower left hand corner while President Obama has nothing at all visible and the cameras can see even more of the desk. Therefore, former President Bush felt the circumstances and other factors demanded he appear to be on top of the situation while President Obama appears more concerned with you as an individual. Finally, President Obama where's an American Flag lapel pin (a politician's trend which became popular in the wake of 9/11). The decision to where those pins has been a hotly contested topic at times. Personally I think it is sad that he must where it. I think it denigrates the office of the President of the United States of America to have a "nametag" saying I am a patriotic American. He is THE PRESIDENT it should not be necessary. Why it is can be discussed by others to me it is only sad.

Overall, Tuesday's speech was another example of Obama and his team's exceptional ability to play to the audience's susceptability to personal communication and human touches. They were trying to shape the audience's opinions of Obama, the American Democratic Party, and the USA. Time will tell how much this speech changes the mid-term elections and the country as a whole.

(Thai's article:


  1. I need to know the author of this post. -- Ralph

  2. Dumb me, the poster is Benjamin Wildner

  3. I really enjoyed that you attached a link about the oval office with your post to add another perspective to us all to see. However, there were a few gramatical errors within the post that really distracted me from your content (such as using where instead of wear). I enjoyed your overall thoroughness and the comparison to an old speech of President Bush's was a unique touch. Zach Kadow