Jesse Jackson's 1988 Speech to the Democratic National Convention “Common Ground and Common Sense”
Jesse L. Jackson is a vocal man whose contributions to civil rights activism, Baptist ministry, and politics remain ingrained in the annals of American history. In his various addresses, Jesse used different rhetorical approaches not only to establish his position within the complicated American system but also to achieve self-empowerment, rejuvenate his constituency and set the grounds for his political ideologies to prosper outside the traditional political platforms. He used persuasion and strategic narratives to raise both the political and social consciousness of the American community. His speeches can be framed as having progressively moved from unorthodox discourse to the intricate political platform, swaying the emotions of the audience in his favour. Through an in-depth analysis and critique of Jesse Jackson's 1988 Speech to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) "Common Ground and Common Sense,” it is possible to understand how he tactically integrated the pertinent issues that the Americans faced, thus presenting himself as a rhetorical functionalist.
In his 1988 speech, Jackson narrated his stories in such a way that he invoked the human senses to establish meaning for whatever he said. In other words, Jackson illuminated the substance of a broader contextual issue or policy by providing short narrations that embodied high levels of complexities inherent in the pervasive issues that he represented. In the address, Jackson used stories to simplify critical and controversial issues that plagued the American society such as race, economics, and social stratification. Through the use of short narrations, Jackson managed to promote various political and social positions through a single speech. On the other hand, the smaller narratives that dominated Jackson’s 1988 DNC speech can also be synthesized to form a larger story called a master narrative which is the hallmark of his rhetoric.
In Jackson’s pursuit to set himself and constituency on a more human and godly political course, Jackson triggered the concerns of masses on issues such as wars, nuclear weaponry, and racism which were critical controversies in the American community. His narrative based on God as a central point of convergence for Americans from all walks of life. In doing this, Jackson intended to form religious faith as a logic on which to establish a transformative socio-political course that he perceived as the main thing that his constituency longed to have.
Jesse Jackson 1988
Throughout his speech, Jackson kept a moderate eye contact with his audience. He continually shifted between reading the written text he had on the podium and looking at the audience within the room. In making this balance between reading and keeping an eye contact with the followers, Jesse Jackson ensured grasped the attention of his audience and linked their conscience with the content of the speech he was reading. If he were to keep his eyes glued to the written speech, Jesse would have appeared as someone not interested in moving the emotions of his audience to share with him his vision for America. In addition, when Jesse was making a string assertion, he used different intonations to arouse the feelings of his audience so that they would remain emotionally attached not only to the speech but also to the mission that Jesse set firth. For instance, he used a sombre tone in making the statement, “Many were lost in the struggle for the right to vote: Jimmy Lee Jackson, a young student, gave his life; Viola Liuzzo, a White mother from Detroit, called "nigger lover," and brains blown out at point blank range…,”
Whenever, Jesse Jackson made a sensational statement in his speech, he gave time for his audience to respond through acclamations, ululations, or soft noises. This theatrical strategy gave the audience a zeal to hear more and assured the speaker that he was both physically and emotionally attached to his audience through the narration. Jesse manifested himself like as a charming politician whose ideologies were not based on secular values but were founded on the ideals of religion. In the speech, Jackson kept mentioning the name of God and reaffirming the values of Christianity on which he had founded the Rainbow Coalition. Jackson remained composed throughout the speech except when he intended to break slightly from the narrations to speak of other things that supported the foundations of hi address. For instance, when he brought his wife to the stage to express his joy for familial support of his mission, he slightly turned his back to the crowd to welcome her.
The mission on which Jackson began his story was consistent with theological understanding of humanity’s imperfections. He merged different things including personal, political, and social salvation to develop his mission. In this respect, if the mission that Jackson alluded to was a perfect one, then it was infallible and a Christ-like undertaking. In his call to perfect action, Jackson personified the qualities of a typical prophet since he appeared as the only person who knew and understood the nobility of the perfect mission. Jackson identified his audience as people who need a drastic change that would not only define their presence but also influence their future to attract their attention. For instance, he portrayed his audience as the disinherited, disrespected and despised people, who are hence restless and in a dire desire to obtain relief. In doing so, Jackson set himself as an individual commissioning a mission to heal his community. He also used symbolism as a rhetorical language referring to his community as lepers. The name “lepers” symbolically represents people who are economically and socially disadvantaged. In making his audience look symbolically estranged from economic and social issues, Jackson elevated himself to the status of a healing leader. In a move to reaffirm hope for prosperity among his audience, Jackson ended the narrative of his great commissioning as a unique leader by stating that the right leadership is the recipe for correcting all the miseries that underlay strained progress of the American community. Jackson imaginatively portrayed leadership as synonymous with the biblical role of Moses which involved moving the estranged Israelites to the Promised Land.
Jesse Jackson Speech 1988
From a skeptical point of view, the narrated metacodes often provide the best medium to communicate human consciousness. In the DNC speech, Jackson advanced a religious metacode as the universal connector of his audience to sanction his political agenda. Using this metacode as a rhetorical narrative validates him and his constituency within a religious context. In this regard, Jackson portrayed the Rainbow Coalition that he supported throughout his speech to look like Coalition adorned by God. After Jackson strategically empowered the secular mission of the Rainbow Coalition, he introduced another unique story in an entirely different form. In making this second narrative, Jackson modestly lowered his rhetorical tone and recounted his political successes.
In his DNC speech, Jackson was dogmatic about his platform for the convention and confrontational on the campaign trail. In doing this, he succeeded in reducing the strength of his intentions. His opinionated narrative was intended to prepare the audience for a humble tale full of emotional appeal. This emotional appeal made the listeners evaluate Jackson’s intentions of recognizing and correcting the conflicts that arose from his earlier remarks on the political trail. In making this apology, Jackson was keen to redefine the strength of a leader as that which stems from the humility in accepting perceived mistakes while at the same time being "resilient" to remain on course for the desired objective. He used this truncated tale of a humble preacher and ideal political servant to construe himself apologetic.
Jackson adopted the speeches of other prior politicians to advance the idea that his mission was primarily intended to achieve a shared and compromising tone in which he would unite both minorities and majority groups. Jackson developed a story that used similar elements probably to mend his past remarks that had threatened to divide rather than unite people that he wanted to bring together. He invoked the spirit of former human rights advocates such as Martin Luther King Junior to advance his fight for liberties in a progressive democracy. He stated that “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lies only a few miles from us tonight. Tonight he must feel good as he looks down upon us…”
In the 1988 DNC address, Jackson tried to include everybody but gave prominence to groups that had been victims of political inactivity for too long. From this perspective, Jackson used a power-based-narrative that often works because it helps an individual politician to portray the existing agencies as corrupt and unworthy of leadership. Jackson’s inclusion of the quilt path story in his speech demonstrated the Rainbow Coalition, which he led, as having had a historical struggle within an oppressive and non-inclusive regime. This narrative functioned to establish the coalition as the best replacement for the traditional story of what it means to be an American. Therefore, Jackson pursued a path towards making the Rainbow Coalition look like a representative of "all" people as opposed to a system that only accommodates a few elite groups.
Jesse Jackson, "Common Ground, and Common Sense," Congressional Quarterly, (July 23 1988): 2057. Available on http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/jessejackson1988dnc.htm
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