Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln, and the Structure of Reason
David Hirsch and Dan Van Haften
“I do not seek applause, nor to amuse the people, I want to convince them.” —Abraham Lincoln
An Interview with Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln, and the Structure of Reason authors David Hirsch and Dan Van Haften:
: How is this book about President Obama different from all other books about him?
David: This book demonstrates how President Obama in January, 2011, completely changed his speech style, and adopted the structure used by Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s structure was revealed in our 2010 book, Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason.
: Why did you decide to write “Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln, and the Structure of Reason”?
Dan: Two reasons. One is that it is news. The other is that this a structure anyone can use. President Obama’s use of this persuasive structure is easier to understand, and more straightforward than Lincoln’s.
: What are some features of your book that you think readers will really enjoy?
Dan: Before each speech we present a short analysis pointing out unusual or special characteristics regarding use of the elements of a proposition. The endnotes provide links to videos of nearly all of President Obama’s speeches discussed in the book. This is particularly effective in eBook format because it is quick and easy to use. After each speech there is a structural summary.
David: The book presents an easy to understand, new perspective, on the modern presidency. The book also provides tools that everybody can use in their daily life. Anyone who needs to persuade can use these tools to save time, be sharper, and be persuasive. The structural technique explained in the book also makes it easier to spot weaknesses in other people’s arguments.
: Contrast Abraham Lincoln’s use of the elements of a proposition with President Obama’s use of the same structure.
Dan: Abraham Lincoln tends to be more textured and poetic. Lincoln’s use of the elements of a proposition is frequently subtle, with interesting twists. For example, in his 1864 Baltimore Sanitary Fair speech, Lincoln uses a parable for a Construction (the fourth element of a proposition).
President Obama’s language is more informal. His use of the elements of a proposition is generally easier to spot. But he also occasionally provides interesting twists.
: How were the speeches selected for this book?
Dan: We reviewed over 70 of President Obama’s speeches from the first half of 2011. We selected a mixture of short, medium, and longer speeches covering a range of topics. The book contains chapters on, among other things, the economy, education, and foreign affairs.
: Chapter 1 is “Poetry”. It includes the Gettysburg Address and short comments by President Obama about poetry. What is the purpose of this chapter?
David: Chapter 1 provides basic insight regarding structuring speeches according to the six elements of a proposition. Nearly every American is familiar with the Gettysburg Address. In Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason we state, “Lincoln’s structured logic . . . yielded better poetry.” President Obama’s poetry comments use the same structured template of reason that Abraham Lincoln perfected. Interestingly, some commentators compared President Obama’s January 12, 2011, Tucson Gabrielle Giffords speech to the Gettysburg Address. The Tucson speech is discussed in Chapter 2.
: Is there anything else you would like to say about the book?
Dan: President Obama’s speeches cleanly demonstrate how to use the elements of a proposition. We need more rational discussion of issues by citizens and politicians. The elements of a proposition provide the framework to create structured reason, and to challenge the reason of others.
David: The book was fun to write. We believe that a lot can be learned by looking at what a president actually says, full text. It is gratifying to see President Obama pick up on our 2010 revelation of Lincoln’s structure. In fact it is humbling. We also know that Newt Gingrich picked up on the system. Most pleasing of all is the prospect that the logic of the six elements of a proposition will spread into general use. Its structure can inject civility into oratory, writing, and problem solving, enabling logic to prevail. There is no limit to the good this can bring to a chaotic world.
Book Two >