1. What words or ideas that Kennedy advanced that especially stood out for you? Why?
One significant element of the speech that was particularly distinctive was the way in which Kennedy situated space exploration within the cannon of other technological advancements such as the wheel, the printing press, the steam engine, and nuclear technology. While that concept might seem quaint to a modern audience, Kennedy references things that both loom large in the history of the West and are advancements that were made within living memory of some of those in the audience. In making those references, he invites his audience to both reflect on their place in history and imagine themselves as actors in the making of history while they ponder supporting the space program. In that regard, the speech becomes more of a conversation between Kennedy and the American public.
2. Do you think that Kennedy used pathos (appeal to emotion in order to persuade) as the primary persuasive method to the American people? Why? Why not?
I do think Kennedy utilized pathos as the primary motivating factor in his attempt to persuade the American people to support his administration’s space agenda and the launch of the Apollo program. He wove references to significant cultural elements within American history (specifically the importance of the concept of the frontier and the American “can and will do” spirit) throughout his speech in order to underline the concept of destiny as a part of thrust to pursue space travel. By linking the Western frontier of the nineteenth century (which one might say Americans “conquered”) and space travel, Kennedy suggests a certain assertiveness on the part of the American space program that will end in American triumph. Further, Kennedy also references Soviet technological advances which invoked additional elements of strong emotion given the political climate in which the speech was delivered.
3. On the other hand, do you think that Kennedy used logos (logic, reason) as the primary persuasive method? Why? Why not?
While logos played a role in the speech, it was secondary to the part pathos played in bolstering support for the Apollo program. Pieces of logic were scattered throughout the speech, such as when Kennedy presented the cost of the expansion of the space program and the specifications of some of the more impressive pieces of technology. He links these figures to the practical uses of potential space technology, such as its application in weather prediction, communications, defense, and geographic mapping (“John F. Kennedy Moon Speech (1962)”). While important aspects of the need for a space program, they take a back seat to the more metaphorical and empowering messages that undergird the speech.
4. Regarding Kennedy’s challenge to go to the moon, what was especially meaningful to you? Elaborate.
Kennedy effortlessly combined several powerful metaphors which really speak to the heart of the American spirit. Wandering into the unknown (whether appropriate or not) is an integral part of collective American history and Kennedy presents his vision of space exploration as the next chapter in that history. Further, he imbued Americans, both past and present, with a sense of agency in other historic instances of exploration. By invoking agency, Kennedy is not foisting his administrative agenda on the American people; he is sharing his prerogative with his constituency as a collective choice to expand into space.
5. How would you rate the overall performance of Kennedy on this occasion as a speaker? Why?
Kennedy did very well as a speaker. If I were to grade his performance, I would probably give him an A or gold star equivalent. He was impassioned without being off-putting or hysterical, he connected with his audience by referencing them and their environment, and he used understandable language but did not insult his audience’s intelligence with condescension or lack of scientific vocabulary. Kennedy did not appear to falter, his body language expressed his ardency, and he allowed bits of time for the audience’s verbal responses. Kennedy was resonant and inspiring. He delivered a great speech.
6. How would you rate the overall quality of the message or the commencement speech itself? Elaborate.
56 years after the original speech, the metaphoric aspects of the speech are still profoundly moving. Though the concepts of Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism, which Kennedy referenced liberally throughout the speech, deserve objective criticism for the ways in which they harmfully marginalized those considered “un-American,” the Moon Speech and the launch of the space program might be seen as a turning point in which the “American Spirit” was collectivized in order to pursue greater technological advancement. Additionally, the concept of the president approaching the American people to support one of his agendas so honestly is both old-fashioned and refreshing. Overall, the speech is certainly a product of its time and that shows in some of the more outdated aspects of Kennedy’s rhetoric. However, the inspiring, honest spirit which calls upon all Americans is still quite powerful and serves as a redeeming feature of the speech.
- “John F. Kennedy Moon Speech (1962).” Youtube, uploaded by AIRBOYD, 16 July, 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuW4oGKzVKc