In a time long distant (summer), I looked at some of the political rhetoric of Rick Perry. It feels like time to become analytical again. There are many candidates running for office, and even though I’m something of a political junky myself, I was surprised to learn that there are candidates who I never heard of. Gary Somebody? There are always the tiny third parties who want to return the entire population to farming, or require everyone to carry a handgun, or declare war on Jamaica for stealing our marijuana.
But I mean Republican candidates. There is a plethora of these. It could be entertaining to put on hip boots and wade through the gobsmacking incredible drivel that falls out of the mouth of Michelle Bachman, but it takes little ability to shoot fish in a barrel. So let’s leave Michelle standing on a hill howling at the moon, which looks a bit like buttocks, which reminds her of gay people, and grrrr…..
Instead, I’ll turn some attention to the language and rhetoric of someone who actually might become President. Mitt Romney is intelligent and capable, and he has the ability to be President. Sure, people are put off by the fact that he seems to have no real beliefs, other than how much he reallllllly wants to be President. But in the current political climate, with all the Jesus-told-me-to-tell-you rhetoric coming from the Republican side, an appearance of no serious belief could even appear to be an asset.
I’ve taken some information from Mitt Romney’s website, so let’s look at two issues that have caught fire for this election. A major item in the right-wing catechism is that thou shalt not show any sympathy whatsoever for illegal immigrants. The enlightened faithful take this point so seriously that Mr. Texas Tough-Guy Perry shot himself by admitting the obvious fact that the children are not the ones who broke the law. Romney uses that admission to go after Perry. Through the voice of his website, Romney says, “Democratic Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, President Obama, and Rick Perry all share the same position that illegal immigrants should get tuition discounts at taxpayers’ expense.”
There are two obvious rhetorical strategies here. First, Perry is being associated with two Democrats, including the much reviled Obama. In some ways this attempt at guilt by association is such a cheap trick that it looks clumsy, since in reality, Romney himself has more in common with Obama than Perry does. Probably much more. Obama and Romney both went to Harvard. Even so, the attack on Perry probably has some effectiveness, and both Democrats and Republicans will jump on this technique as fast as they can think of a way.
The second clear rhetorical strategy in the quote above is to remind party fanatics who hate immigrants (“no no, we love legal immigrants”) that Perry showed sympathy for educating the children of illegals. Given the audience Romney is aiming at, such a nasty strategy of appealing to negative feelings may be effective, at least in terms of harming Perry. In the long run, this return to the Know-Nothing political party of the 1850s shows our country at its worst. You are sowing the whirlwind, Mitt, and the Republicans may someday reap the harvest they deserve for doing that.
It thus seems a bit ironic that on Romney’s website we find the sentence: “These values—inherited from our Founders and embodied by all who came to our shores seeking opportunity—have made the United States the most powerful nation in the history of the world.” Here Mitt seems to recognize that we are a great nation largely because we have attracted ambitious, hard-working immigrants. Yes, there is a difference between legal and illegal, but saying the children should not be educated is not addressing the problem.
A second intense issue for this election—probably the most intense—is the question of jobs and the economy. No President could create such a problem; no President could fix such a problem. But that’s logic, not politics. Politically, Obama totally fucked it all up, and if only a Republican could get elected, that person could totally make everything better. That’s politics.
Another page of the website, consisting of only two paragraphs, addresses the anxiety over the economy. One of those paragraphs begins with a sentence that I think shows an effective rhetorical approach: “Any American living through this economic crisis will immediately recognize the severity of the break that Mitt Romney proposes from our current course.”
Many people are out of work now, many people want something to change. A severe break from the wretched economy sounds like a good idea. The sentence attempts to connect with those who are worried about the economy, then goes on to try to carry a sympathetic reader into “immediately” recognizing “the severity of the break that Mitt Romney proposes”.
Within the two paragraphs of that page, we also find the following phrases:
- rebuild the foundations of the American economy
- free enterprise, hard work, and innovation
- increase trade, energy production, human capital, and labor flexibility
- how economic growth and prosperity are achieved
- how jobs are created
Aren’t these the right things to say, to invoke a sense of seriousness, a somewhat elevated aura of competence, a feeling of someone who knows? And that sense, that aura, that feeling are exactly the things the Romney campaign is trying to promote about Mitt Romney. Those are the appeals they want to use to get him elected. If he makes it to the Presidency, it will probably be because that rhetorical approach was successful. Mr. CEO.