Political Act in a Conservative Scene

David Tietge tietgedavid at home.com
Thu Oct 26 11:56:47 EST 2000

Having discussed this issue at some length with my students, I was reminded
of the professor who asked both Gore and Bush in the last debate what they
intended to do to get young people more involved in the political scene,
citing as he did the problem of ideological disillusionment.  There was no
satisfactory answer; both candiadtes just vaguely gestured in the direction
of "giving a voice back to the people" and other such vacuous posturing.  It
occurred to me that this may be one reason for the pejorative use of the
word "rhetoric" as merely a series of lies intended to persuade for less
than honorable reasons.  My students, for example, indicated that they
couldn't "trust" either of the candidates because, in their short lives,
they have already seen how politicians tend to "promise" one thing and do
another, using "mere rhetoric" to achieve a selfish end.  Political analysts
following the debate used phrases like "once you strip away the rhetoric"
and "beyond the rhetoric" to get to the supposed "tangible" core of a
message.  This superficial understanding of rhetoric, it seems to me, is one
of the fundamental reasons for youthful (and perhaps not so youthful)
disillusionment in the American democratic process: there seems to be an
erroneous assumption that there is something "real" and "down to earth" that
is independent of the language used to perceive it.  Perhaps a little
Burkiean training in the art of understanding the interrelationship between
language, ideology, and "reality" would help both candidates and voters
alike see the dynamic process we engage in when we adopt our own
orientations for larger public enterprises.  It might also explain why we
are hopelessly trapped in the bipartisan polar extremes that Ed describes.

David Tietge
Long Island University, Brooklyn

----- Original Message -----
From: "Edward C. Appel" <edappel at epix.net>
To: <kb at purdue.edu>
Sent: Thursday, October 26, 2000 7:36 AM
Subject: Political Act in a Conservative Scene

> Thanks to Michael for his added insights from Ortega.  As for the notion
> that this is an "issue-oriented campaign" we're experiencing, I'd say,
> yes, up to a point.  In a broad-brush sense, major and important themes
> are being articulated, even though Gore, especially in my view, is not
> sharpening and exploiting the constrasts between his program and that of
> Bush as he should be.  (Hence Clinton's backhanded criticism of Gore for
> this fuzziness in Clinton's upstate New York speech over the weekend.)
> In a recent piece in the Washington Post, Michael Kinsley put his finger
> on a major shortcoming in the debate, which is probably endemic to the
> "I'm all right and you're all wrong" "barnyard" quality of campaign
> rhetoric in a democracy.  There's no acknowledgment on either side of
> "trade-offs."  To get government more heavily involved in health care,
> for instance, some options we'd personally like to have open to us may
> have to go by the wayside.  To get government out of healthcare as much
> as possible, it's going to be perhaps excessively expensive for persons
> on a limited income.  No one wants to confess to a downside in their
> particular approach, and then argue for an "on balance" advantage for
> their proposals.  It has to be a black-and-white construction of the
> situation, with a connotatively invidious and usually distorted
> portrayal of the opponent's point of view in terms of "most extreme
> examples" and "worst-case scenarios."
> At the same panel in which Jamieson and Cappella made presentations at
> NCA in 1997, I believe, Roderick Hart argued for what I said in the
> question-and-answer was a way-too-idealistic proposal for campaign
> rhetoric, one in which candidates listen to each other and do not
> distort what the other candidate has to say.  Hart's reply was, "I'm a
> college professor, and my job is to press for the ideal."  Wearing
> rose-colored glasses while he's at it, I presume.
> The application of all this to the present season of campaigning is,
> true, we may be having a more substantive debate in terms of overall
> themes, but "logomachy," the "insult," and the "lie" (RM) still very
> much prevail and obfuscate the issues, and probably always will.
> Nothing like "Persuasion dialogue" or the "ideal conversation" that was
> the motif of Herb Simons' excellent seminar at the Iowa Conference
> obtains, or ever will obtain, with presidential power on the line.
> I might add one more detail to my previous post on the subject above:
> Successful two-term presidential candidates in out-of-favor parties
> often win their first term with the help of a third-party candidate that
> cuts into the vote total of his opponent.  Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose
> run in 1912 and Ross Perot's Reform Party effort in 1992 are
> extraordinary examples.
> Ed

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