[KB] Speech Writers and Rhetorical Identity

davidthomas1572@comcast.net davidthomas1572 at comcast.net
Wed Feb 27 08:44:47 EST 2008

Dear Ed and the Gang,

A few thoughts after watching Democratic Debate No. 20 last night, and Morning Joe this morning:

Is Hillary a good stump speaker? Can any woman match up to male politicians – like Obama, Reagan, John Kennedy – as great stump speakers?

These and other gender loaded questions dominated a segment of today’s (2/26/08) Morning Joe program on MSNBC. Pat Buchanan, the Republican troglodyte, er, commentator, went off on Hillary Clinton’s speaking style as being inherently inferior because she is a woman in a man’s field. So many, many, good male stump speakers. . . Buchanan asserted that her strength as a communicator lies in the type of TV debate format in which she and her opponent are seated side by side at a table, [DT: more connected and more relational, perhaps?]. But when she is seen speaking on the stump, she comes across negatively, Buchanan opined, even despite the fact that she may be “winning” on the issues she is talking about. 

In last night's debate, in passing, Obama characterized Clinton's campaign argument about his campaign's "unfair mailings" as "whining." Nobody responded to that term, so presumably, it was accepted as a fair shot. She objects to his campaign's tactics; he says that's just whining, something he does not do.

Back to Morning Joe today, in the ensuing conversation between Buchanan, Joe Scarborough, and his sidekick Mika Brzezinski, the general tenor revolved around Hillary Clinton’s tone of voice as one “every husband is familiar with,” her stridency, and her image compared with men. Scarborough floated the opinion that Buchanan’s opinion has been colored by “thousands of years of our culture.” Buchanan laughed and said, “That’s not culture!”

Brzezinski tried valiantly to defend Hillary as a speaker, but Buchanan challenged her to name a single woman who was a great stump speaker, besides Margaret Thatcher, who, one of them said, “never raised her voice.” That stopped Brzezinski. The conversation moved on to other topics, and minutes later, Brzezinski suddenly interjected, “Anne Richards! I just thought of Anne Richards.”

Okay, the above is my paraphrase. I don’t have a data recorder constantly running where I can go back and reproduce an instant verbatim transcript that would stand up in court as an accurate reporting. Other viewers who saw the show might remember the segment differently. In fact, if what I assert below is right, it is certain that other viewers will remember it differently.

Here's a few of my thoughts and questions as I witnessed this remarkable (to me) meta-commentary about speaking techniques on a routine political talk show.

First, do professional Burkeians talk about the importance of gender communication practices and emblems as an intrinsic component of what is meant by “identification?” Things like, “If a man does it, he is being forceful, if a woman does it, she is being a bitch?“ 

Language is symbolic action; does that principle extend to nonverbal communication, too? For example, women constitute the major audience for “The View,” which is a reference I daresay will have some of the elder statesmen of Burke studies and readers of this blog scratching their heads, wondering, “What’s ‘The View’?” If you have seen that particular morning talk show on ABC, you will recognize the gender elements of any one of their regular "hot topics" free-for-alls. My wife loves it; I can't stand it. And I'm talking about the loud, all-talk-at-once, high pitched cat fight quality of the discussion. (Example: One of the View's personalities, Joy Behar, said that she likes Ralph Nader because he is on the right side of all the issues, and besides, he's cute. I once wrote a paper about Nader, and I have to admit, it never once occurred to me that he is cute.) And what about Joe Scarborough using Mika as his gender foil on a regular basis? And why does she put up with it? D!
 o they 
rehearse this stuff? Or is it the spontaneous expression of their inner essences? You can add your own examples.

For a long time, when I was still teaching, I included gender and communication as a regular part of my public speaking classes, and I always included feminist rhetorical theories as a part of my criticism classes. I see the topic as highly salient. It is a part of audience analysis, and for that matter, a part of one’s world view. Or standpoint. Or perhaps, identification?

Second, Is Buchanan’s wandering off the campaign issues reservation into the mine field of women and their distinctive speaking qualities going to become the next topic on Mediamatters? Personally, I would hope so. He’s an idiot loudmouth on so many things. That's my masculine standpoint on Pat Buchanan. But it's a tossup whether I viscerally dislike him or his sister Bay Buchanan the most. (Right, right, I don't know either one of them, I just watch them on TV talk shows. So it is not true to state that I don't like either one of them personally. But now we are getting into that point about identification again, aren't we? I react to their images, and what they symbolize to me in the context of the political arguments on TV.)

Third, what about the opening question? Are there any great female stump speakers? And was Anne Richards a good example of one? Once you start naming great female stump speakers, and why, won’t that be, in itself, an incipient critique of the standard canon of the male ones?

Finally, am I going to draw fire as being sexist myself just for raising these questions, or for admitting that I, as a man, included feminist rhetoric (among other theories) in my criticism classes, or brought up gender communication in my 101 classes? Or just because it's a cultural thing?


David Thomas (I approve of this message, but I did not ask my wife about it before sending it. Perhaps I should have.)

 -------------- Original message ----------------------
From: Edappel8 at cs.com
>        Postmodern literary critics have announced that the author of works of 
> fiction has disappeared.  He or she is dead.  Shall we teach our students of 
> rhetoric and speech that the rhetor has disappeared, that he or she is 
> dead---and, in fact, long since?
>        As Robert Benchley said via telegram when he arrived in Venice: 
> "Streets flooded Stop Please advise."
>        Ed

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