[KB] Burke and the election

wessr@onid.orst.edu wessr at onid.orst.edu
Fri May 2 14:16:08 EDT 2008

One thing that interests me about the upcoming election is the extent
to which it will test Burke's distinction between the "specific" and
the "generic," particularly the statement of that distinction that
appears on p. 193 of A RHETORIC OF MOTIVES. What Burke says there
applies most directly to Obama, but can easily be applied to Clinton
as well.

Members of congress can stay on the "specific" level and often are
expected to do precisely that. But the president, I think, needs to
partake of the "generic" for a variety of reasons such as "the
president represents all the people" and the fact that in the US
system the president is both head of government and head of state (by
contrast to Britain where the prime minister is head of government and
the monarch is head of state). To adapt the statement on p. 193 to the  
election situation is to say in effect that to run for president is to  
seek to embody something that can work on a "generic" level in US  

The historic nature of a black or female candidate for president bears
on what is "generic" in US culture. The generic is a "transcendent"
position but it varies from culture to culture and can change over
time, so it's a "perspective" too.

The "test" will be the extent to which this historic dimension of the
election proves to be decisive in either the victory or defeat of

Bob W

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