Archive for January, 2011

I posted today on POLITICO about the continuing presence of the so-called “Birthers,” and how the conservative movement is without a leader of sufficient stature, or desire, to shut them down. It reminds me of a conversation I had with Edwin Meese a couple of years ago. After an hour of reviewing and debating several points of Constitutional Law, I asked him how he could countenance the hyperbolic and often offensive rhetoric of his former aide Mark Levin. “Well, Mark has a different audience,” Meese said. Even when that “different audience” is spewing vitriol and ranting irrationally, today’s conservatives are afraid to stand up and disown them.

Read my full article here, published on January 28, 2011.

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Dear Jon,

It is an important question to raise, and it’s a good thing you’re doing so: Whether we should blame rhetoric, in the abstract, or rather try to have a genuine debate about creation of a social/political culture created through discourse, in which people need to take responsibility for their words. The r-word can be tricky.

I applaud your analysis of the SOTU, especially about the Sputnik theme. I blogged on this yesterday, and no one in the MSM seemed to catch the Eisenhower strain to Obama’s speech — or his missed rhetorical opportunity to capitalize on it. Precisely as you said: “Once you say ‘This is our Sputnik moment,’ where are we going?”

If you frame the speech that way, where is the rest of the argument?

Obama says “Sputnik Moment,” and offers…lower mileage on our SUVs? Honestly, this is a page right out of The Onion’s Century book, in which on one of the pages from the 1980 presidential race a caricatured Jimmy Carter meets Ronald Reagan’s patriotic enthusiasm with…”Let’s Talk Better Mileage.”

The speech didn’t follow through on the Sputnik Moment opportunity, and I’m with you on that critique. And similarly, how someone writing on a whiteboard in the White House Communications Office thought “Winning the Future” was a great tagline. As a speechwriter, I had only one thought: I didn’t know we were going to lose the future. And if you’re going to face up to Boehner and McConnell in Congress, and the tea party, this seems a strange, not to mention politically weak, way to frame the argument.

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A different critique, from the Atomic age: It seemed clear tonight that at least one of the President’s speechwriters was trying to have him to channel Dwight Eisenhower, in his focus on education, efficiency, bipartisanship, competency, and global competition. The Sputnik references made it all rather obvious.

This was a speech about “The Education Race,” our generation’s Space Race, a challenge to get America’s science education back program on track and leading the world — however, it got lost in the rhetorical rubble of a poorly crafted address.


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In this rhetorical analysis of Sarah Palin’s speech on the Tuscon shootings, I dissect the ten most glaring instances of her use of the “Red Herring” strategy, which is when a speaker tries to deflect criticism by bringing up topics that are irrelevant — but not untruthful. Thus the continued attempt to divert criticism over her incendiary, violent rhetoric to the legal question of the shooter’s criminal intent; as well as references to everything from early American civics to 9/11.

Read my full article here, published on January 13, 2011.

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I love Jon Stewart. But like so many otherwise insightful critics, his arguments seem to go off the rails when the word rhetoric shows up. Is rhetoric “empty,” or does it actually matter? Can we “blame” rhetoric? Stewart suggests that Palin’s rhetoric is no more to blame for Tuscon than heavy metal was to blame for Columbine. Hang on a second…

Politico: The Arena

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In this column I call out Palin and her tea party supporters for the attempt to avoid responsibility for her violent, destructive rhetoric — and focus solely on the singular motivations of the Tuscon shooter. This is not an untruthful tactic, but it is irrelevant over Palin’s own responsibility for her words, regardless of their effect on one deranged mind in Tuscon. The right wants to confuse these two separate issues, and play the victim.

Read my full article here, published on January 11, 2011.

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For several years now there has been a continuous stream of vitriolic attack rhetoric from the right. Roger Ailes and Glenn Beck with their Nazis; Rush Limbaugh attacking Obama for being everything from a socialist to a Kenyan post-colonialist; the Tea Partiers’ know-nothing nonsense about “wanting their country back.”

In response: Silence. Deafening silence.

The political left in this country has lost its voice. President Obama’s noble and uplifting speechifying helped him get elected, but he has now reverted to a thoroughly ineffective, detached professorial style. He did not deign to mention John Boehner by name until just before the election. He muzzled his vice president.

Above the fray, perhaps? The fray being kicked up like crazy by the right? You betcha. Above the fray. Out of it. And losing. (more…)

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