Archive for the ‘Nonverbal rhetoric’ Category

Pope Francis has been making waves even after his first few months as leader of the Catholic Church — as much for what he is saying as what he is doing; while some critics point out that there’s nothing “technically” revolutionary about his statements, the cardinal rule of rhetoric has never applied with more force: It’s not what you say, but how you say it. Indeed, a large percentage of the reaction to Francis has had to do with the nonverbal aspects of his rhetoric.

Item 1: Coming down off the pedestal. Francis has made a habit of mingling with the common people, to the chagrin of his security detail (and Brazilian traffic cops).

Item 2: The popemobile. First he rode the bus to work. Then got rid of the bulletproof glass on the Benz. Then he started driving a Ford Focus. Deciding even that was too snazzy, he recently accepted (as a gift) a 1984 Renault with 186,000 miles on it.

Item 3: The chair. Compare Benedict’s throne to Francis’s seat of choice.

Pope Thrones

To be sure, it’s also about what he’s said, including his first appearance before the faithful, where he pretty much said “Hi folks, here I am!” And then all of the comments about how the Church needs to stop “obsessing” over homosexuality, abortion, and birth control. He even seemed to say that he’s OK with atheists. His wide-ranging interview with the Jesuit magazine America triggered raised eyebrows as well.  (Needless to say, this caught Bill Maher’s attention…)

Some observers have suggested that Francis’s words (and actions) could even have implications for American politics — threatening to peel off typically conservative Catholics from the rest of the (increasingly extreme) religious right.

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No_(2012_film)We saw a great film recently, with a plotline deeply concerned with politics and rhetoric. The film “No” is a Chilean production and is a artistically-liscensed treatment of the 1988 referendum on the Pinochet regime. The protagonist, a communications consultant, argues against using the opposition’s limited airtime to show images of the regime’s brutality — in favor of sunny images of democracy as “allegria” (happiness). In watching I was reminded of the scene from George Orwell’s 1984 in which Winston Smith is tortured not literally, but virtually — with interrogators telling him his worst fears were behind the door of room 101…but never opening the door. In this case, the Chilean people did not need the door opened, for they knew all too well what was behind it. Show them the opposite, the protagonist argues, and they will see behind the door. It’s a brilliant piece of filmmaking, not to mention an exposition of rhetorical theory.

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The dean of the Actors Studio was back on Hardball tonight with his analysis of the performances of the two candidates in last night’s debate. Lipton’s bottom line: characters are set; Romney is running for boss (and a boss you never liked that much) and Romney is running for President.

Cf. Chris Matthews’ comment that Romney is the fellow sitting in business class who won’t get off his cell phone until the flight attendants come and tell him he is holding up the plane’s departure. (Wait not plane, “aircraft.” As Lipton said in an earlier interview, most of us fly in airplanes, or pilot them — perhaps if you own them, they become “aircraft.”)

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The debate tonight was a needed refresher after the dull performance last week. I’ve argued for years that the administration’s decision to muzzle the Veep was not in its best interest.

Biden was not just verbally aggressive on substance, but also effective in his nonverbals — in stark contrast to the President, who was seen as cold, disinterested, and not engaging. I might criticize Biden for his grins, which suggested a fatherly “oh come on now, young man,” but the spin from the Dems indicates they feel it was an effective way of telegraphing that the other fellow was lying, that his statements were, literally, laughable. Or for his scowls, which similarly expressed a fatherly disdain.

We also came close to a Lloyd Bentsen/Dan Quayle moment with the Veep calling out Ryan on his reference to John F. Kennedy. Biden didn’t know Jack Kennedy, but “Now you’re Jack Kennedy.”

Maybe the laughs were too much; decide for yourself.

Among my favorite moments was Joltin’ Joe confronting Ryan over his hypocrisy in requesting stimulus funds for his district while he voted against the underlying legislation. He was hardly the only GOPer to do this; happy to posture against spending, but then glad to take it.

Hopefully the next Presidential debates will be as lively. Veep debates rarely matter; the Quayle debate did — the Palin debate not as much, though the choice itself was of course controversial and “game changing.” Going back over history, it’s always interesting to note that even political junkies are hard pressed to name many Veeps, even, for example, any of Franklin Roosevelt’s over four terms, other than Harry Truman — and that despite FDR’s age and health. This VP race appears to be of a different category.

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My piece on the passing of Dick Clark ran today in POLITICO. Unfortunately they didn’t include one of my hyperlinks, which directed to Al Sharpton’s tribute from a few days ago. It’s worth watching and was part of what led me to write what I did today.

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We’re all getting a little worn out by the never-ending GOP debate schedule, and tonight’s was not among the more memorable. Mitt went after Newt more aggressively, but still without much feeling of authenticity. Hence his repeat award noted below…

Hall of the Presidents Audio Animatronics Award: Mitt Romney. Once more, Mitt looks and sounds like he was manufactured by the Imagineers at Disney World.

Marcel Marceau Award: Newt Gingrich. Newt proves again that he is not only a skilled at rhetoric, but also acting; using his hands and facial expressions far more effectively than the rest of the field.

Mr. Scott, Beam Me Up! Award: Mitt Romney. For suggesting that the solution to the immigration crisis is “self-deportation.” Self deporting is achieved by using a special card issued by the government.

Fred Dalton Thompson Reverse Mortgage Award: Newt Gingirch. For picking up FDT’s endorsement. Per Howard Fineman, FDT can be a very effective salesman; Fred and Newt could make a great team of hawkers. Thanks to @FranEaton for the idea of this award!

I Thought That Was Nixon’s Cliché Award: Mitt Romney. For dusting off the press’s favorite line about Nixon, “resigned in disgrace.” Watch for it in the ads.

If It Walks Like A Duck Award: Mitt Romney. For pointing out Newt’s flimsy defense about distinctions between acting as a “lobbyist” vs. a “consultant” (or “historian”).

Bay of Pigs Award: Newt Gingrich. For expressing his belief that Comrade Fidel is not going to “meet his maker” but rather is “going to the other place.”

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Not all rhetoric is verbal — especially in politics, where power relationships are so often expressed through symbolism. This latest example from Ireland, where the royal handshake between the Queen and the Prime Minister was the matter of much attention in the English press.

The PM did not curtsey, and also avoided what is apparently known as the “nappy-pat,” the gesture many of us include in our handshakes in which we take our other hand and clasp it or pat it on the already joined hands.

Stateside we are still reminded (by the right wing crowd) of our own head of state’s greeting of the king of Saudi Arabia — he bowed too low for some, a gesture that has been employed by these detractors as a show of weakness, a kow-tow.

The Irish PM and the Queen’s advance teams proved more attentive to these kinds of details.

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