On Rhetoric

Over the past several months, I’ve read a great deal from non-supporters of Obama regarding his speeches. Quite consistently, the remarks have been, “great wording and phrasing, no meat.” As in, there are no specifics, no details, no solid instruction. I have two thoughts in that regard.

On the one hand, it means they’re not listening to all the speeches. There have been several with meat. But that’s actually bypassing the important thing, because they’re not usually discussing the “little” speeches. They’re discussing the Big Speeches – campaign speeches before large rallies as much as anything else. And for that, the response is that they’re no students of history.

We modern Americans tend to disparage Rhetoric. “Oh, nice phrase, now where’s the meat?” And we’ll do this and then turn around and echo great rhetoric of the past. (shake head). The problem, I think, is that we’ve not had a masterful rhetorician in the limelight in so long we’ve forgotten how powerful words can be.

Man is indeed a reasoning creature, but we’re not robots. We’re driven even more strongly by emotion. And rhetoric hits the emotion buttons. Rhetoric gets the engine started and a general direction set. Without it, well, things do get done, but at a much more sedate pace. What, don’t believe me?

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

“[W]e shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender[.]”

“[B]ut as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Go read the actual speeches.  They’re “just” general appeals to emotion, with a general aim.

You can’t go anywhere with this sort of thing alone, sure.  But saying this sort of speech is worthless and meaningless is a frightening display of ignorance.


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