Measured Rhetoric Is More Effective

A good part of what I was trying to say in my Socialist post the other day concerned the relationship between precision in political rhetoric and its ability to persuade; in short, I think that “toned-down” rhetoric is more likely to convince an interlocutor (let alone an observer)  of at least the plausibilty of one’s position than is the “speaking truth to power” approach.

Pomocon James Poulos makes a similar point oh-so-much more eloquently over at Culture11, this time in response to recent comments by Thomas Sowell with regard to a possibile Obama presidency. The entire thing is good reading, but I’ll quote the conclusion to give you an idea of his point:

So, dear partisans:

* Zero in on the way a hugely Democratic congress would tend to dominate Obama’s mild, pragmatic temperament with a dogmatic, impatient, inflexible one;

* Insist, like Reagan, that Obama has America’s best interests at heart but is, alas, misguided about how to accomplish them;

* Offer tangible proof that elites and non-elites can come together without hypocritically demonizing elitism;

* Come up with a coherent explanation of how Obama could be both too passive and too aggressive in international affairs;

* Recognize that beating Obama on the issues means showing why he’s wrong, not showing how he’s somehow powerful enough to, like, change the entire world forever;

* Admit that a lot of average Americans actually do want more or less what Obama’s selling, the better to reveal that it’s simple CHANGE; the broader an Obama win, the shallower.

As I argued previously, we don’t need to make Obama’s positions worse than they actually are to effectively critique them… they’re bad enough as is.

22 Responses to Measured Rhetoric Is More Effective

  • Just so.

    I suppose it’s just an intellectual twitch of mine, but whenever I hear that someone is a person who “speaks truth to power”, I have the strong urge to walk rapidly in the opposite direction. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anything worth hearing given that moniker.

    Much though I don’t want to see an Obama presidency, and eager as I will be to keep it to four years if it happens, I hope that the general conservative movement can hold itself back from an “Obama derangement syndrome” which is equivalent to the Clinton and Bush varieties suffered by the two respective parties. Aside from being unattractive, such obsessions make it harder to understand one’s opponent, and thus defeat him.

  • crankycon says:

    I hope that the general conservative movement can hold itself back from an “Obama derangement syndrome” which is equivalent to the Clinton and Bush varieties suffered by the two respective parties.

    Ditto. We can certainly push back against the administration, but I really don’t want to walk into Borders and see entire tables dedicated to books detailing the evils of the Obama administration written by unhinged conservatives or disenchanted leftists.

  • Jay Anderson says:

    I really don’t want to walk into Borders and see entire tables dedicated to books detailing the evils of the Obama administration written by unhinged conservatives …”

    You’d never see that even if such books existed by the truckload. They’d be neatly hidden away outside of public view. That is, if Borders bothered to stock them at all.
    ;-)

  • Fr. Andrew says:

    On this issue of measured rhetoric, why is it that there has been little (or no) measured critique of the Bush Administration by Senator McCain? It seems that he could have critiqued President Bush’s bloating of the federal government and budget in a decidedly un-conservative way.

    Or did he make those critiques and I missed them (likely story).

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    “Or did he make those critiques and I missed them (likely story).”

    There was little that the Bush administration did domestically that McCain did not attack at one time or another.

    Here is a link to a newspaper story from May 22, 2004 in which McCain attacked the budget of the Bush administration.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/republican-split-could-block-bush-budget-564277.html

    “Yesterday the budget hold-up drew fierce criticism of the Senate rebels by Republican leaders in the House of Representatives. But John McCain, the Arizona senator and one of the four, angrily shot back, accusing “some of those in our party” of abandoning the commitment of “real Republicans” to fiscal responsibility.”

  • I don’t think McCain has done a very good job of that — partly, I imagine, because he doesn’t want to offend the 25% of voters (pretty much all Republicans I assume) who still say they approve of Bush’s performance. In that sense, someone with more conservative credentials would have probably been able to campaign better than McCain, criticizing Bush from the Right.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    “I guess I mean to ask why this didn’t/doesn’t seem to be a prominent part of McCain’s campaign.”

    Good question Father. McCain is a true maverick and campaigns in the way he wishes to campaign whether it makes sense to others or not. Not stressing this difference with Bush doesn’t make much sense to me, since the Republican base is always in favor of the government spending less.

    One decision McCain made was to save most of his advertising money until the last two weeks. This gave Obama a four to one, in some states an eight to one advantage. Now they are making huge ad buys and Obama’s ad avantage is now down to 5-4 nationally. A very risky tactic, and we shall see how it works for McCain. I can understand why he did this however. If you can’t match your opponent dollar for dollar, do it when you know the voters will be paying attention.

  • Steve, how is this any different than people say that Bush lied us into Iraq, because, well, they just *know* that he intentionally deceived us? There is *no way* I’d ever vote for Obama, but I don’t need to employ overblown rhetoric to make my case… as DC noted at the top, the whole “speaking truth to power approach” invariably turns people off. So if our goal is to actually *convince* people of the truth and rightness of our position, we ought to employ an approach which makes that more likely, not less.

  • Kyle R. Cupp says:

    Agreed, Chris. Measured rhetoric is more persuasive. Given that persuasion is a prerequisite for the maintaining of laws and policies in a democratic society, I’d say persuasive rhetoric should be the rule. Moreover, cases against Obama’s policies will better persuade if they are not undermined by hyperbolic or demeaning rhetoric.

  • Tito Edwards says:

    Measured rhetoric seems to me the most optimum pathway towards bringing others into your own camp. It’s like a girl getting hit on at a bar, her defenses are up because she knows the environment she’s in. But at a grocery store she would be as aware of men’s advances.

    Yes I know the analogy is pretty simple, but it does state the case very well.

    What do they say? You’ll attract more with honey than with vinegar.

  • Steve says:

    I don’t mean to be a jerk–seriously I don’t. But Obama wants to re-legalize a procedure of delivering babies up to their head, stabbing them in the back of the skull and sucking out their brains. That’s not overblown rhetoric; it’s the truth. It’s not hyperbolic; it’s an apt description.

    So what is the “measured rhetoric” for this? I guess it would be “choice”?? The culture of death already has the upper hand in a lot of ways, and now we’re willing to play on their home field by using their lexicon to define terms of debate?

    I think we run the risk of sanitizing some dramatically anti-human, anti-Christian ideologies–and in doing so, blind ourselves and our neighbors to the dangers of electing radicals like Obama.

  • It’s not hyperbolic; it’s an apt description. So what is the “measured rhetoric” for this?

    Steve, I agree with you: that is an apt description. No, “choice” is *not*, because it isn’t a description at all. But I’m not talking about how to describe the process of PBA or infanticide… I’m talking about this: how can we persuade people that PBA needs to be outlawed? What is the most effective way to convince them? Just as a matter of psychology, I don’t think calling them “baby killer” is likely to work. I can assure you, I’ve had the experience of employing language that is stark and explicit, and it inevitably fails as a matter of persuasion.

  • rob says:

    -It’s like a girl getting hit on at a bar, her defenses are up because she knows the environment she’s in. But at a grocery store she would be as aware of men’s advances.-

    Man. Does this work? I’ve been married eleven years and now it’s too late to try it. Rats!

  • Steve says:

    Well, thanks for the assumption of good faith, but when I re-read my first post in this thread, even I thought I was a jerk.

    Now, I do believe that persuasion can be greatly effective in certain circumstances. If you are debating the best way to create jobs or save social security, or any number of things, I think it is an effective tool.
    That said, I appreciate, and generally agree with your point. What troubles me, however, is that Obama’s words, associations, and voting record suggest to me that he does in fact have a radical leftist ideology.

    Now, how do you use measured rhetoric to combat this?

    Using the PBA example, if someone knows about PBA, how can we convince someone that it’s wrong? Isn’t it self-evident?

  • crankycon says:

    Steve:

    You raise a good question. I think we can be forceful without becoming unhinged. Just look at Egan’s wonderful article today. It was blunt, and even shocking to a degree, but he maintained an even tone that simply laid all the facts on the table. I think he gave us an example to be followed.

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