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Glitches (on Websites) get Stitches (for Entire Laws)

November 18, 2013

Late last week, I got an e-mail from one of my senators that I think illustrates an important point about the way critics have been talking about the problems with the Healthcare.gov website. See, somehow I’ve found myself on PA Senator Pat Toomey’s e-mailing list, despite having never contacted him or voted for him, and being perfectly happy to admit that I probably never will (we, um, don’t see eye to eye on very many things). He sends out e-mails pretty frequently, and his latest one led with a story about the ongoing problems with the Affordable Care Act, problems summed up fairly nicely in this New York Times article. In a nutshell, though, the website for purchasing federal healthcare has been busted since it debuted in October, and lately it’s come to light that President Obama was knowingly fibbing back in the day when he said that all Americans could keep their existing coverage if they wanted to, no matter how crappy it was. Old hat for anyone that’s been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the news lately, but still, this e-mail from Mr. Toomey (handily archived here) made me glad I’ve been too lazy to unsubscribe from his mailing list.

As you can see, it’s not that the e-mail says anything particularly out of the ordinary or surprising, but something about how it condenses these problems with the Affordable Care Act into 200 words under the heading “The Whole Law is Unworkable” got me thinking about how the terms of this debate have been troubling me for awhile.

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Ted Cruz and the Dangers of the “Real America” Discourse

October 22, 2013

Almost five years ago exactly, Sarah Palin, then a candidate for vice president, told a crowd in Greensboro, North Carolina that it was refreshing to be in “pro-America” America. This week Texas Senator Ted Cruz went a step further, telling supporters in his home state that it was “terrific to be back in America”—even though he was returning from our nation’s capital, a place that is surely “America” in any sense of the word. When Palin spoke about a “real” America, people were outraged. Palin later apologized, but, as Cruz’s commentary shows, the idea of a “real” America apparently lives on. Indeed, it may be growing stronger. Does this frighten you? It should. Here’s why: Read more…

It’s Our Anniversary!

September 30, 2013

It’s hard to believe, but today marks the 3rd anniversary of our first post. We’ve seen a lot happen in the past three years, and we want to take this opportunity to thank you for reading our interpretations of those things and for making this project continue to feel worthwhile. As always, if you’re interested in joining us by submitting a post, we’d love to have you on board.

Here’s to many more years of discussing the rhetoric that has such profound effects on our lives as citizens, consumers, scholars, and people.

Syria and Persuasive Force

September 5, 2013

Why are we motivated by how people are killed?

This weekend’s Syrian news cycle reminded me of Kenneth Burke, particularly his perspective on persuasion. Burke, writing under the shadow of World War II, argues to be human is to create hierarches and

…since, for better or worse, the mystery of the hierarchic is forever with us, let us, as students of rhetoric, scrutinize its range of entrancements, both with dismay and in delight. (333 also see 141)

Perhaps the urge for hierarchy can explain the persuasive quality (or the attempt to persuade) in Pres. Obama’s speech justifying a military response to Syrian Pres. Assad’s use of chemical weapons.* Read more…

Public Rhetoric on the 50th Anniversary of “I Have a Dream”

August 28, 2013

Today marked the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march that ended with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In Washington, the anniversary was celebrated with a day-long event, including speeches from people who were at the original march, all living former presidents able to attend (both Bushes cited health reasons for missing the event), members of the King family, and President Obama.

It’s an interesting event for rhetoricians, one that we wanted to make a brief comment on. “I Have a Dream” is one of the most famous pieces of public rhetoric ever, at least for Americans, and it seems fair to say that the original 1963 march is remembered more for King’s words than the march itself. As such, many of the speakers today referenced the speech, an interesting bit of speaking about speeches. Many echoed or at least referenced King’s famous language.

It’s also interesting that we have an African-American president for the occasion, a strong symbol of the progress we’ve made towards racial equality, and a symbol that many present remarked on while simultaneously pointing to the work that still needs to be done.

You can watch a video or read the transcript of Obama’s speech if you click here, and every major news outlet has sections of their websites devoted to the anniversary event. It’s rare that we see a bit of rhetoric getting so much solemn attention, so we’re stoked. What do you guys think?

When “Mere Rhetoric” Saves Lives: The Decatur, GA Gunman as a Case-in-Point

August 21, 2013

Rhetoricians and others who study persuasive language often find themselves confronted with the following tropes: 1) the use of the word “rhetoric” to mean empty or nasty discourse, 2) the idea that there is such a thing as “mere” rhetoric, and 3) a contrast between rhetoric and reality which would seem to imply that the two are totally separable (e.g. “we need action, not rhetoric”). The news this week brought a powerful repudiation of all of these ideas. In Decatur, Georgia, a would-be school shooter was talked down by a school staff member, Antoinette Tuff: Read more…

Race and Language in the Zimmerman Trial

July 9, 2013

As George Zimmerman’s trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin progresses, there have been a lot of interesting things said about one of the prosecution’s key witnesses. 19-year-old Rachel Jeantel is the last person to have spoken to Martin alive, and her testimony last week alleged that Martin was on the phone with her when he expressed concerns about Zimmerman following him. Jeantel’s testimony, along with her presence on social networking sites, drew a lot of attention online and in the press that adds another layer to the racially charged nature of the case.

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