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Finding the Power of Parallelism in the GOP’s Pledge

October 19, 2010

The alliteration in the post title might distract you, but don’t let it. When the GOP revealed their “Pledge to America” a couple weeks ago for election season, they described their party ideals with spectacular care. In particular, they used parallelism, or a similar structure across a series of phrases, to emphasize America’s problems and their promises to fix them.

Now, parallelism is common in political discourse because it sounds so darn good when it’s spoken and it’s so easy to read when it’s written. It’s also the invisible best friend of American schoolchildren who are required to memorize famous speeches. To give you an example of parallelism, John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address declared:

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

The parallel structure of verb + any + noun allows Kennedy to emphasize the actions that he’ll lead his country in accomplishing. The similar rhythm across these phrases also makes them stand out, which in turn makes them more memorable.

Similarly, in the introduction to the GOP’s “Pledge to America,” parallelism allows the GOP to emphasize problems and promises in a striking way. Which problems do the GOP identify in their “Pledge to America”?

An unchecked executive, a compliant legislature, and an overreaching judiciary have combined to thwart the will of the people…

Rising joblessness, crushing debt, and a polarizing political environment are fraying the bonds among our people…

These adjective + noun combinations not only identify what the problems are—for example, the executive, legislature, and judiciary. Including adjectives in these combinations also allows the GOP to explain why these problems are problems—for example, the executive is unchecked, the legislature is compliant, and the judiciary is overreaching.

The pledge format naturally invites parallelism. The Pledge of Allegiance may be a short and sweet one-liner, but it does pack some parallelism punch: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands.” In their much longer introduction to the “Pledge to America,” the GOP pledges much more:

  • [W]e pledge to dedicate ourselves to the task of reconnecting our highest aspirations to the permanent truths of our founding…
  • We pledge to honor the Constitution as constructed by its framers…
  • We pledge to advance policies that promote greater liberty…
  • We pledge to honor families, traditional marriage, life…
  • We pledge to make government more transparent in its actions, careful in its stewardship, and honest in its dealings…
  • We pledge to uphold the purpose and promise of a better America…

Pledging to dedicate, honor, advance, honor (again!), make, uphold—the wording of these promises are in conspicuous contrast to the negative problems emphasized earlier in the introduction. We could easily characterize the parallel structure of these statements as We pledge to + positive verb. This makes the GOP’s pledge statements a double whammy of upstanding citizenship, since pledge itself is already an affirmative word choice.

So be on the lookout for parallelism in political speech! Parallelism sounds good, reads well, and emphasizes the important stuff… as long as it’s done right.

If you want to know more:

  • American Rhetoric offers a definition and examples of parallelism here.
  • The GOP’s web site for the pledge, complete with downloadable PDF versions, can be found here.
  • You can read (and hear and watch) John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address at American Rhetoric here.
  • For a more recent example of parallelism, you can read (and hear) Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech, delivered on March 18, 2008, at American Rhetoric here.

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