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Vote, Vote, Vote for…

November 8, 2011

…someone. That’s the choice facing American citizens lucky enough to be registered in locations with off-year elections.  Pittsburgh, PA, current legal home of this correspondent, happens to be one of these odd-year-cycle places, and so it’s local political ads season. And what a season: the Post Tribune wrap-up coverage pulls out “vitriolic” as well as the more expected “attacking each other” in their latest lede. I’ve been most concerned with the public library referendum, but what caught my eye regarding the major race was Republican county executive candidate D. Raja’s slogan.

“Not a politician” really says something, doesn’t it?  The Washington outsider is a longstanding rhetorical move, granted, but I’m not sure I’ve seen it made this clearly in a campaign for political office. I’m curious about the choice.

For one, this is the use of “not.” Not X framing is difficult, particularly because you are still working in the frame of those calling you X.

Then there is the counter-intuitive nature of the claim—he’s not a politician even though he is running for one political office and served as a Mt. Lebanon commissioner previously. This move seems to rely on dissociation, a rhetorical feature Doug eloquently discusses here, and I less so here. In short, Raja breaks the link we would normally make between holding political office and being a politician. I think it only works if we also grant that one can take political office and avoid becoming a politician—withstand the corrupting force of power or compromise. But perhaps that is where my first point comes into play. As people come to forget the “not” in the slogan, they end with Raja, a politician. Probably a Republican politician. And since the issue-based differences between Raja and his Democratic opponent Fitzgerald are minimal, maybe partisan politics will end up being the deciding factor.

If you want to know more:

  • For the idea of frames and how to counter them, there is George Lakoff’s introductory guide: Don’t Think of an Elephant. The title generally makes his (and my) point.
  • For more on dissociation, there is The New Rhetoric.
  • And here’s where to vote, Pittsburghers.
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