Political Campaign Rhetoric

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Political Campaign Rhetoric

In 2004 the United States of America held a presidential election as it does every four years. Throughout the process, from primary to convention, from the debates to Election Day, both the candidates and the media relied on rhetoric to influence the thoughts of the electorate. Because of the close results of the 2000 election and the bitter court battle that followed, the rhetoric of the campaigns of both major candidates in 2004 was stronger and more focused than before. To show the uses of this rhetoric and its effects on the public through the media, several topics are discussed within. First, the language used by the candidates, followed by a discussion of the political conventions and a look at the rhetoric of journalism and the way that the media effects the government.

The Oxford English Dictionary provides several definitions of rhetoric. Several rather different concepts are called rhetoric, but this paper is concerned with "Speech or writing expressed in terms calculated to persuade; hence (often in depreciatory sense), language characterized by artificial or ostentatious expression." Another term often found in articles about rhetoric, and sometimes used interchangeably by those unfamiliar with its meaning, is semantics. The definition of semantics offered by the Oxford English Dictionary that I find most relevant to this discussion, is "the relationships between linguistics symbols and their meaning." In order to understand the rhetoric that political candidates use, we must understand the semantics of their words. During a political campaign, the candidate must modulate their words very carefully, so much so that sometimes it seems that he or she becomes an entirely different person. In order to attract new supporters, and to not alienate those who already have given their support, the candidate's statements must always be carefully constructed. Typically, each candidate chooses issues that they feel they can use to gain support and when speaking will speak in generalities about the issue, providing a superficial explanation of what they see as the problem. When discussing how they intend to fix the problem, the candidate will rarely give many details about their plan, as the details could serve to alienate voters. For example, when Nixon stated that he intended to achieve "peace with honor" in Vietnam, the public, weary from years of conflict, would have been less likely to elect him had they known that he intended to achieve it by methods such as "Operation Linebacker," an around the clock saturation bombing campaign against North Vietnam. Terence Ripmaster points out the use of this type of rhetoric by both candidates when he writes "Bush insisted that his tax cuts for the rich ‘create jobs for everyone'; Kerry promised that if elected, he would provide ‘tax cuts for the middle class.' Neither provided statistics to help us evaluate their promises" (2005). Ripmaster illustrates another case of a candidate choosing to focus on issues that will further their cause when he writes "Because of the participation of social and cultural conservatives in the 2004 election, we were exposed to the vague terms ‘values' and ‘faith-based'" (2005). He argues that Bush and his supporters used this rhetoric to convince voters that his values were morally superior, and continues by stating "Politically speaking, a vote for Bush was a vote for his values. In the political rhetoric surrounding values, science, intelligent discourse, and constitutional considerations disappear into the abyss of charges and countercharges. Toss in the word God and you have a total lack of clarity" (2005). I believe this says something about the nature of religion in our society. There exists a certain double standard: in general, Americans clearly tend to accept that which is proven scientifically as true. At the same time, however, religious Americans often claim that they accept the sacred...
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