Last night, the GOP presented its new star, Sarah Palin, to the world at the RNC. She delivered her speech with zeal and confidence, and I’m quite sure the McCain folks feel pretty damn good about her performance. I’m also pretty sure that after watching Palin, the “always-vote-Jesus” crowd might actually do something unthinkable come this November–vote McCain.
Political Rhetoric- Examining Palin
I have to say, I was feeling pretty good about this election season until last night, but after Palin’s speech, while dry-heaving with revulsion, the old Gen-Xer hatred of all things government returned with a vengeance.
Obama’s now in between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, he doesn’t need to divert his focus onto Palin, which would in effect validate her speech, because in reality he’s not running against her, he’s running against McCain. On the other hand, he simply can’t let personal attacks go because they have a tendency of festering and exploding. Just ask John Kerry…he’ll tell you I’m right.
Let me put on my teacher hat for a moment, and I’ll explain the rhetorical dilemma that Obama faces as well. Palin just struck at his campaign hard and fast with an ad hominem attack and a bushel-load of lies. I’m not really going to address the lies part; you can readÂ this AP story for the fact-checking. But here’s how an ad hominem attack works:
“Ad Hominem” is Latin for “to the man,” and in an argument it refers to the practice of completely disregarding the opponent’s logical argument and attacking the opponent personally. It goes like this:
Opponent One: “In your previous statement you claimed that your plan will provide two years of college for free to any graduating high school student. That will do nothing but water down the value of a college diploma, as well as encourage students who have no interest in college to gum up campuses.”
Opponent Two, responding with ad hominem: “Look, I just want to educate all Americans, but I can tell by your 1,000 dollar Armani suit that you really don’t even know what it’s like to struggle for anything at all, much less struggle to pay tuition costs at a university.”
Notice how Opponent Two completely ignored the substance of Opponent One’s argument? That’s ad hominem, and dealing with an attack like that is tricky business. The first, and in my mind, wrong-headed, inclination in dealing with this type of attack is to counter and rebut with an ad hominem as well. Admitedly, that does work in some instances, but a person who in responds in that manner runs the risk of losing credibility (the person who initiated the ad hominem has already shown via the initial use of ad hominem that credibility is not something he or she much cares about). Obama runs the risk of losing his credibility if he ever uses ad hominem against Palin or McCain, which is why he has wisely declared her family off-limits.
The second method of dealing with ad hominem would be to logically dismantle it and show the attack as the diversion that it actually is. However, this assumes that the audience will be intelligent enough to understand the difference between substantive argument and diversionaryÂ tactics employed for purely manipulative purposes. That’s an assumption I’m not willing to make. “With the lights out / it’s less dangerous”
In any case, the Palin attacks must be dealt with (notice the passive? Yeah, I don’t know who should deal with them, either).
I’m hopeful that Obama is well-educated enough to combat this latest, and sadly, typical, republican attack against him. The only democrat I’ve ever seen who could weather GOP ad hominem attacks with ease was Bill Clinton. But then again, he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, so understanding classic modes of argumentation should be easy for a guy like that. Obama isÂ trained in Constitutional Law, and while thatÂ unequivocally makes him qualified to be President, it doesn’t necessarily provide him with the tools needed to successfully combat fallacious arguments.
Am I the only one offended by the GOP’s apparent belief that a tight ass and a pretty smile negates the hateful shit that spews from the mouths of prominent female republicans? Ann Coulter, Laura Schlesinger, and now Sarah Palin? “Look at me! I have a short skirt and a big chest, and I can say abhorrent and deplorable things! But don’t say anything mean to me! I’m a girl!”