Political Rhetoric- Examining Palin

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.

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 read 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 diversionary 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 is trained in Constitutional Law, and while that 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!”
Categories: Politics, Teaching | 15 Comments

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15 thoughts on “Political Rhetoric- Examining Palin

  1. Indeed. I loved the “fact” that being a community organizer is somehow elitist.

  2. Let me start by addressing this:

    “Listen I don’t mind you ripin’ on the Republicans, but don’t pretend that you are strictly an unbiased intellectual observer. You aren’t, but you play that card. If you were you might mention that Hope and Change might actually need to be defined, ’cause what you hope in and what change you plan on instituting might actually matter….In fairness the reader needs to know that I am a conservative. I stridently believe that I am not the typical conservative, but you can decide from my past and future comments.”

    First off, I never said I was unbiased. I don’t even believe that anyone can be unbiased in this. What I have said, time and time again, is that I’m not a party-line guy, and in fact, I find straight-line party affiliation a) wifully ignorant; b) Nazi-ish. Let me put it this way: In the 1998 Congressional election I voted Republican. In the 2000 Presidential election I voted Republican. I voted for a few Republicans again during the 2002 election. I only voted straight-line democrat after 2002–after GWB made if abundantly fucking clear that fascism, and not Constitutional Law, would be the guiding philosophy behind his administration. And I’m the one being dishonest? I’ve asked you before under what circumstances you would consider voting for a party besides the republicans and you couldn’t think of any–not one circumstance. Not a “typical conservative” is right. Typical Republican? That’s a positive.

    I say Obama is unequivocally qualified to be President because he does meet the requirements, but also because he actually understands the Constitution and doesn’t think it’s simply a “goddamn piece of paper,” like like GWB and the republicans. The Presidents job, first and foremost, is to protect the Constitution of America. Without that, we’re nothing. Fuck the “safety of the people.” That’s why Obama is qualified. He understands that what makes us a great nation is not our militaristic might, but the freedoms laid out and supposedly guaranteed by Jefferson and Madison. I disagree with him on a lot of things, but not on the importance of the Constitution. And I never said McCain wasn’t qualified, but I do think that Palin, who might very well become President because McCain is as old as the hills, is certainly not qualified.

    “So who is making a big deal over Palin’s daughter that Obama has to call off? Who demanded a paternity test for Palin’s youngest child?”

    I never said that wasn’t a dirty tactic, but here’s the thing: The Hockey Mom can’t have it both ways. Don’t parade around the soldier and the Down’s Syndrome baby and then pretend that her family is off limits. If she’s going to open the can of worms then fuck it: Go fishing. Also, her daughter’s pregnancy is relevant given her typically republican approach to sex education. She’s also voted to deny teenage mother’s assistance. Now, I don’t necessarily disagree with that vote, but her pregnant teenage daughter is certainly relevant.

    And I never said that other women don’t use their sex as an advantage. What I said was that it seems to be a purely republican technique to use overt sexuality to offset saying horrible shit. Yeah, Hillary cried, and I thought it was fucking hysterical. But she didn’t hike her skirt up to her waist line and wear a low cut blouse to disarm her opponents, which is what the republicans would have done.

    “And were any of those facts from her speech, or was that a misrepresentation of the article?” All that bullshit was in her speech. And then some.

    “So what exactly is the ad hominem attack, ”˜cause you don’t actually mention what it was although you do refer to that excellent article from the AP posted about an hour after the speech (see questions above). So you totally bash the speech claiming that it was an ad hominem attack that was enough to dry-heave with revulsion, so is that an ad hominem attack. Oh I see what you are doing now, you’re illustrating how to, it’s a process paper. Go Teach!”

    Fine. I’ll do a breakdown tonight. I started one, but got disgusted and quit, but don’t you worry–I’ll finish it tonight. Although, republicans are pretty good about spinning raw numbers into “liberal bias” so I might be just spinning my wheels for nothing. And there’s no need for a process analysis. I’ll simply use a definitional. Here, let me start with the term I’ll be defining: “Fascist Puppet”

    “Why not an article on the Democrat convention? We go from gravy to Palin. Segue? Or are you trying to tell us something. Do you trust Obama to make your homemade gravy?”

    I just didn’t find anything interesting with the Dems. I also started classes at UTSA, was finishing up the online website for the Writing Center, trying to create an online class for the very first time, and starting a job at Trinity. But thanks for asking. Obama’s speech was pretty decent, but other than the crowd it wasn’t anything really revelatory. But thanks for attacking my cooking vids. I’ll be sure to post more now.

    “I don’t know how you can say that you were comfortable with this political season, except that you have not been paying that much attention, ’cause you ran out of duck tape to prevent your head from exploding. Not that I blame you for needing the ole Duck Tape.”

    I actually felt better when McCain got the republican nomination. I wouldn’t vote for him after he started sucking the GOP cock when he realized that was the only way he could win, but I actually kinda like the old fart. And just like a republican to recommend duct tape. I didn’t realize that Duct Tape was a Haliburton subsidiary.

  3. Flood

    So the nazi ans fascist comments? Do they qualify as a Godwinism? I can honestly say that I don’t remember saying that I could never vote for anyone but a Republican, but I could have. I am pretty sure that I would have said that I wouldn’t vote for anyone who wasn’t a conservative. I am pretty sure that when you dander goes down you can admit that I am not a typical conservative much less a Republican. So are you trying to do an ad hominem there?

    I know that you are a pretty fair person, and that generally speaking we agree on numerous things. But your political posts are rarely as even handed as I know you to be. As when others have met you, you aren’t near as angry as you seem.

    So you attacked the speech as a sad typical republican attack. And I point out that democrats use the same tactics and you get upset? And sex ed? Some day I will feel comfortable or brave enough to talk about, but at the moment I am not, except to say that sex is more special than our society has decided to treat it.

    No all those things weren’t in her speech. Go back and read the article. Did she do similar things in her speech that you and the article accuse her of. Yep, and I said so in my comment.

    Do your article whenever, I am sure that you won’t be spinning your wheels. I enjoy your insights.

    I said sophist not dishonest. You crafted an essay that said what you wanted it to say and leave a clear impression on what you thought. I thought that the essay was not fair. And you just said in you comment that, “I never said…” And that is my basic problem with what you wrote. You give the impression that only the Republicans suck and we both know that politicians are perhaps the worst scum in the universe. I bet that Jabba the Hutt could work well with them.

    I tried to add a little balance. Which I feel compelled to do, because you get so angry. I hope you’re not too pissed at me, but…

    I also have stock in big pharm so don’t forget the phenergan and pepsid.

    I didn’t say Obama wasn’t qualified or anything close to that, but I did want to point out what your writing portrayed.

    Who says that i didn’t like you cooking vids? But do you want Obama to make your gravy.

  4. Flood

    And hey take off the comment on the “Spaced” article ’cause its about a porn site.

  5. Flood

    Hey I got some more sad, typical, republican attacks for you:

    1 Donna Brazile, Susan Sarandon, Steve Cohen (House Dem from Memphis Tennessee) say that “Jesus was a community organizer and Pontius Pilate was a governor.

    2 Obama has an ad that points out, attacks, mocks McCain for his lack of computer skills and being therefore out of touch. (Never mind that his injuries from Vietnam prevent him from being able to lift his arms high enough to effectively use a keyboard)

    3 Pissed about Palin
    McCain’s running mate is a Christian Stepford wife in a sexy librarian costume. Women, it’s time to get furious.
    By Cintra Wilson
    Sept. 10, 2008 | Sarah Palin may be a lady, but she ain’t no woman.
    I confess, it was pretty riveting when John McCain trotted out Sarah Palin for the first time. Like many people, I thought, “Damn, a hyperconservative, fuckable, Type A, antiabortion, Christian Stepford wife in a ‘sexy librarian’ costume — as a vice president? That’s a brilliant stroke of horrifyingly cynical pandering to the Christian right. Karl Rove must be behind it.”
    Palin may have been a boost of political Viagra for the limp, bloodless GOP (and according to an ABC/Washington Post poll she has created a boost in McCain’s standing among white women to a 53 over Obama’s 41). But ideologically, she is their hardcore pornographic centerfold spread, revealing the ugliest underside of Republican ambitions — their insanely zealous and cynical drive to win power by any means necessary, even at the cost of actual leadership.
    Sarah Palin is a bit comical, like one of those cutthroat Texas cheerleader stage moms. What her Down syndrome baby and pregnant teenage daughter unequivocally prove, however, is that her most beloved child is the antiabortion platform that ensures her own political ambitions with the conservative right. The throat she’s so hot to cut is that of all American women.
    I don’t want Sarah Palin being the representative leader and custodian of my rights, my Constitution and my country any more than I want polygamist compound leader Warren Jeffs baby-sitting for my preteen goddaughters.
    As a woman who does not believe what Palin believes, the thought of such an opportunistic anti-female in the White House — in the Cheney chair, no less — is akin to ideological brain rape. What this Republican blowup doll does with her own insides in accord with her own faith is her business. But, like the worst and most terrifying of religious extremists, she seems very comfortable with the idea of imposing her own views on everyone else.
    I did not think that women being downgraded to second-class, three-holed chattel would be a pressing concern in my lifetime. I thought it was like polio, or witch burning — an inhumane error that had already been corrected. But after eight years of Republican hegemony, and now the potential ascendance of this sheep in ewe’s clothing, I am so mortally offended I feel like it is really time for women to be angry, hardcore and disgusted again. Not just with old white Christian patriarchs and their hopelessly calcified, religiously condoned misogyny, but also with the self-abnegating, submissive female Uncle Tommies whose ambitions and eagerness to please the powerful males of their tribe are so desperate that they would sell out their sovereignty over their own bodies. And yours too.
    -every-minute kind of way — successfully framed themselves as the custodians of Christian ethics and conservative family values. This stance successfully masks their wholesale class war against the majority of their supporters, who continue to vote blatantly against their own economic interests in thrall to this deliberate emotional manipulation. It was the media critic Douglas Rushkoff who pointed out, several years ago, that Republican politicians were employing marketing techniques perfected by Clotaire Rapaille. Rapaille, broadly paraphrased, introduced a theory that approximately 80 percent of all decision making is done at the level of the limbic system — our lowest, most colorless, reptilian emotional level. Republican strategies are consistent with a belief that the voting process, for most people, is full of feelings — but devoid of reason.
    Sarah Palin, in this light, makes so little sense that she makes perfect sense. She speciously represents a new power paradigm of the Nice Mommy: the opposite of Hillary (the Mean Mommy), the opposite of Oprah (black, and therefore foreign), the opposite of Martha Stewart (another Mean Mommy). In her support for women on women’s issues, she has done everything but volunteer for her own circumcision. She tacitly promises a roll backward into old-fashioned sexual roles — like Old Testament-style old. Her morality is fixed, predictable and inflexible. There are those who will find comfort in the fact that they will know exactly what can be expected from Palin: Free will subordinated to obedience of an airtight, evangelical interpretation of the demands of God, country and Republican men.
    The choice of Palin represents what the Christian right is really saying to the women of America. The subtext: It’s a Faustian bargain, girls. To elevate your sex to power and respectability, you must first give us the keys to your chastity belt.
    It is unsurprising that the morally compromised fraternity of corruption-infested Republican robber barons and war profiteers came up with this stunt, but we must regard it in the same light as the rest of their treasonous, criminal behavior. We must regard Sarah Palin as the Carmella Soprano of the GOP — an enabling wife of organized crime, who sees, hears and speaks no evil of the boys in her old-boy network for whom she does this ideological lap dance.
    It is a kind of eerie coincidence that Sarah Palin is being sprung on the public at the same time as the bimbo/frat-boy titty comedy “House Bunny,” which features a poster of a beautiful young lady with Playmate-style bunny ears, big, stupid eyes and her mouth hanging open like someone just punched her.
    Sarah Palin is the White House bunny — the most nauseating novelty confection of the evangelical mind-set since Southern “chastity balls,” wherein teen girls pledge abstinence from premarital sex by ceremonially faux-marrying their own fathers.
    Sarah Palin is the sexual front of the culture war and the embodiment of the bold social engineering stance of the new authoritarianism that Republicans have been employing ever since they stole the election in 2000. As a result of conservative Republican policies, America has proved itself to be too rife with fraud, bureaucratic constipation, self-inflicted economic calamity, cronyism and incompetence to effect any positive movement anywhere at all, even at home.
    But, the Republicans seem to be saying, at least we can offer you the hope of putting women back in their place.
    Bristol Palin will no doubt be a fine example as a first teen, particularly now that her mother is inflicting an old-fashioned shotgun wedding on the hapless, horny, condomless youth who impregnated her.
    The Republicans are, in effect, saying: We’re not going to win this race on the basis of being the better candidates. Barack Obama is going to make you think. You don’t like thinking. Here’s an It Girl vice president who is easy on the eyes, you stodgy old white baby boomer. She’s like a grown-up version of Mary Ann from “Gilligan’s Island.” She embodies the raw conviction that everything the Republicans have ever done has been right. She’ll make you feel better about yourself for voting for Bush. Twice.

    Relax: The war is God’s plan. (Or whatever.) Women, even if they are vice president, can always look pretty, worship their husbands in the fear of God and never, ever resist invasions from unwanted sperm.
    Sarah Palin and her virtual burqa have me and my friends retching into our handbags. She’s such a power-mad, backwater beauty-pageant casualty, it’s easy to write her off and make fun of her. But in reality I feel as horrified as a ghetto Jew watching the rise of National Socialism.
    She is dangerous. She is not just pro-life, she’s anti-life. She is the suppression of human feeling and instinct. She is a slave to the compromises dictated by her own desire for power and control. Sarah Palin is untethered from her own needs and those of her family, which is in crisis, with a pregnant daughter, a son on the way to Iraq and a special-needs infant.
    She should, however, be a galvanizing point for women everywhere. Not to support her candidacy but to rebel against the Republican Party and take back the respect and equality so hard-earned by the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s.
    We’ve been shanghaied. This is sick. We need to slap the face of our bad frat-boy date and walk home from this drive-in movie. Sarah Palin may put out to be popular, but the rest of America’s women don’t need to do the same.
    If not, what the hell? John McCain should go the whole Hugh Hefner route and have eight V.P.s that all look exactly like Sarah Palin.
    It’s McCain’s world, girls: You’d just live in it.

    Those damned republicans acting all mean and everything!

  6. I don’t have time for a full response, but quickly:

    1. My point wasn’t that the republicans are mean. My point was that before the Palin pick, McCain had run a pretty above the fray campaign. He was using republican surrogates to make the shitty, muddy attacks. You know, like a respectable person should do. Now he’s doing the same old shit, and Palin is even worse. Obama has said a couple of groan-worthy things, but nothing like the republicans.

    Oh, and after several decades of republican baseball bats like Limbaugh and Hannity, I have no problem with that comment. Also, Jesus was the biggest communist of all time.

    2. Obama’s ad is not unfair. If McCain can put his hand on a desk and use a pencil, then he can use a computer. That arm excuse it total bullshit. Quit pulling the “BUT I WAS A POW” excuse. He’s a rich old man who’s never had a reason to use a computer, nor the interest, because he has always paid people to do it for him. Also, the telecom companies pay him for his support. The end.

    3. Total agree.

  7. Tank

    There are people with far worse handicaps than McCain that make use of computers. Strangely, I’ve wondered if the injuries he has sustained tend to make him look less presidential. It seems like every president at the end of every rally raises his hands in the air.

  8. Flood

    1 This is the problem then, because the way I perceived the article was that you blamed one party as though the other was a saint. I think that you failed sell the unbiased part to me.

    And does it really matter if you have a problem with a particular comment or not, isn’t still an ad hominem attack? And I am pretty sure that labels don’t really work with Jesus, and I ‘m pretty sure that he wasn’t a communist (or a free market if you want to come back with that load of crap). And it was community organizer not communist. As in Jesus=Obama, Pilate=Palin.

    2 But it’s still an ad hominem attack, McCain POW, John Kerry served in Vietnam? You can’t/shouldn’t have it both ways. And you know alot about McCain or at least assume alot. But the point is not really about one’s merits but about an attack that you deride or support depending on whether you support a candidate or not.

    3 totally agree with the article, or that the article is am ad hominem attack that you are complaining about in your original article?

    To Tank

    Yes you’re right, but it also a limiting factor, right? But he is a rich, old man with no interest an apparently alot of minions to do his bidding (ad hominem attack, Mark?)

    It is amazing how appearances matter as you point out. For instance Obama gets negatives for his race (see Freakonomics), but his height and looks are positives for him (see blink) it is interesting isn’t it.

    I think my point is that I see a bias from this exchange that I don’t think you are willing to admit, but you are more than willing to defend. Your opinion is fine, I can respect it. But if you decry the ad hominem attack,I think you should be consistent. I think that neither your article or comments have been.

    I also feel like I am the only person who will write in and disagree with you or call you to task. And that often puts me in a position of opposition that I don’t completely fit into. Such is live, huh?

  9. Tank

    I give Biden major credit for going against Obama like that. Although I haven’t seen any television spots as I don’t watch television, the tone of both campaigns has deviated from the the fair and clean politics promised to us by both candidates. That makes me sad. I also think that hurts Obama far more than it does McCain.

    Still, while given credit for Biden speaking out against that ad, I’m sure there are better things he could have spoken out against in regards to Obama’s campaign. Perhaps I am far too bias because of my profession, but I think McCain’s lack of computer knowledge is important to this campaign. This is a man who will be signing into law various bills that will inevitably affect the internet and other technologies without even a rudimentary knowledge of computers. Email is older than I am. Adolescents entering adulthood have no concept of a world without the internet.

    More importantly, I think more telling than his lack of knowledge is his lack of a desire to learn about computers and the internet. To see what value they would have in his personal life and professional life. Computers are not a fad. They’re a foundation, intertwined with the very basic roots of our economy.

  10. Flood

    He is interested in Computers, I hear that if Ted Stevens manages to stay out of the slammer, Ole Teddy boy will be his Computer/Technology Tsar.

  11. Tank

    Ironically, “Series of Tubes” isn’t not that bad of an analogy to explain bandwidth in layman’s terms.

  12. Tank

    Mark: add a edit function so I can remove my accidental double negative.

  13. Flood

    Mark won’t not don’t do it ’cause he likes us’uns lookin’ moronic.

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