Posts Tagged ‘debate’

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What a Difference a Word Makes

posted: 10.26.12 by Donna Winchell

My son recently reviewed End of Watch for his college newspaper. In it he observed that in the hard-hitting crime drama, the LA police partners who are the focus of the movie must face a Mexican drug cartel led by Big Evil, “who uses the f-word literally every third word.” His editors–okay, they are both women–revised it to have the cartel led by Big Evil, “who is defined by his obscene potty mouth.” My son was horrified to have his readers think he would ever use the term “potty mouth.”

Word choice can be even more critical in political arguments. Witness the second presidential debate, where the exact words chosen by the candidates inspired almost as much controversy as the gist of what they were saying. Romney’s points about women and jobs may have been objectionable in and of themselves, but his phrase “binders of women” is what became the laughingstock of Facebook and Twitter. Lots of other points that Romney made during the debate were lost in the brouhaha over his word choice.

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Categories: Donna Winchell
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When is an interruption not an interruption?

posted: 10.25.12 by Andrea Lunsford

Like millions of others, I’ve been watching the presidential debates (and the vice presidential debate) with fascination bordering on obsession.  For a rhetorician and teacher of writing, there’s not much more exciting than this every-four-year spectacle, much of it surrounded by a cacophony of political ads, cartoons, and media commentary.  So I watch intently and purposefully, taping the debates so I can play them over again.  (I’ve also tried listening to them on the radio versus watching them, which is also very instructive.)

The first debate this year, the one in which many viewers felt like President Obama didn’t show up, was particularly interesting for the way both candidates used body language and tried to interact with the audience not just in the hall but via cameras.  While President Obama looked down a lot and seemed to be mulling over points, Governor Romney strode about, “owning” the space much of the time, and even occasionally interrupting.  I noticed the interrupting behavior but didn’t make much of it, except to think that it made Romney seem overly aggressive for my taste.  Then came the vice presidential debate, which featured Joe Biden interrupting Paul Ryan and even talking over him—which seemed to invite Ryan to give the same back to Biden.  So I started watching for interruptions in particular, and I saw plenty of them during the second presidential debate.  By my rough count, Romney out-interrupted the President, though both of them used this strategy.   Sometimes a lot. [read more]

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Categories: Andrea Lunsford
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Rebutter in Chief

posted: 8.12.09 by Nick Carbone

This post by Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly blog features excerpts from a New Hampshire Town Hall conducted by President Obama.

It occurs to me, on reading Benen’s summary and having listened to some of Obama’s press conferences and speeches, that Obama’s legal training combined with his writing ability make him a master of rebutting the critiques of his policies and positions through explicit counter-arguments, no matter–in the case of the illogical and demagogic claim that the health plan under debate in Congress calls for “death camps”–how disingenuous and dishonest the criticism is.

Compare, for example, Obama’s response to the “death panel” claim to one of the most prominent assertions of that claim, Sarah Palin’s.

Palin wrote in Facebook:

The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

Health care by definition involves life and death decisions. Human rights and human dignity must be at the center of any health care discussion.

What is the logic of her paragraph? What is the train of thought? Can it be mapped by students? Are her claims fair? Is there a “death panel” clause in any of the proposed bills now in Congress?

What is the purpose of the final two sentences? They are statements no one will disagree with; is she using them to assert that the plans in Congress don’t care about dignity?

With those questions in mind, now look at Obama’s explicit rebuttal of this argument as represented by Palin. Obama said in New Hampshire:

“The rumor that’s been circulating a lot lately is this idea that somehow the House of Representatives voted for ‘death panels’ that will basically pull the plug on grandma because we’ve decided that we don’t — it’s too expensive to let her live anymore. And there are various — there are some variations on this theme. It turns out that I guess this arose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allowed Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about end-of-life care, setting up living wills, the availability of hospice, et cetera. So the intention of the members of Congress was to give people more information so that they could handle issues of end-of-life care when they’re ready, on their own terms. It wasn’t forcing anybody to do anything. This is I guess where the rumor came from.”The irony is that actually one of the chief sponsors of this bill originally was a Republican — then House member, now senator, named Johnny Isakson from Georgia — who very sensibly thought this is something that would expand people’s options. And somehow it’s gotten spun into this idea of ‘death panels.’ I am not in favor of that. So just I want to clear the air here.”

Obama first categorically rejects the charge that he wants “death panels,” and then looks to the bill in question, to the item in the bill his opponents have distorted, and explains its origins.

How does the use of logic and evidence in the two arguments compare? Which statement is more factually accurate?

Questions such as these make the current debate on health care in our country a useful one for studying and analyzing argument and rhetoric. It might also lead to a good discussion of civil discourse and how to tell it from inflammatory discourse and violent discourse.

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Categories: Argument, Assignment Idea, Genre, Popular Culture, Rhetorical Situation
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