Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Palin’

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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.

Comments: (2)
Categories: Argument, Assignment Idea, Genre, Popular Culture, Rhetorical Situation
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Contemporary Politics/Poetics, pt. 1

posted: 8.3.09 by archived

by Nick Richardson

Historically, poetry and politics went hand in hand: orally transmitted national epics, commissioned elegies, Ozymandias’s shattered visage in the sand. But poetry may be the last thing that comes to mind when you think of contemporary American politics. Washington seems too antiseptic and bureaucratic –- too full of statistics and lobbyists, too devoid of romance — to sustain a fragile quatrain.

If this description strikes a chord, you may be surprised to learn that poetry in politics survives! But first, some background: did you know that Abraham Lincoln wrote poetry? It’s true, check out the two bittersweet, thanatotic cantos of “My Childhood’s Home I See Again.” And do you remember when, more recently, Jimmy Carter became the first U.S. president to publish an entire poetry collection (Always a Reckoning, 1995)?

Of course, we can (and should) expand our politics/poetry focus beyond the smiling righteous. There’s something in the easy tears of tropical dictators that makes me, at least, expect a lurking verse or two . . . and a quick Web search doesn’t disappoint. Apparently one-time military dictator Manuel Noriega is said to have been a poet before he turned to drug trafficking and . . . whatever else he was up to in Panama; Saddam Hussein is rumored to have written poetry about George Bush while awaiting trial in 2004.

Two articles mingling politics and poetry recently made the internet rounds, ultimately coming to rest en masse in my inbox! The first centered on Washington’s second big gesture toward poetics since inauguration day (the first being the first ever White House Poetry Slam): President Obama claimed “a great affinity for Pakistani culture and the great Urdu poets.” How funny that something as seemingly small as an individual’s poetic appreciation can grow to represent a cathected geopolitical stance!

The second article (entitled “Sarah Palin, The Anti-Poet”) examines — tongue firmly in cheek — found poems created by adding line breaks to excerpts from some of Palin’s more syntactically byzantine speeches. Regardless of political affiliation, it’s interesting to see: 1) the perceived dissonance between a politician and a poet (despite Lincoln and Carter); and 2) how well some of these found poems actually work, both rhetorically and as “poetry.”

William Shatner Recites Sarah Palin’s Farewell Speech as a Poem:

The above are just a few (literal) instances of contemporary politicians turning poetic. Can you think of any other examples?

Activity: Search for traditionally unpoetic government speeches and documents online. Add line breaks to create your own found political poetry. Does your found poem work as poetry — why or why not?

Nick Richardson is an associate editor at Bedford/St.Martin’s. He holds an MA in Literary and Cultural Theory from Boston College and has published three books (two poetry, one prose) that exhibit what poet Andrei Codrescu has called “a fresh sort of daring in the overstrained broth of contemporary American poetry.” He is also the publisher of A Mutual Respect Books and Music, an underground chapbook press operating out of Brooklyn, NY.

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