This week I’ve watched much of the Republican National Convention, the RNC, and this leads to my word of the month: Rhetoric. It is easy to get caught up in speeches. They are well crafted and powerful. They are designed to be persuasive. They employ the techniques of rhetoric. Rhetoric is the art of discourse in formal discussion. It usually refers to spoken words but also includes written words.
Aristotle is the father of this idea. His idea was that effective, persuasive speech consisted of one or more of ethos, pathos, or logos.
Ethos – appeal to the speaker’s own character.
Representative Paul Ryan: I’m a Catholic deer hunter.
Pathos – appeal to the emotions of the audience.
Senator Marco Rubio: But America was founded on the principle that every person has God-given rights. That power belongs to the people. That government exists to protect our rights and serve our interests.
That we shouldn’t be trapped in the circumstances of our birth. That we should be free to go as far as our talents and work can take us.
Logos – inductive or deductive logic.
Senator Rand Paul: When you seek to punish Mr. Exxon Mobil, you punish the secretary who owns Exxon Mobil stock. When you block the Keystone Pipeline, you punish the welder who works on the pipeline. [This is a combination of ethos and logos. It is a logical argument that appeals to the heart strings of investors who have seen their savings dwindle.]
Some passages contain all three:
Governor Chris Christie: They said it was impossible to cut taxes in a state where taxes were raised 115 times in eight years. [pathos and logos] That it was impossible to balance a budget at the same time, with an $11 billion deficit. [pathos and logos] Three years later, we have three balanced budgets with lower taxes. [Ethos and Logos]
We also have the term rhetorical question. It is a question made for effect and is unanswerable.
Governor Mitt Romney: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama?
The RNC speeches were not debates or discussions. Ethos and Pathos are not valid when arguing. These speeches are designed to trigger emotion. If you’ve followed various news channels, you’d note that they could not sift through the speeches point by point and argue for or against. Their analysis was very much message oriented: so and so appealed to gun owners or his message was to show Romney was a caring person. One can easily get caught up in the rhetoric. At times even I did. I felt Governor Christie’s emotions. I felt Senator Rubio’s conviction. I felt Clint Eastwood’s humor. I enjoyed the speeches. I thought most were fantastic examples of rhetoric.
Next week is the Democratic National Convention. Watch it and pick out the rhetorical arguments and questions. Dissect the speeches for what they are. Then as we approach the election, hopefully we can sift out the rhetoric and get down to the real issues at hand. Better yet, maybe we can use such techniques in our own writing, fiction and fact.