I’ve written a few times about rhetoric. I think it’s important. I also think that we don’t talk about rhetoric enough. We interact with persuasive texts and speeches on a daily basis. We know these rhetorical texts are supposed to be persuasive, but we don’t discuss how they work. Today, we’re going to look at two persuasive texts: Mitt Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention and President Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. I read both of them. They’re both pretty good, using rhetorical techniques that are both clever and classic. We’re going to look at both speech’s fallacies and why the fallacies are indeed fallacies. We’ll start with Mr. Romney’s first. Here is a section of his speech with real problems.
It is what brought us to America. We are a nation of immigrants. We are the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the ones who wanted a better life, the driven ones, the ones who woke up at night hearing that voice telling them that life in that place called America could be better.
Not everyone is. What about the people who just came here? The people who became citizens a few years ago? What about Native-Americans? And if you’re an African-American, chances are your ancestors were slaves, captured and brought here against their well. There is a myth about how America was started, and by using this language, Romney is trying to connect to people who believe that myth. But, it’s not 100% true, nor is it representative of all Americans.
I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed. But his promises gave way to disappointment and division. This isn’t something we have to accept. Now is the moment when we CAN do something. With your help we will do something.
There are many “Either/Or” Fallacies in both speeches. Either you vote for me, or you will have the same disappointment and division you had under Obama. Romney is also pushing the opinion that we are disappointed and divided as a fact. That’s not a fact. It’s a claim. By using proper language, he tries to make it sound like a fact, but it isn’t.
Now is the moment when we can stand up and say, “I’m an American. I make my destiny. And we deserve better! My children deserve better! My family deserves better. My country deserves better!”
By bringing up children and family, Romney is using an emotional fallacy. If you have kids, you want the best for them. Romney is trying to convince you he is the best. Emotional fallacies are the easiest and quickest way to persuade a reader.
Many of you felt that way on Election Day four years ago. Hope and Change had a powerful appeal. But tonight I’d ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.
This is a non-sequitur. My emotions have nothing to do with voting. At least, it shouldn’t. If I don’t FEEL this way, it’s because Obama didn’t make me FEEL that way. Thus, he is bad at generating feelings and I shouldn’t vote for him. Every boss I’ve ever had hurt my feelings at least one time. I’ve hurt employee’s feelings tons of times. You can take the amount I’ve cared about either situation and then take two bucks and buy a cup of coffee with it.
The President hasn’t disappointed you because he wanted to. The President has disappointed America because he hasn’t led America in the right direction. He took office without the basic qualification that most Americans have and one that was essential to his task. He had almost no experience working in a business. Jobs to him are about government.
Romney has re-defined or defined as he wants it what it means to be a President. A President, according to him, has to have business experience. The Constitution has a pretty good outline of the qualifications for President and being a businessman isn’t one of them.
These are American success stories. And yet the centerpiece of the President’s entire re-election campaign is attacking success. Is it any wonder that someone who attacks success has led the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression? In America, we celebrate success, we don’t apologize for it.
Romney doesn’t provide us with an example of when Obama has attacked success, so we have no idea if Obama ever said that. Sure, he might have. But we don’t know. There’s not enough information here to make a proper conclusion.
His assault on coal and gas and oil will send energy and manufacturing jobs to China;
His trillion dollar cuts to our military will eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs, and also put our security at greater risk;
His $716 billion cut to Medicare to finance Obamacare will both hurt today’s seniors, and depress innovation – and jobs – in medicine.
And his trillion-dollar deficits will slow our economy, restrain employment, and cause wages to stall.
All these are Either/Or Arguments. If you vote for Obama, jobs will go to China. If you vote for Obama, our national security will be weak and we’ll all die. If you vote for Obama, the medical field will fall into ruin. If you vote for Obama, less money will be in your pocket. There’s no way to prove any of this, unless Romney built a time machine and traveled to the future and saw all this stuff happen.
To the majority of Americans who now believe that the future will not be better than the past, I can guarantee you this: if Barack Obama is re-elected, you will be right.
Another Either/Or Fallacy.
As president, I will protect the sanctity of life. I will honor the institution of marriage. And I will guarantee America’s first liberty: the freedom of religion.
These are “Straw Men” fallacies, sort of. Many people think that what a President believes about Marriage and Religion matter. I sort of don’t. If we have the freedom to get married, or not, and to be religious, or not, then why should a President’s views on marriage and/or religion matter if these things are relative and subjective according to the people you ask? It’s like saying, “As President, you’ll be able to have sex with women you met at a bar!” I can already do that. By linking marriage and religion to the Presidency, Mitt Romney wants to draw in our attention and our votes.
President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.
Another emotional appeal.
If I am elected President of these United States, I will work with all my energy and soul to restore that America, to lift our eyes to a better future. That future is our destiny. That future is out there. It is waiting for us. Our children deserve it, our nation depends upon it, the peace and freedom of the world require it. And with your help we will deliver it. Let us begin that future together tonight.
If you want a future, like children, and think America is responsible for the entire planet, you should vote for Mitt Romney.
Now let’s look at President Obama’s speech.
On every issue, the choice you face won’t be just between two candidates or two parties. It will be a choice between two different paths for America. A choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future.
There’s been a lot written about this. Romney wants this election to be a referendum, a judgment on Obama. Obama wants this to be a choice. It’s neither of these things. This election, like very election, is a decision. We decide who we want based on the situation and the qualities of the candidates applying. By making this a choice, Obama gets to avoid the last four years and the crappy economy. That’s a very well crafted fallacy.
“Have a surplus? Try a tax cut.”
“Deficit too high? Try another.”
“Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning!”
This is supposed to be a dig on Republicans, saying that they, no matter what, want to cut taxes. This isn’t true. Republicans have a whole host of policy desires and concerns, just like Democrats. Making Republicans seem so shallow and broken is a fallacy.
I don’t believe that firing teachers or kicking students off financial aid will grow the economy, or help us compete with the scientists and engineers coming out of China
I like teachers and students. Vote for me. China is scary! Vote for me!
And by the way — those of us who carry on his party’s legacy should remember that not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington. But know this, America: Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And I’m asking you to choose that future.
It would be nice if Obama told us what problems need to be solved and exactly how to solve them. This vagueness is a fallacy.
And now you have a choice: we can give more tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, or we can start rewarding companies that open new plants and train new workers and create new jobs here, in the United States of America. We can help big factories and small businesses double their exports, and if we choose this path, we can create a million new manufacturing jobs in the next four years.
When Obama says, “You have a choice,” it’s an Either/Or fallacy. I’m sure Romney wants to do all that stuff, too. But, Obama wants to mislead you to think he wouldn’t.
You can choose a future where more Americans have the chance to gain the skills they need to compete, no matter how old they are or how much money they have. Education was the gateway to opportunity for me. It was the gateway for Michelle. And now more than ever, it is the gateway to a middle-class life.
Vote for me and you get something in return! It’s an appeal to our desires. It’s like making a kid eat his dinner by promising he’ll get ice-cream afterwards.
No company should have to look for workers in China because they couldn’t find any with the right skills here at home. Government has a role in this. But teachers must inspire; principals must lead; parents must instill a thirst for learning, and students, you’ve got to do the work. And together, I promise you — we can out-educate and out-compete any country on Earth.
The xenophobia in both speeches is weird, but Obama uses more of it. I’m sorry, but there isn’t a million Chinese people sharpening knives readying for the East-West War. This just isn’t happening, but both candidates would lead us to believe it is. This is a fear-based fallacy.
After all, you don’t call Russia our number one enemy — and not al Qaeda — unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War time warp. You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally. My opponent said it was “tragic” to end the war in Iraq , and he won’t tell us how he’ll end the war in Afghanistan . I have, and I will. And while my opponent would spend more money on military hardware that our Joint Chiefs don’t even want, I’ll use the money we’re no longer spending on war to pay down our debt and put more people back to work — rebuilding roads and bridges; schools and runways. After two wars that have cost us thousands of lives and over a trillion dollars, it’s time to do some nation-building right here at home.
This is an attack on Romney’s trip to England, plus a desire-based fallacy. Romney making an ass of himself in England was funny, but it doesn’t have much to do with him being President. We have Secretaries of State for a reason.
As Americans, we believe we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights — rights that no man or government can take away. We insist on personal responsibility and we celebrate individual initiative. We’re not entitled to success. We have to earn it.
There are a lot of Atheists in America, and I’m pretty sure they don’t believe anyone created them to do anything. They also vote. I’m not an Atheist. I believe in God. But I’m tired of people assuming everyone does. This is stupid. Nothing about our politics should have anything to do with religion. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nothing. Not one thing.
And I think about the young sailor I met at Walter Reed hospital, still recovering from a grenade attack that would cause him to have his leg amputated above the knee.
Blah, blah, blah, support the troops, blah, blah, blah.
Six months ago, I would watch him walk into a White House dinner honoring those who served in Iraq, tall and twenty pounds heavier, dashing in his uniform, with a big grin on his face; sturdy on his new leg. And I remember how a few months after that I would watch him on a bicycle, racing with his fellow wounded warriors on a sparkling spring day, inspiring other heroes who had just begun the hard path he had traveled. He gives me hope. I don’t know what party these men and women belong to. I don’t know if they’ll vote for me. But I know that their spirit defines us.
Blah, blah, blah, hope and change, blah, blah, blah.
As we’ve seen, politicians use fallacies like a crack head uses, uh, crack needles? I messed that metaphor up, but whatever. I don’t take speeches seriously. I read articles written by people I trust to give me facts, logic, that I can depend on to make my decision. And, no, just because Obama uses fallacies doesn’t mean I’m not going to vote for him. You don’t tell a guy going to a knife fight that he should leave his knife at home. You just shake your head and wish people would stop knife fighting. There. That metaphor was pretty good.