Distinct Rhetorical Styles

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In regurgitated statements against Kerry, Republicans
often included zingers like “flip-flop.” Democrats often
referenced the line “consistency when wrong is no
virtue.” Although it would be easy to dismiss these
words as political posturing by biased individuals, a
more interesting rhetorical complexity is that conservatives
tend to argue in terms of principles while liberals
argue in terms of practical circumstances. Borrowing
from Richard Weaver’s The Ethics of Rhetoric, I contend
this year’s candidates are making two very different
kinds of arguments couched within two very different
political and rhetorical styles.
Bush utilizes what Weaver has called “argument from
principle.” Individuals using this argument style often
employ “axiomatic definition” and argue from “fundamental
sources.” For example, in the third debate President
Bush addressed the issue of jobs and taxes. His
basic argument was to keep government out of the lives
of individuals as much as possible and to let them decide
how to spend their money. He concluded his answer with
the following: “I believe the role of government is to
stand side by side with our citizens to help them realize
their dreams, not tell citizens how to live their lives.”
Bush is clearly arguing from a principle, that government
should absolutely not dictate how citizens should
live their lives through tax policy.
Kerry, unlike Bush, used “argument from circumstance.”
This argument style is “the nearest of all arguments
to purest expediency.” It is one based on “facts
standing around.” Thus, if the facts of a
case change, one could also change her
mind about it. For example, just before
Bush talked about jobs and taxes, Kerry
talked about how we need to restore
some of the tax policies of previous generations.
He concluded by saying:
“Restore fiscal discipline, we’ll do a lot
better.” For Kerry, tax policies and jobs were put into a
comparative frame. This frame allowed Kerry to argue
for something that is “better” for the times and not necessarily
“right” at all times.

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