The Rhetoric of Election 2004

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Especially during presidential campaigns, and
debates, citizens often hear candidates and pundits claiming, with an
air of dismissal, that “it’s merely rhetoric”—implying that statements
are untrue, policies are unrealistic, goals are unattainable,
arguers not trustworthy. The suggestion is that there is a disjuncture
between language and reality, between rhetoric and truth. In this
2004 election season, rhetoric was particularly important, for it was
largely through outright lies (about WMDs and an Iraq-Al Qaeda
connection) that we find ourselves within our current situation.
However, the academic pursuit of studying rhetoric goes far beyond uncovering
truths and lies. Scholars of rhetoric pay attention to argumentative strategies, discursive
patterns, and details of spoken and written communication that indicate how
and why a given text is persuasive. Rhetoric and politics are closely connected
because politicians rely on available rhetorical resources to make their cases to the
public, because healthy public discourse relies on the proliferation of multiple opinions,
and because American democracy entails the right to free speech. Those of us
who are rhetorically-minded hope to contribute to public discourse by providing language-
based analyses that inform, educate, and provide the critical tools necessary
for distinguishing between sound, ethical, logical argument and “mere rhetoric.”
To that end, I invited several fellow U of I critics, including undergraduates, grad
students, and professors, to contribute short rhetorical analyses of the 2004 Presidential
Debates in order to inform the C-U community of the styles, arguments, and
strategies employed not only by Kerry and Bush but also by Edwards, Cheney, and
other candidates running for federal, state, and local offices. Informed citizens must
look at a candidate’s rhetorical style as well as the details of her platform before
making voting decisions or engaging in political arguments, whether in this season
or the future. Each contributor to project is a model for analysis and exemplar of
such skills, for each contributor examines in detail the rhetoric of Election 2004 and
offers a unique rhetorical perspective that goes beyond truth and lies, identifying discursive
patterns and revealing the gaps in logic that underlie the rhetoric of politics.
For transcripts of the debates, see; for a handy searchable list of
rhetorical tropes and figures, see Silva Rhetoricae at; see also
Richard Weaver, The Ethics of Rhetoric (1985), Aristotle’s Rhetoric, and Richard
Lanham, A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms (1992).

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