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In Defense of American Democratic Government and the Common Good (Against Anti-Government Republicans)

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In campaign speeches over the last half century or so, anti-government Republicans have usually emphasized the appeal to pathos (e.g., anger, resentment) in their epideictic rhetoric. If I were to make a generalization, I would say that Republicans over the last half century or so have over-used the appeal to pathos in the forms of anger and resentment. Conversely, Democrats over the last half century or so have under-used the appeal to pathos. Failures to attend to the common good should arouse our anger. But Democratic politicians such as President Obama appear to be incapable of feeling and expressing the standard of the common good. How often has President Obama even used the term "the common good"?

 

In Senator Obama's campaign speeches in 2008, he routinely used his epideictic speeches to appeal to ethos. Senator Obama excelled in epideictic rhetoric in the 2008 presidential campaign, and he excelled in using the appeal to ethos.

 

Regardless of the political party, the American politician who wants to move voters to vote for him or her must use epideictic rhetoric effectively and must use the appeal to ethos effectively. But what happens to people in the audience when the orator's appeal to ethos is embodied in an epideictic speech that makes it sound like he is going to be Superman? Briefly, it makes them feel like they are going to be Superman, because of the participatory dimension of the appeal to ethos.

 

The participatory dimension of the appeal to ethos applies to its use in all three kinds of civic rhetoric, not just to epideictic rhetoric during campaigns. In "The Auditor's Role in Aristotelian Rhetoric" William M. A. Grimaldi, S.J., explains the participatory dimension of the appeal to ethos. Grimaldi's fine essay was published in the book ORAL AND WRITTEN COMMUNICATION: HISTORICAL APPROACHES, edited by Richard Leo Enos (1990, pages 65-81).

 

This brings me back to the idea of the common good. If Democratic politicians were ever to muster the internal fortitude to advance the idea of the common good in their epideictic rhetoric, they would also need to deploy the appeal to ethos. Because of the participatory dimension of the appeal to ethos, the hypothetical Democratic politicians who might advance the idea of the common good would in effect be inviting the people in the audience to imagine themselves and their political identities as being improved by the measures that help advance the common good. However, for the idea of the common good to work effectively for the hypothetical Democratic politicians, the politicians would have to appeal to pathos in the form of political anger at those who aim to thwart the common good, the anti-government Republicans and their Ayn-Rand glorification of self-centeredness and selfishness.

 

In the near future, Republicans will probably not give up their use of the appeal to pathos in the forms of anger and resentment, because Republicans are not interested in the common good -- they are interested primarily in advancing self-centeredness and selfishness.

 

So perhaps the retiring baby boomers need to form a coalition in the Democratic party called Grandpas and Grandmas for American Government and the Common Good to urge President Obama and other Democratic politicians to stand up and fight the anti-government Republicans and their glorification of self-centeredness and selfishness.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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