Rhetorical Style Setters

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Two weeks ago, Newt Gingrich’s press secretary Rick Tyler penned a press release on behalf of the Republican presidential hopeful and former Speaker of the House that was so florid, so melodramatic—it actually contained the words, “But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich…”—that it inspired ridicule from all corners of the media, peaking on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” where veteran actor John Lithgow gave the full statement a halting, bombastic dramatic reading. 

Now, the language of this press release is certainly overblown by any measure, even absurd. But what is it that we, as the voting public, require from our presidential candidates in terms of rhetorical flourish?

George W. Bush’s folksy language and accent-heavy delivery helped earn him two terms as president by identifying him as a political “outsider” who could relate easily to the average American, however imprecisely defined that term might be.

Barack Obama succeeded in 2008 with a poetic-but-not-too oratorical style that used straight-forward questions as jumping-off points for sweeping emotional statements digressing into “Let’s win one for the Gipper”-style national pep talks.

What style will win over voters in the 2012 election? Can most of us see past the rhetoric and understand what a candidate really stands for? How much oratorical flourish do we expect from a president, and when does it go too far? 



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