Before jetting off to Martha’s Vineyard for the week, President Obama went back on the campaign trail to push a renewed focus on the economy. In addition to disrupting our 24-hour news cycle and giving fresh soundbites to pundits across the board (phony scandals?), President Obama gave a perfect reminder of why he is such a polarizing force, and not a “great uniter.”
Both conservatives and liberals have reacted to President Obama’s speeches based upon the rhetoric he uses. Conservatives focus first on the concrete examples and numbers associated with the issues that are used to fuel President Obama’s rhetorical themes. On the other hand, liberals tend to focus first on the themes associated with the issues, and have less concern for the validity of the examples provided.
A generic example of this would be Obama’s assertion that Republicans want dirtier air and water because they don’t care about the environment, and then asserting that he cares about the environment because he pushed for the Chevy Volt which is doing tremendously well right now. Predictably, Conservatives furiously attack the notion that the Chevy Volt is selling well by citing concrete facts on what a dismal economic failure it has been. However, Liberals discount these facts because Republicans never addressed the claim that they don’t care about the environment. Republicans continually cede the rhetorical moral high ground in this way by only focusing on the specific facts in the valley below.
The result? By the time Conservatives have rebutted Liberals’ concrete ideas, the lines are muddied. No voter is won over, and the speech is old news. Each side clings to what they want to hear and goes about their business. Conservatives need to address the rhetorical attacks and undertones associated with each issue before moving on to the specifics of an issue. Before even addressing the facts involved with President Obama’s most recent economic agenda speeches, it is imperative that the rhetorical devices he used are exposed.
The Notion of a Bargain
President Obama leads off his speech by hearkening back to the past. He uses the nostalgia of our post-war boom to support the premise that there was a “basic bargain” our country offered its citizens. The bargain being that hard work is rewarded by “fair wages and benefits, the chance to buy a home, to save for retirement, and, above all, to hand down a better life for your kids”. At this point of the speech it is hard not to nod along in agreement until we examine exactly what President Obama’s “bargain” means.
The President believes that this bargain – benefits, home ownership, retirement – is between the private citizen and the government. Well, I ask you to simply observe the world around you! Observe your own situation in life. Benefits, home ownership, and retirement are all made possible for the majority of Americans by private business. Conservatives observe this reality and conclude the government’s job is to enable more businesses to naturally enter into these bargains with more private citizens. While our President believes that the government needs to step in and replace this natural bargain with the artificial provision of benefits, home ownership, and retirement.
Now, this is a fundamental difference in ideology that reflects how each side approaches the economic issues facing our country today. Here is where President Obama’s rhetoric takes a malicious tone that discourages cooperation and the foundation of real solutions. In his speech last wednesday President Obama calls the government not living up to the bargain a “betrayal.” By following the logic of President Obama’s rhetoric conservative politicians are now betraying the American people and voiding an agreement they have entered into.
For instance, conservatives are arguing that The Affordable Care Act has many detrimental side-effects to the economy, and even worse it does not accomplish its proposed task of providing healthcare to every citizen in America. However, the concrete facts of the argument are immediately tainted by our President’s rhetoric because by his estimation these politicians are being dishonest and treacherous towards the American people in their legitimate misgivings.
Obama’s Choice is Not a Choice
Frequently in his speeches President Obama concludes by offering his audience – the American people – a choice. In the economic speech last Wednesday President Obama summarized Republican ideas and positions as “mudd[ling] along without taking bold action.” He then aknowledged that America would survive, but then asserted that “if that’s our choice” the following will happpen to America:
-“an essential part of our character will be lost”
Republican ideas kill the character of America.
-“our founding precept… will be a myth, not a reality”
Republicans are fundamentally trying to make the American founding a farce.
-“social tensions will rise”
Republicans promote ideas that will cause riots and violence between social groups.
-”inequality will increase …”
Earlier in the speech President Obama called income equality “morally wrong” which is essentially saying Republicans want income inequality and they are morally wrong.
-“fundamental optimism… will give way to cynicism or nostalgia”
Remember President Obama began this speech by building of the nostalgia of the post-WWII boom, and rhetorically painted Republicans as betrayers.
As you can see given by the examples above there really is not a real choice being offered. It is a trick, an illusion. When Republican politicians respond to President Obama’s concrete ideas on the economy they are first accepting the premise that the above statements imply. Unfortunately, liberals accept these propositions and thus the lens through which they view conservative ideas are not judged on the validity of the proposed outcome, but the treachery implied by their motivations.
Currently, our President is proposing a “grand bargain” that many conservatives have legitimate concerns with, but by our President’s contentions only a week ago these concerns will put them in the category of a treacherous American intent on increasing inequality and killing the character of America. The President bemoans the fact that Republicans say no “just because it’s my ideas,” and he challenges that if Republicans have ideas “let’s hear em.”
My question is: could you work with someone who actively paints you and your ideas as treacherous and deceitful if you don’t agree? Also, even though these attacks may be point at politicians they are also extended towards their supporters – regular American citizens. I have legitimate ideas that differ with you on policy, President Obama, but that does not make make what you are trying to convince America I am.
Taylor Smith | Belmont University | @taylorsmith11_5