Thanks to our readers and a rhetorical analysis of the Obama/McCain debate

First of all, I have to say thank you to you who visit and read this blog. I often wish it contained earth-shattering insights instead of the ongoing wrestling of a lethal mind, but this month more of you visited this blog by 25% than ever before. Thank you! I hope it has offered you some insight, some information, maybe even some inspiration.

Also, a comment on the debate between McCain and Obama, preceded by a funny talk-show call in I heard last week (4:15 Wednesday). Somebody was ripping on McCain and came up with this priceless gem:

I don’t care if it’s Osama or Obama. We need change…

Make of that what you will.

But in more serious vein, consider the exchange between the two presidential aspirants over funding the troops. McCain pointed out that Obama voted against funding them, and Obama responded by pointing out a fine distinction that matters.

Obama said (I paraphrase): Senator McCain voted not to fund the troops if there was a time limit on the troop withdrawal while Obama voted not to fund the troops if there was not a time limit on the troop withdrawal. Personally, I don’t know military strategy or the particulars of the circumstances in Iraq well enough to know what they should do. But I do know, from classical rhetoric, how valuable a little thing called division can be in a debate.

It works like this: you note where you and your opponent agree and then identify the precise point of disagreement. To fail to do so is inevitably to argue about things you don’t even disagree about, something with which we are all all too familiar.

Of course, in a presidential debate, the goal is to simplify your opponent’s position so that you can position him for the watching public, and I give credit to John McCain for successfully doing so in this case. However, when you want to know reality, that isn’t the best way to get there. I commend Obama for coming close to a clarifying division in his reply.

Here’s what I think he should have done: he should have explicitly stated, “John, you and I both agree the troops should be funded. We both also agree that the funding of the troops should be provided under certain conditions. You believe they should be funded without a time line for withdrawal. I believe they should be funded only with a time line for withdrawal. So let’s discuss the real question here: should there be a time line for withdrawal?”

If you are teaching The Lost Tools of Writing, this comes in around lesson 6 or so under arrangement. You might want to use this debate as an example, but, of course, every debate provides an abundance of examples.

What I liked about this debate was the direct interaction of the debaters and Mr. Lehrer’s insistence that it take place. I believe the viewers actually learned something substantive about the potential supervisors of our decline into economic dismay over the next four years.

Sadly, mainly we learned that both of them have way too much confidence into impersonal bureaucracies to run our lives. I’m working on my campaign platform for 2012. I’ll be as experienced as Obama in an executive capacity!

One last thought: the upcoming generation will like Obama’s style a lot more. His eight acknowledgements of McCain’s ‘absolutely right” ness would be considered pansy by most people over 40, but people under 30 and especially under 25 are more like that. They place niceness as the ultimate value, remember, not truthfulness (often offensive) or strong leadership (often demanding). So it may or may not work for Obama this time, but I think he might represent a trend for the future.

Or maybe not. We’ll have to wait and see.

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