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.

Who’s Lying Now?

I’ve never read Stuart Taylor before, so I can’t say anything about his positions or politics, or even credibility, but this article analyzes the political ads and the responses to them by the media. He affirms some concerns I raised earlier and goes into quite a bit of detail I couldn’t get to.

McCain’s lies, revisited

In today’s news, TheHill.com brings out the old Lilian Helmann, statistics, bromide, applying it to that dishonorable, disgusting John McCain. Here, according to Mark Mellman, is the case against John McCain:

Yet John McCain himself stands behind the lies and the dishonor. There is not a kernel of truth in the statement that Barack Obama called Sarah Palin a pig. There is not an iota of reality in McCain’s attack on Obama’s supporting comprehensive sex education for kindergartners. As we all know, he voted to help children avoid sexual predators.

On the sexual predator question, I would refer you to the article below that shows conclusively that either Obama’s intentions and his vote were not on friendly terms with each other or that Obama is dishonest. I don’t believe the second, so I go with the former.

However, the other horrific lie John McCain appears to have told is that “Obama called Palin a pig.” Before I can reply to that charge, I’d need to see where McCain claimed Obama called Palin a pig. i did find this on the Associated Press website.  

Did he call her a pig?” McCain was asked. “No, I but know that he chooses his words carefully, and it was the wrong thing to say,” he responded.

As I recall, the charge was nuanced, not arguing that he called her a pig, but that his words were, in the context in which they were spoken, easily taken that way. In other words, Obama didn’t directly call her a pig, but he knew that his audience would take it that way, as they did, or else he didn’t know and should have.

I have a hard time remembering what exactly the ad said because I can’t find it on line for some reason. And that matters, because all I’m commenting on here is whether John McCain actually lied about what Obama said. I would argue that, given the context, one could defend the statement that Obama was calling Palin a pig. It was indirect, if he was, but I think one could defend the statement.

I don’t believe McCain should have accused Obama of doing so, if he did. I do think McCain has a case to make that Obama knew what he was doing and either did or should have known how his words would be taken IN THE CONTEXT they were delivered.

So it is wrong to say McCain lied. I’m not sure how much more is wrong. Maybe McCain’s ultimate goal was to show that Obama isn’t such a great communicator after all. If that was his goal and if he put questions in people’s mind, then he was successful. I’m not sure the success was worth it for him though.

Obama has great communication skills, especially on the inspirational, formal side. Then that is where he will also be most vulnerable to pride and therefore break down. Obama should have been aware of how these words would be taken. Maybe he still should have said them. Maybe it was a truly great line.

But he can’t accuse McCain of lying by making McCain say something he never said.

That nuance shouldn’t give the democrats and the media any problem, because everybody knows they are much more refined and nuanced than the red neck Republicans.

I emphasize “everbody knows” because that is what Mr. Mellman emphasizes in his, er, article. Give it a read. Look for the support for his points and see if he does better than your junior high student.

By the way, Mellman, who writes for the HIll, “is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982, including Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004.”

I must hastily add that I do these blogs for educational purposes (practicing the application of reason to the argument), not for political reasons. I am amused by the media’s strategy for dealing with McCain/Palin and find it deeply disappointing at the same time. When I consider how silly and one sided the coverage has been, I shake my head and wish for more educated news folk.

Now that nobody knows how to think, those who speak don’t have anybody whose presence shames them when they open their mouths. This is a greater loss than we think.

My point on the issue is that if they’re going to go after McCain for his character, they’ll have to pull their teeth out of the carcass they’re gnawing on (the lipstick and sex ed accusations) and recognize it’s an empty skin. They’re leaving the impression of political amateurity, which makes sense, since there are now so many news people that the skill level would have to drop without an extensive minor league system to prepare them.

When you boil down what the media have come up with, it seems as if what this election boils down to is whether John McCain lied about things he didn’t clearly lie about even though everybody knows he did and whether Barack Obama or Sarah Palin is more experienced. Go figure.