March 23, 2003

Rhetoric quiz results…

Several days ago, in a post about Sen. Tom Daschle’s reaction to war and House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s response to Daschle, I presented this rhetoric “quiz”:

You must make a statement against a particular policy or action. Your opposition, however, may claim your statement gives comfort to a common enemy. How do you make your statement and avoid such criticism?

Part of my purpose in that entry was to criticize Hastert for nearly calling a U.S. Senator (and veteran) a traitor. No one should assume or believe that Hastert literally meant such a thing. Instead, his remark–like all such red herrings by any political faction–was calculated as an emotional response to Daschle’s equally emotional remarks. Such remarks make for good TV soundbites (and good quotes, too, because print reporters all to often allow themselves to be spoon-fed such remarks).

The entry drew much interesting discussion. And, as I mentioned, I gave this “quiz” to one of my rhetoric classes. It is important to note that the “quiz” is somewhat absurd because there is no way to say much of anything important without drawing criticism. And the “quiz” ignores the fact that Hastert’s response is just as calculated as Daschle’s remarks. But, in another important way, this “quiz” helped my students understand exactly the process of crafting political soundbites with a proper anticipation of likely opposition response.

Some Rhetorica readers offered their thoughts (see the comments). Here’s what some of my students came up with:

“War has always had winners and losers, but in the end we all have lost–a life, a loved one, and sometimes our souls. May we all find peace in the end.” –Jewell Phillips

“It is a tragic event that the final outcome of this debate is to be war. However, when all other diplomatic attempts have come to no avail, it is often the only method left to the madness.” –Beth Fraley

“In the spirit of the liberty we love, I am grieved that we seem to have no choice in this conflict; that those in whose power resolution lies have not done enough in the face of so solemn a responsibility as the maintenance of peace. –Ben Gardner

“I can only wonder that if our Founding Fathers were alive today, would they agree with the actions we are taking. And would they believe that this is the will of the great citizens of America? –Christian Stallings

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