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The Roles And Uses Of Political Rhetoric Politics Essay

Info: 1881 words (8 pages) Essay
Published: 1st Jan 2015 in Politics

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This paper discusses how Aristotle defined rhetoric and analyzes the reasoning that went into development of a persuasive speech. This paper looks at the three types of rhetoric Aristotle described as well as the explanation for the role and place of rhetoric in today’s political environment.

Political Rhetoric

Rhetoric as defined by Aristotle was the ability, in each particular case, to use the

available means of persuasion. In general, rhetoric is the energy inherent in emotion and thought,

transmitted through a system of signs, including language, to others to influence their decisions

or actions(Kennedy, pp. 5-8). Aristotle introduces rhetoric as an art which focuses on

persuasion and the various methods used to convince an audience of a specific point of view.

Some people see rhetoric as a technique of manipulation and not a form of persuasion,

however, as with everything that point is debatable. In general, rhetoric is the art of public

speaking and debate. Rhetorical skills are valued in such professions as teaching, law, religion,

news reporting and politics. While the purpose of rhetoric concentrates on the emotional

response of sensitive topics such as religion and politics, the ultimate goal of rhetoric is to sway

ones opinion. Professional rhetoricians don’t have to be honest in the speech, they do, however

must show a form of entertainment and be effective.

Aristotle described three major rhetorical means of persuasion; ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos uses trust to persuade the audience. A politician uses his or her respective reputation and what is perceived and said about them; however there is a close connection between reputation and reality. Credibility depends both on expertise and how this is portrayed. In order to persuade the audience, you must first believe in yourself. Pathos does not directly involve the argument itself; instead pathos relies on the emotions of the audience. An efficient way to move the audience is to appeal to their values. Logos is Greek for “logic” and is used to persuade the audience by demonstrating the truth and is based on scientific facts. Logos is also used to appeal to the intellect of the audience, and is considered an argument of logic.

The use of rhetoric is very apparent in political speeches and the outcome is measured by a vote placed by each member of the audience. Aristotelian rhetoric assumes that you believe

the politician, and disbelieve all other politicians that have different views. The persuasiveness

or manipulation of a speech not only depends on the nature of the speech, but also on the

believability of its origin and beliefs shared by the speaker and the audience. The audience

is attracted to the integrity, passion and reasoning of the speaker. The speaker must find the

proper balance of the aforementioned qualities in the debate in order to be effective. In the end

the audience is persuaded because they sense that the speaker is an expert on the topic based on

his or her substantial confidence and the amount of emotion involved.

Rhetoric used in the past

The foundation of the modern approach to society, including the entirety of the modern

political system, is fallout from the medieval rediscovery of Aristotle’s work; during the

Crusades, Europeans re-discovered Latin translations of Aristotle in various libraries throughout

the Islamic world. When rhetoric is applied to political speech, therefore, it may be

concluded that the politician is attempting to sway the public’s opinion in a manner that is unjust

and false.

Today political parties in the United States play an integral role in political elections,

local, state and national. Parties have become a vehicle for exerting the ideas and agenda of large

and collective groups of citizens. However, political parties in colonial American and the early

Republic were viewed negatively, by both early politicians and philosophers. Even the founding

fathers had issues with political parties. Parties were thought to divide Americans. Also, thinkers

of the time thought that forming parties would result in spawning a winning side and a losing

side in elections, which would further split Americans. People in society today are greatly

influenced by what they read. The articles in the newspapers skew people’s beliefs of political

affairs and current events in the same way that biased articles in popular magazines seem to

shape the way the general public views different types of cultural aspects. Keeping this in mind,

it is especially important to note that during the 1800s, the people lacked other forms of media

and communication that people in modern times are influenced by. Instead, they relied heavily

on literature to entertain themselves, most of which shaped the way they viewed culture, politics,

and life itself. Consider how politicians use rhetoric to promote their policies. We focus on a

particular type of rhetorical appeal-those based on emotionally charged predictions about

policy consequences. For politicians, we emphasize maximizing and strategic behavior,

reflecting their full-time employment in politics and large personal stakes in political outcomes.

Political leaders want to win policy debates and they employ rhetoric in an effort to move public

opinion to their respective sides. The very reason for public political debate between parties is to

sway those preferences in one or the other direction. Politicians often try to shape citizens’

beliefs about current conditions and the likelihood that particular outcomes will occur if a policy

is or is not put into law (e.g., Jerit, 2009; Lupia & Menning, 2009). Politicians can attempt to

form and change such beliefs, fundamentally, because of the role of uncertainty in policy

decisions. There is always considerable and sometimes enormous uncertainty about the impact of

proposed policies (see, e.g., Riker, 1996).1 Not even experts really know the consequences of a

policy in advance. We agree that value-based arguments are an important part of politicians’

rhetoric. If politics were solely about values, each side would assert its values early, and citizens

would line up on one side or the other. Politicians say many things during the course of a policy

debate, and so the first task is to identify the forms that political rhetoric and argument can take.

From the perspective of politicians seeking to persuade citizens, the three potentially most

valuable forms are assertions of core party values and principles, predictions of future states,3

and factual descriptions of current circumstances. All three forms of political rhetoric are

motivated by party leaders’ desires to sway opinion in the preferred direction, although each

form has its own purpose. If parties can shape beliefs, and thus preferences, by taking advantage

of uncertainty and strategically using rhetoric, then winning elections and winning policy debates

through rhetorical persuasion are both possible, if not mutually reinforcing. Political rhetoric will

not evolve in precisely the same way across different policy debates.

We have offered several propositions about how politicians should behave when they believe

they can shape citizens’ beliefs. They also show that neither politicians nor the media seem to

provide citizens with reliable, readily identified cues to help distinguish those that are worth

taking seriously from those that are just hot air. Under such circumstances, what can we

reasonably expect from citizens who are asked to render political judgments? Speculations on

Citizens’ Responses to Political Rhetoric To address citizens’ responses to predictive rhetoric,

we first comment on two important perspectives in political psychology that appear to suggest

grounds for expecting quite competent performance. test is crucial to understanding the uses of

predictive rhetoric and its consequences for citizen competence. Unfortunately, we are about to

navigate largely uncharted waters. 11 Citizens’ Assessments of Asserted Links in Predictive

Arguments Assuming that citizens care about the outcome, they will consciously or

unconsciously consider the claimed link between the focal policy and that outcome. Does an

important causal linkage exist? To avoid effort, and lacking expertise in the policy area, citizens

will limit their answers to a simple categorical question: Is there a genuine, significant link of the

sort claimed, or is the claimed link minimal or nonexistent? Unlike experts, ordinary people

generally will not bother with refined distinctions, for example, attempting to distinguish

between a very important and a somewhat important link. To avoid being manipulated,

unaligned citizens will not take politicians at their word, but rather will try to assess the validity

of an alleged link independently. In searching for independent corroboration, they will employ

simple heuristics, including the following three in particular. We concluded that rhetorical

predictions about the consequences of policies create obstacles for citizens who seek to make

reasonable decisions.


In this very exploratory chapter, we have considered the political logic of policy rhetoric; the prominence of appeals that rely on extreme and mostly negative predictions and seek to elicit an emotional response; the processes that citizens use in determining their response; and the consequences of those processes for the competence of individual and collective decisions about policy. To put our findings simply, the information environment in which citizens make decisions about policies presents a constant stream of dramatic, emotionally salient predictive claims, covering a wide range of outcomes, and presented largely without supporting evidence or other diagnostic information. The highly partisan cope with this constant stream by adopting the party line. The unaligned have no such luxury, and thus must try to make sense of the political rhetoric. Sometimes the dire predictions elicit some form of corroborating information-a

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pertinent schema, an example from daily life, or the like-in the minds of these citizens, thus ringing a bell with them. There is little reason to suppose that the predictive appeals that ring a bell in this way correspond at all closely to the considerations that would prove decisive in an environment that encouraged deliberate judgment on the basis of realistic claims and the best available diagnostic information. But, then, there is no reason to believe that taking party cues does, either.


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