Tuesday, August 26, 2008

First Democratic Convention Night Ups and Downs – Some Rhetorical Criticism

First Democratic Convention Night Ups and Downs – Some Rhetorical Criticism

– Richard E. Vatz

About the Convention rhetoric – sometimes called appearances and speeches – of the first night of the Democratic National Convention, some thoughts from a rhetorician:

1. James Carville, a reluctant negative source if ever there was one, found the first few hours deadly dull, lacking an iteration of why it’s so important for the Democrats to take the White House. This writer likes both Carville and his wife Mary Matalin, as they often give more than the party line.

2. Jimmy Carter, fresh from building hints of anti-Semitism and the worst Democratic presidential foreign policy memory of the last, say, 100 years, was mercifully kept from speaking live to the convention and was relegated instead to taped remarks, lest he articulate or even remind Jewish voters of some of his anti-Israel philosophy from his work, “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid.”

3. Terminally ill Senator Ted Kennedy, never a substantive favorite of this writer, was brilliant. He is -- elocution-wise – perhaps the finest well-known political speaker in America, as was his assassinated presidential brother, John F. Kennedy, before him. Sen. Kennedy's convention speech, sporting echoes of that brother's inaugural address, “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans” (EMK: “And this November the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans”) and referencing his 1980 powerful convention speech mantra, “The dream lives on,” was truly a moving moment for all Americans. Many of us can never forget his horrible, possibly felonious, behavior at Chappaquiddick, leading to the death of an innocent woman, but the moment was, indeed as The Washington Post headline said, electrifying.

4. Michelle Obama was poignant, touching, and she tried to be redemptive. No one can doubt her genuine love and admiration for her husband and presidential nominee, Barack Obama. Her encomiums to her family and personal work ethic seemed to this listener to be sincere, heartfelt and moving. Her protest of “That is why I love this country,” however, as an answer to her early campaign remark, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country?” Sorry, it sounded contrived. Still and all, a good convention speech.

As one of the few who has believed since 2007 that this will be a Republican presidential year, there were no major surprises, except possibly for the tepid case against John McCain made in the first two evening hours of the convention.

Richard E. Vatz, Ph.D.Towson Distinguished Professor
Professor, MCOM/COMM; University Senate; Towson University
Thomas Szasz Civil Liberties Award
Associate Psychology Editor, USA Today Magazine;
Editor, Current Psychology
(410) 704-3107

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