As I’ve watched bits and pieces of the political news regarding the presidential campaign from my constantly-moving-but-going-nowhere perch on the treadmill at my gym this winter, I’ve been intrigued by several aspects of this historic race; most of all, the way it reflects common aspects of our culture.

I am not a politically-motivated person.  I watch the process with intrigue and objectivity, but seldom with any sense of activism.  I’ll confess, I’m a registered republican who has mostly voted with that party in past elections, but over the last several years I’ve become more comfortable with my moderate to liberal leanings on some issues, and I’d generally consider myself a moderate overall.

Earlier this week, I watched a portion of a speech by Barack Obama, speaking at a rally somewhere in Ohio.  I think Mr. Obama is a fascinating man who brings a definite buzz of excitement to this over-hyped political campaign.  There’s nothing overtly offensive about him, from my view, although I’m a bit concerned about the way his position on Iraq might play out.

I’m not picking on Mr. Obama, or his positions on the big issues either, but as I watched and listened to him, and reflected on other speeches I’ve heard from McCain and Clinton, the word rhetoric came to mind and got stuck in my craw.

I started thinking about how all of us, but especially politicians (and preachers), use rhetoric so effectively.  I’ve heard political candidates (and preachers) speak about very significant issues in nebulous terminology, being sure to hit the right phrases and points, to stir emotions and inflame concerns, all the while projecting themselves or their opinions as the answers to those issues.

I wondered, is Mr. Obama, or any other candidate for that matter, actually speaking with passion regarding issues that represent his heart and personal beliefs, or is he speaking persuasively regarding a position he’s taken on points that are merely, at least superficially, of particular interest to his audience?

In other words, if he were in the same race 50 years ago, would he be as excited about other issues because they had the focus of voters who had the power to get him elected?  What is Mr. Obama really passionate about, being president or addressing the healthcare dilemma?  Is he discussing the environment because that’s the purpose of his life, or because it’s an issue that has the attention of voters?

When I develop my resume, I try to hit the high points, use the right buzz words, and tailor the details for the job to which I’m applying.  Honestly, though, the things described in my resume, even after the best polishing, are merely a dim reflection of my passions and concerns, much less my view of my life’s purpose and value.  I’m merely attempting to relay the information that I believe will make me a successful candidate.

When presidential candidates make promises, or even engender a sense of vague anticipation, that they will be able to resolve complex problems, isn’t it a bit misleading, at least in the sense that they won’t be governing with unilateral power?

Do they really believe they can accomplish those things, and do they really care?  Or, are they just saying the right things, with as much ambiguity as can be accepted, to be a successful candidate?

When I ran for Student Council President in my senior year of high school, at the urging of members of the outgoing council, I coined a campaign slogan, “You won’t fail, if you vote for Dale.”  You know what was great about that?  It rhymed.  Otherwise, it was absolutely meaningless.  I got the job though.  My biggest accomplishment as President?  A student body trip to the movie theater!

Okay, forget about politics for a minute and let’s talk about you.  Do you live in a polished and acceptable persona developed for the intent of being successful in the environment of your life?  Do you live with conviction, reflecting the values that are most important to you without excuses and regret?

What type of candidate are you?  What are your true passions and concerns, and are they reflected in your words and actions?

My idea here is that we frequently talk about the most important principles of life as unattainable ideals, and substitute lesser concerns with ill-perceived value, for whatever audience we’re catering to at a given moment, for the sake of establishing ourselves and gaining stature.

Maybe that’s necessary in politics.  Maybe that’s why my political career ended in high school.

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3 thoughts on “rhetoric

  1. When i was running for elementry school president i talked about how important it was that we got a wider variety of pensil erasers in the school store and how i was the best canidate to make that happen. The kid that promised an all school dodge ball games won….. AND the worst part was that we never got our all school dodge ball game due to the fact that it was too dangerous.
    After our conversations this morning, I decided that I am have a good rhetoric skills and I am going to run for office…..of something:)

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