Archive for the ‘Anchoress’ Tag

just rhetoric? what?

All of the hooplah about Obama’s spiritual advisor has generated a little blogstorm it seems. The Anchoress, whom I very much respect, says this is destructive:

I was in the car today and flipped on Sean Hannity and heard him really carrying on, saying that because Obama “sat in those pews for 20 years,” even if he repudiated Wright it would not be “credible.”

. . .

Is Hannity suggesting that a politician must review a pastor’s sermons each week and run around denouncing and deserting those preachers who might cause him a little bit of political heat? Wouldn’t that be both extreme behavior and a bit dis-crediting?

. . .

Wright’s rhetoric is extreme, but it’s just rhetoric.

This issue is pretty thoroughly hashed out in the comments and, whichever side you are on, I highly recommend them. The Anchoress’ comments in response to opponents especially made me think about this issue.

But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about that last line up there, “it’s just rhetoric.”

Nonsense. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, and it is rarely empty. All a political campaign is, for example, is rhetoric. Nothing more. Even the showy parts, wearing a flag pin (or not), kissing babies, making policy speeches, debates, these are all rhetoric. If the Anchoress means that Wright’s rhetoric is hyperbolic, that’s one thing. To say it’s just rhetoric, as if there is no meaning imparted, as if no one’s mind could possibly be changed by it, is false and dangerous. It was ignoring Hitler’s rhetoric that resulted in WWII. It was ignoring Al Qaeda’s rhetoric that probably led us to fail to predict the 9/11 attacks. It’s been ignoring the racist, hateful, divisive rhetoric of certain black preachers and the Nation of Islam that has strengthened racial division in the US and prevented healing and reconciliation to a certain extent.

Rhetoric should be treated seriously. When the results of one’s words have real consequences, one can stick to his guns or modify his words. Either way, it is only by taking words seriously and acting on what our fellow citizens say that we find out whether the words were truly meaningful or empty rhetoric.

(This post will have a follow-up.) Update 2008 June 21: Or maybe not. It’s been too long to even remember what I wanted to follow up with. I blame grad school.

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