Thursday, September 25, 2008

Presidential Debate September 26th



The first presidential debate will occur on Friday, September 26th. Candidates John McCain and Barack Obama will answer questions about foreign policy and national security. It will be broadcast in California at 9pm on all the major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox) as well as PBS, CNN, and other news networks. Please watch at least 20 minutes either on tv, youtube, or through online news services, and post a comment of at least 2-3 sentences analyzing an interesting rhetorical moment from the debate. You might want to use "Rhetorical Questions" (Monday's reading)as a model for rhetorically analyzing the candidates'--and the moderator's performances during the debate.

To post a comment hit "comments" below this post. You do not have to sign in to post a comment. Just hit "Name" and write your name (you don't need to include an url). Or you can click on "anonymous," but if you do, be sure to sign your name so that you get credit!

Please post your comment by Sunday at 5pm.

27 comments:

Amaechi Morton said...

This debate is full of rhetorical strategies. Both of the candidates are producing factual information. For instance, Obama states that the war began in 2003 and we never found any weapons of mass destruction. By using factual information, you draw in a certain audience because people like facts more than opinion. Also, I feel both are giving perfect answers in order to appeal to certain Americans.

Albert Lai said...

I thought that the moment when Obama took out his counter-bracelet story was a pretty astonishing moment, taking the emotional momentum that McCain gained with his story and diverting it to his own course. What makes it such a powerful strategy is that originally McCain draws in audience members who all can relate to the idea of having a son/daughter/friend going to war, then using that empathy to drive home his point. Obama, by bringing up a story that is almost identical, is able to channel that emotional power, usurp the implied point that McCain is Who The People Trust and get in the last word -- that it is his policy that serves these people the best.

Ariana said...

Obama's straight forward rhetorical style crushed McCain's less steady attempts to debate. Specifically, the body language alone that Obama used made McCain appear to be less assertive in his policies and opinions than Obama. When they debated over taxes and tax cuts, Obama actually turned to McCain and spoke directly to him about why he thought McCain was wrong. This signified to the audience that Obama is not afraid of a fight. McCain, however, simply remained straightforward. Furthermore, the way Obama presented himself made it seem as if he were trying to communicate his message to all of the United States people. McCain seemed to be speaking only to the interviewer which made him more difficult to connect with. The use of body language and visual rhetoric was definitely a big factor in this debate.

Robin Thomas said...

I've always liked the line, "When I'm President." Both candidates, in using this line, indicate a perpetual fear that if they acknowledge the possibility of not winning the election — unless they're modestly assuring the American people that no matter who wins the election, they'll be getting a great guy for President — the voters will pounce on their weakness and lack of confidence. Using no "ifs" encourages people to vote for the "When I'm President" candidate for the same reason fans at a sports game are compelled to root for the winning team. And after all, if you say something enough it'll come true, right?

"When I'm President" is such a canned line, such a cliché rhetorical strategy, that it serves no real purpose anymore. However, although the entire American audience of any candidate's speech can see right through the phrase to the fact that it's simply an oral tradition, not using that specific spoken absolute would certainly go noticed.

savyg said...

An interesting rhetorical tactic utilized by John McCain, was to constantly bring the focus of the conversation back to a topic with which he felt comfortable. For example, when the moderator asked if he would agree with the plan for the economy that was devised by Obama, McCain responded “sure, but I think the important thing is that we cut back on spending.” This oral rhetoric had the purpose of drawing focus away from where he agreed with Obama to a subject where he could seem the superior choice. However, his use of the word ‘sure’, a non-committal word of agreement, simply made him seem wishy-washy and the amount of times he kept redirecting the conversation eventually became painfully apparent. Ultimately, the effect of his rhetorical tactic actually highlighted a weakness and caused him to seem less competent in the areas away from which he was attempting to direct the dialogue.

Sarah Itani said...

Barack Obama showcased a powerful means of rhetoric that James Fallows describes in his article"Rhetorical Questions." By directly looking at the camera, and thus directly looking at the american people, Obama both acknowledges and uses the rhetoric of performance to his advantage. When summing up his speech Obama looks Americans in the eyes and states "My father came from Kenya [to pursue the American dream.]" These mannerisms that "would have passed unnoticed in a transcript" (Fallows, page 2) are indicative of why Obama has been revered as such a great rhetorician.

Katie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elise Gibbs said...

Obama's choice of words during his answers were most interesting to me. In the beginning of the debates, Obama said his opponent would "shred" regulations, and also said that under the leadership of McCain prosperity would "trickle down." This type of language is certainly effective because it creates imagery of McCain and his policies that are unfavorable. It related to James Fallows' reference to Obama's tactic of saying "look" or "listen" in order to persuade a listener to agree with what he's saying before he says it. Fallows makes a very good point in his article, "Rhetorical Questions," when he states that reading a transcript of the debates is an entirely different experience than watching them. I think Obama takes advantage of the opportunity to persuade those who watch him and those who read his words by saying that the GOP "shreds" regulations, for example. The word "shreds" has a connotation of one being reckless.

Veronica Li said...

What I found particularly interesting was how each candidate had a few main points that they put particular emphasis on, and used only those few points to answer the variety of questions asked them. It almost seemed like they never could directly give an answer relevant to the question being asked. For McCain, it was his record and experience, and being known for being against the majority of Republican decisions. For Obama, it was how often McCain agreed with President Bush. So it didn't matter if McCain was asked what the situation in Iraq was or what he thought of off-shore drilling, he would emphasize that he had a record for being a hard person for fellow Republican senators to convince. Also with Obama, if he was asked about tax cuts, or U.S. foreign policy, he would reiterate that McCain almost always agreed with President Bush's failed policies, and what the damage another four years of those policies could do, especially after the last eight years.

Veronica Li

courtney clayton said...

After having been following the presidential election for some time, the debate was anything but enlightening. Both candidates used the same arguments they have been using: "the surge has worked," "tax break for main street, not wall street," "tax break for 95% of americans," etc. The debate basically was cut out segments from each candidate's past speeches, and statements.

As far as body language and tone, Sen. McCain's smirking seemed to be an expression of sarcasm, whereas Sen. Obama steered clear of any facetious body language.

Sen. McCain's tone sounded more passionate and earnest, while Sen. Obama's voice sounded calm and powerful.

courtney clayton

Raymond B. said...

There were several interesting rhetorical moments/themes in last night's debate:

1) There were times during the debate when Barack Obama said that John McCain was right about a certain position/view. (For example: "I think Senator McCain’s absolutely right that we need more responsibility, but we need it not just when there’s a crisis..." and "I think Senator McCain and I agree for the most part on these issues.") This rhetorical strategy could be seen as an attempt by Senator Obama to highlight his willingness to lead in a bipartisan manner. It also shows that Obama is able to look past the dichotomy of Republican/Democrat when considering complex and nuanced issues.

2) I agree with Albert that one of the most powerful moments in the debate was when Senator Obama validated the work and sacrifice of the men and women who serve in our nation's armed forces. John McCain said more than once that he did not want the sacrifice of our nation's men and women in uniform to have been "in vain." McCain said, "[our nation's troops] will win [this war] and won’t come home in defeat and dishonor" to which Obama replied, "No U.S. soldier ever dies in vain because they’re carrying out the missions of their commander in chief. And we honor all the service that they’ve provided." This was a powerful statement of affirmation to our nation's soldiers as well as their families.

3) In order to be a successful rhetorician, you must gain the respect of your audience or at least demonstrate your credibility when speaking about a certain issue or idea. One of the most fundamental components to gaining credibility is to be articulate and use appropriate language, syntax, and pronunciation. McCain mispronounced the name of Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, in addition to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I found this slightly ironic, seeing as McCain has spent a great deal of time and energy asserting that his experience with and knowledge of foreign policy is superior to Senator Obama's. (These sorts of gaffes might also tie McCain’s persona to that of President Bush, who frequently mispronounces names, titles, countries, etc.)

4) Obama referred to John McCain several times as "John," but McCain never referred to Barack Obama as "Barack." I'm not sure that there is any significance to this, but some might view it as patronizing or belittling.

-Raymond

christine donnelly said...

Senator McCain often emphasized his experience by mentioning names of important leaders and friends with whom he has worked (“By the way, my friend, Dr. Kissinger, who's been my friend for 35 years, would be interested to hear this conversation and Senator Obama's depiction of his positions.”) In addition, he drew on his experience by consistently portraying Obama as a naïve politician who does not yet understand the intricacies of governing. He repeatedly used the phrase, “I’m afraid Senator Obama doesn’t realize…” and criticized Obama for views that were overly simplistic, such as the idea that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are completely disconnected.

Katie said...

Throughout the elections both candidates have established definitive representations of themselves; Obama is the black, educated, progressive grassroots candidate, while McCain is the humble veteran, with years of political experience. What I found most interesting about the debate were the moments where each of the candidates stepped out of their pre-determined images of themselves. Obama denying McCain's snide attacks in between questions, when they both interrupted the moderator, McCain's mispronunciation of the Pakistan president's name, and even simply the number of times McCain blinked or the length of the pause Obama held before he responded are actually what reinforced the rhetoric of each candidate’s performance.

Cole Patterson said...

When asked how their policies would be affected by the current economic crisis John McCain bluntly endorsed a spending freeze on all but defense spending veteran care. Obama retorted that to do so would be "like using a hatchet when what was needed was a scalpel". McCain's performance echoed this hatchet metaphor. His purpose was not to touch on any relevant issue, but instead to illuminate the dimming facade of disregarded republican philosophy. No matter what was asked, his answer was a swaggering mantra of "government bad, spending bad". He would embellish this with trivial anecdotes about pork barrel spending. He simply ignored any attack on the flawed overarching policies of his party. His mission was to ignore the past and create a false illusion of future filled with the most basic republican ideals and to renounce any continuation of corruption because he is the maverick. He was wise to use this oratory hatchet. For armed with a scalpel on any real issue he might carve out an outline of the true nature of the GOP. But instead he concealed it a haphazard outline of an idealized untruth jeweled with the splinters of a thousand unsubstantial anecdotes.

Cole

Anonymous said...

McCain's most obvious, and unfortunately ineffective use of vocal rhetoric during Friday's debate was his effort to portray Obama as ignorant on several issues. On various occasions he repeated the phrases "you don't understand", or "I'm afraid that Senator Obama doesn't understand" regarding issues that were being discussed. Not only did this become annoying, and extremely repetitive, it was a completely see through tactic that only made McCain seem stuck-up and ignorant.
Obama was not free of the repetitive phrase flaw either. Many times when McCain would make a valid point, Obama would simply make a flustered face and say: "thats just not true". Had he followed with information as to why McCain's statement was not true, the line would have had much more bearing. Many times, however, he did not, and immediately moved onto a new topic. This merely left the viewer in doubt as to who's statement was correct, but leaning towards McCain because Obama did not substatiate his argument.

Alex said...

The above written by Alex Alvarado

Victor Haug said...

One of the central, most dynamic elements of Friday’s debate revolved around the question of what is the best way to solve the U.S.'s financial crisis. The debate boiled down to whether or not McCain, with his tax breaks for the Rich and Businesses, would ultimately help most Americans get out of their financial slump. Obama’s statement to McCain, “you are neglecting people who are really struggling,” sets the tone for the topic. McCain, then, spends a lot of time desperately trying to appeal to Middle America by recounting his nickname, “the Sherriff,” in an attempt to remind them of his zero tolerance policy on earmark spending.

Rachel Lindee said...

A rhetorical device that stood out to me in this debate was Barack Obama's tendency to directly include the American people in whatever he was discussing. For example, when talking about today's economic failures, Obama highlights the specific economic situations of "our nurses, teachers, police officers." By directly referring to Americans of specific occupations, Obama has the ability to connect with these people more so than McCain who is consistently very general in his responses. This tactic, although perhaps misleading, gives these particular Americans the idea that Obama specifically cares for them and their economic issues. At another point in his response, Obama also mentions how he hopes his tax cuts to 95% of Americans will allow them to "use some of this extra money on perhaps buying a computer for their child." Through such specific references, Obama transforms himself from a politician on a podium to a relatable man concerned and aware of the issues of his fellow Americans.

James Samuelson said...

McCain and Obama's bracelet stories struck me as a really interesting moment. I think it really shows how much of a performance they are putting on by trying to appeal to different audiences. Transitioning from facts about the war into these stories of human emotion gives them a larger audience. I don't doubt that they both feel very emotional about those stories, but it seems like such a strategy to appear human that I almost can't take them seriously.

Erica Neville said...

Although this first debate had its fair share of rhetorical moments from the candidates, what initially occurred as meaningful to me was the mannerisms of the moderator, and how his actions and interjections affected the audience's views of the debate.

During the first round, after the candidates had responded to the question about their stance on the financial recovery plan, the moderator ends up reiterating the question and pushing the candidates to answer it directly. By doing so, he implies that they are avoiding the point, and so undermines their rhetorical tactics in the eyes of those watching.

He also had the tendency to interrupt the candidates and disrupt the audience's point of view further. When Senator Obama began to respond to the question by referring to an action "John" McCain had done "ten days ago," the moderator interjected, chastising Obama into directing his comments towards McCain, "determined to get [them] to talk to each other." This particular interruption not only undermined the rhetorical point Senator Obama was attempting to make, but actually altered my own view of the rest of the debate - from then on, it seemed like the moderator was a parent attempting to get two bickering children to play nice together. Such a comment, although amusing, can quickly turn a debate into a joke and negatively impact the audience's view of both candidates. The audience, although sworn to stay silent (as clarified by the moderator at the beginning of the debate), laughed at the subsequent cracks about McCain's hearing.

To this viewer, the moderator turned the debate from formal to informal, and therefore detracted from the effectiveness of the rhetorical strategies (mentioned here by others) of both candidates. Amusing as it was, such comments were not appropriate at the time - as I'm sure that he knew. In this way, I believe the point of the moderator was not only to reduce the effectiveness of each candidate's responses, but to also reveal to the audience the rhetorical techniques the candidates were using for what they really were - subversive attempts to undermine each other, avoid the issue, and appeal to the American people for support in the election. By doing so, he might be encouraging the viewers to listen to the debate without partisan bias and to evaluate each candidate's response and actions with critical analysis and skepticism rather than being held under the thrall of a particular candidate's performance.

Paige Farmakis said...

What I found most interesting from analyzing Obama and McCain's performances during the presidential debate was their body language and actions when there was a split screen. The candidate not speaking during the split seemed to break "character" trying to take the hit from their opponent. It is easier to express your ideas and come across powerful and insightful, seeing that they have rehearsed these lines numerous times, but the true test of character is the reaction when their opponent is pointing out flaws. I felt that Obama was interrupting McCain on numerous occasions and was too eager to speak because he had to use what McCain was saying and spin it in favor of his side. Overall I thought that both candidates made valid arguments, but the rhetoric during the debate when the screens showed some interaction shed light on their actual character.

Mike Sanchez said...

In observing the visual rhetorical strategies used in Friday's debate, I have discovered that Sen. Obama out-performs Sen. McCain, publicly showcasing his confidence and strength. McCain refuses to recognize Obama, speaking to the audience instead of debating directly with Sen. Obama; this lack of conflict in Sen. McCain's performance appears showcase an unwillingness for opposition, a task Sen. Obama seems more than eager to pursue. By displaying this visual rhetorical strategy, the audience may feel more inclined to side with Sen. Obama on the tasks at hand, for the the ability to speak straightforward appears as a mergence of strength, superiority, and preparation. Both candidates employ oral rhetorical strategies, appealing to certain audience members when speaking about the War. Sen. Obama focuses on statistics, speaking about the number of deaths that has been caused in the years since 2003: this strategy appeals to family members whom have been affected by the War, realizing that the unnecessary deaths of even more men (children like their own) has to stop. Sen. McCain also employs the usage of oral rhetorical strategies, however, when speaking about the war, quoting Soldiers: "Let us win..[for] we don't want our kids to come here." This strategy counters Sen. Obama's usage of statistics, hitting home with families of lost-loved ones and equalling the playing field.

This post was submitted by Mike Sanchez, PWR MW 1:15-3:05

Maya1289 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maya1289 said...

Like James Fallow put it in his article, "We don't watch debates to learn what someone thinks about Social Security. We watch to see how the contenders look next to their opponents, how they react when challenged, how well or poorly they come up with the words we later see in print." Although the statement might seem a little obvious, if not superficial, it's accurate. Regardless of which politician you chose to vote for, it's hard to ignore their obvious physical differences, as well as their choice of rhetoric. While McCain comes across as an older, somewhat intimidating and stiff war hero, Obama is youthful and approachable. I found it most interesting to note how Obama tried to relate to all viewers--how he turned to McCain during the debate, looked around into the audience, into the camera, referred to his opponent as "John" and still engaged with the moderator. McCain, on the other hand chose to spend most of the time engaging with solely the moderator and referred to Barack as solely "Senator Obama." In a lot of instances both opponents steered off course while answering questions and chose instead to use the time to speak of previous experience they had with working well with their opposing party. The moderator usually chose to respond to those situations by saying things like "let's go back to my question," or "let's see if I can find another way of phrasing this."
-Maya Amoils

jane lepham said...

An interesting part of the presidential debate, especially in one so closely contested as this, is the use of rhetoric as a tactic to influence the voting audience by producing facts that though are true, are also indefinitely skewed. While discussing military funding and strategy, John McCain cited Barack Obama as someone who voted against troop funding in Iraq, suggesting Obama as a somewhat anti-patiotic, anti-military candidate for president. However, as Obama later retorts, he had voted against troop funding in Iraq because of a lack of a timetable for withdrawal. Obama's subsequent comment thus appeals to Americans who wish for their friends and family members to return from combat. Thus, while McCain employs a rhetorical tactic to discredit Obama, the latter clarifies the factual truth to state that he does support the military, but also for a withdrawal and safe return.

Elliott Byers said...

I think the idea of a debate is rhetorical in a way. I believe that how both candidates a lot of the time would not directly answer a question but rather would bring the answer back to a topic on which they are comfortable discussing is rhetorical. That was a thing in the debate that stuck out to me as a common rhetorical practice. Rather than argue a point the candidates would be change the subject so they were comfortable. Also both of the people were performing as portrayals of what they believe the people are looking for in a candidate. I just find the way in which both candidates disagree with eachother and have all these plans laid out that nothing they say as of now is guaranteed to happen in office.

Anonymous said...

After watching the debates, I noticed two things about the candidate's rhetorical styles. First I noticed each candidate's body language and stature. Obama's sharp hand movements and direct eye contact made him appear very confident while McCain's wandering eye line and softer hand movements made him seam less assertive. Obama also used the phrase "Let's clarify something" a couple times which was an interesting rhetorical strategy to adjust the topic focus to something more appealing to his strengths.

Christine Evans