Monday, October 6, 2008

This is my first blog. I should be working on something else. I've never regularly read a blog, "followed" a blog as they say. I once read the entire archives of a blog written by a college kid with cancer, but that's different, more like reading a finished product. I have viewed and admired a colleague's blog, Octopus's Garden. But I'm not sure who has time to read other people's blogs on a regular basis, and I am not sure who would stumble across this one. Even so, I am feeling very self-conscious.

This morning I took a work guest from the small South Dakota town where I live to a slightly larger South Dakota town an hour away so she could fly home to Italy. She has been studying the rhetoric of two recent, female candidates for American national public office, Hilary Rodham Clinton and Sarah Palin. I don't know what she (the Italian visitor) had to say about Clinton and Palin, since I didn't attend the presentation she gave, and in the car we got caught up in bemoaning how hard we work, but I have a few thoughts myself on the subject.
One, neither these nor any other modern political figure, male or female, says much worth hearing. Even when I agree with a candidate's views, her public comments are predictable and flat--newsbite comments. There is no analysis, possibly, because the public wouldn't follow. But more likely, the candidate doesn't know the issues well enough. Any close look at healthcare, the banking system, tax codes, the budget, or global military commitment presents a candidate with the risks of factual error or, worse, with offending some segment of her audience. Regarding the latter, I listened to an NPR program Sunday about the Latino/a vote and the lack of any engagement of immigration issues by the major candidates. The point made by one caller was a good one: neither McCain nor Obama can address immigration--in any way--without making someone (i.e., a group) mad, someone whose vote he needs. There are simply too many strong feelings running in too many directions for a candidate safely to articulate a stance. Instead, they leave out the issue altogether or gesture toward it in overly general ways. Campaign strategy, one might say, thoroughly sucks the brains out of campaign rhetoric. But, and this is two, the science of politics and the strategy of marketing for votes seems to leave us with political speeches and debates that are deathly boooorrrrring as well. Not just dumb but lacking in pathos. No art. Verily, these are not the days of fiery speechmakers like Daniel Webster or even the Hollywood-grandad glow of Ronald Reagan. When the honest antics of political rhetoric do occur they tend to be second-rate--and are followed by such a media go-to as to discourage subsequent performances. Howard Dean howled his enthusiasm and paid a high price indeed. Women, in particular, are pressed to show their professional bona fides by avoiding the appearance of anger, sadness, or undisciplined joy. This unofficial rule has at least a practical (practically monstrous) rationale: who would want a world leader, after all, for whom emotion might influence the decision to make war? Who indeed. Three, it would not be too much of a stretch to describe both Rodham Clinton and Palin as overdetermined by male-dominated political machines that obscure our ability to read their rhetoric as "their" rhetoric at all. Both--not unlike their male counterparts--follow the mandates of political parties, advisors, planners, speech-writers, media consultants, and, in the case of Palin, co-candidates. Seems like Hilary never quite shook Bill's potent shadow, and Palin has yet to register as much more than an obedient puppet (albeit one with a very dangerous potential for autonomy).

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