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Gianotti '13: Respect, just a little bit

At the Democratic National Convention this year, former president Bill Clinton appeared a true statesman, urging a ceasefire to this country's bipartisan politics. With great finesse, he effectively appealed to Americans' deepest frustrations with a legislative government that seems to have been rendered useless.
Let us hope that the party he endorses strives to live up to its promise of cooperation and that Clinton did not lift Democrats above congressional pettiness only for us to find them engaged in the same practice in 2013.
As you read, imagine you can't. Imagine there are no newspapers and no Internet. Where do you get any and all information about your village, your city, your leaders, your enemies and your allies? Word of mouth. Who are the sources of authority? Orators. You gather in public spaces to hear men make speeches - speeches about the character of that guy next door who may or may not have stolen his cousin's cow or about the war strategies of your elected generals. Even oral poets are authorities of information on pretty important issues: the gods, cult heroes, human history.
Rhetoric has always been used as a tool of persuasion. It is inseparable from the expressive arts as a whole, and you will find its techniques even here in this column. But in a democracy it is also a tool of education. This was true in the ancient world, and it is still true today. Then as now, rhetoric is the way by which we formulate identity and ideology. A good speech should have the intention of educating constituents about the reality of the crises they face and inspiring them to be better in the face of those challenges.
Political rhetoric means everything in a democracy. It is the means by which we understand the policies of our leaders and their opponents and are able to choose between the two. Most Americans don't have the time to explore the big issues and their nitty-gritty details that threaten our security - whether it be the unemployment rate, war in Afghanistan or climate change. In a functioning democracy politicians are paid to understand the problems and come up with good, long-term solutions. Then, it is their job to convince us that those are the right solutions.
The business of rhetoric has always been a shady one, but in this modern era it need not be so. The average American is infinitely more equipped to access information than was the average ancient person. A decent literacy rate, multiple competing news networks, the black hole of the Internet - even just YouTube itself - all make it incredibly difficult for any one person or entity to control an image or be an authority on information. This great access gives us the ability to distinguish good from bad rhetoric - the kind that educates and unites us as opposed to the kind that deceives and divides us.
The Obama administration did not deliver on its powerful rhetoric of hope, change and possibility, and while we will not stone him or ostracize him for it, we may not elect him again as a result. Yet the past four years has seen President Obama's optimistic message of progress drowned out by a more powerful rhetoric that has swept the country.
Clinton referred to the rhetoric of "hate" that he sees dominating the Republican Party, and he makes a good point. But Democrats can be just as sophistical as well. To refer to religious conservatives as "crazy" is no better than calling Obama a Muslim. Neither adds anything helpful to the conversation, both just estrange people that are supposed to be countrymen.
Look at Democratic rhetoric surrounding women's issues. Sarcastic phrases such as "government small enough to fit on the end of a vaginal probe" and the grotesque image of a crossed out wire hanger are used if nothing else to incite fear in the female voter.
Thus we see the foundations of our democracy rotting. Our country cannot function when rhetoric becomes so sensational and isolating. When Mitt Romney tries to establish a fundamental opposition between caring for your family and caring for the environment, challenge it. When the Democrats shout war cries glorifying the death of Osama bin Laden, don't rush to join the frenzy.
If we cannot communicate, if we continue to use empty rhetoric that has no substance, no truth and no integrity, there will continue to be no cooperation. The television ads may disappear in eight weeks, but their rhetoric will set the tone for how the newly instated government will function.
Then who we elect as president, senator, congressman will not matter. Government will either be incapacitated or as tyrannical as a one-party state. We live in a big, beautiful, diverse country. Conversation among our elected officials is key, as is conversation amongst ourselves. As consumers of information, we are free to pick and choose among our sources. So avoid indoctrination. Be wary of falling in love with any one source of information - whether it be Rachel Maddow or Rush Limbaugh.
We have the tools and the access to demand excellence from the political conversation. Let's not let modernity go to waste, otherwise we may find ourselves just the blind and helpless victims of our fate.

Claire Gianotti '13 hopes she effectively employed rhetoric to persuade you to be wary of everyone else's rhetoric.



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