Topic category: Other/General
Obama's Embedded Message
Words do matter!
And messages can be straightforward or subliminal, emblazoned or embedded.
David Hoff is a Canadian grad student of Rhetoric & Language from University of Waterloo and a political Liberal concerned with media bias (including liberal media bias). He focuses usually on acroamatic tropes (disguised rhetoric), including "Metaphors We Live By", the grand narratives within common language use, but also rhetorical tactics: the use of enthymemes in arguments (undeclared premises); allegories; sermonic traditions, etc.
Linda Bennington Nolan is a Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. enthusiast who emphatically emailed me that Obama is "the best, most honest candidate in history."
Why anyone would believe that (and Ms. Nolan appears to be articulate and sincere) is...a mystery.
I think the answer is that Obama's rhetoric is subliminal ("existing or functioning below the threshold of conscious awareness") as well as sublime ("lofty, grand, or exalted in thought, expression, or manner".
Mr. Hoff's insight may help to explain it.
"One university professer, George Lakoff, has written a glowing article praising [Obama's Racve in America] speech up and down, "What makes Obama's speech great". I studied Lakoff's work in school--the sermonic rhetoric in Obama's speech should be patently obvious to Lakoff. It it uplifting but it does more to obfuscate Obama's handling of the Wright controversy than to clarify issues of race.
"I'm a big fan of Dr. Lakoff's linguistic work, but I'm disappointed to see no mention by Lakoff of the sermonic rhetoric in Obama's speech, the borrowing from Martin Luther's King's rhetoric (while veiling the sermonic quality), and the characterization of Obama's speech by Lakoff (and media commentators) as an auteur speech written almost overnight -- when Obama has been borrowing from many quarters and recycling tropes from previous campaign speeches (it can hardly be called an "overnight" or "original" speech born of immaculate inspiration).
"Lakoff writes of the speech as if the words (and Obama) transcend: 'Obama does not speak of interests and seeks to transcend interest groups and interest group politics. That is at the heart of this speech. When we transcend interest groups, we transcend interest group politics." Indeed, the rhetorical greatness of Obama's speech is not how it is 'seeking' to transcend -- it has a heavy helping of the gnostic, the sermonic transcendence of Trinity United.
"Dr. Lakoff writes of lessons of scripture, but ignores what commentator Roland Martin pointed out on CNN, that Obama's referencing to 'disowning' is reminiscent of MARK 14:66-72, a story where Peter disowned Jesus three times before 'remembering the word' (and becoming the Rock upon which the church of Christiandom was founded). Indeed, Obama weaves together a number of Origin stories to create an aura, much like the architecture of stained glass and vaulted arches of a magnificent church that has a visceral affect on its audience.
"Obama borrows his words, regularly. Consider the oft-repeated line by Obama, borrowed from Martin Luther King: 'The fierce urgency of now'. He cites William Faulkner: 'The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past.' Is he referring to racism in America? Or, just before Easter, was there a twinge of the sermonic? Dead and buried? Still with us?
"King did more than allude or embed a sermonic quality by references to the 'original sin' in the origin story of America. In the letter (from a Birmingham jail) commentators were quick to compare Obama's speech to, King wrote: 'Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness?'
"Unlike Obama, King was sermonic on the surface, making explicit comparisons between himself and the apostle Paul: 'Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town.'
"A professor of linguistics, and author of 'The Metaphors We Live By', George Lakoff could do a better job illuminating Obama's rhetoric, rather than glowing with lofty praise.
"Martin Luther King used his rhetorical savvy and charisma to inspire, but also to develop genuine understanding. He wasn't making a pitch to forward his political ambitions. King worked at reform, he marched, he went to jail, he spoke out, and he sacrificed for his belief.
"In contrast, Obama has embedded the same sermonic messages that King spoke openly for all to hear and see--indeed, we see a pattern in Obama's handling of controversy, to obama-fuscate imbroglios in order to 'get out of jail free'.
"'Story' is a word repeated often in Obama's speech, along with a sermonic use of the Christian 'message': 'Throughout the first year of this campaign...we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation...'
"Did you hear that? If you missed the association of temptation and a hunger for unity, you're likely to miss the other instance of gnostic, or acroamatic rhetoric Just words?
"Obama requested we consider the context of Reverend Wright's social justice approach to theology, calling Wright a 'child of the 60's'--but with nowhere near the eloquence of Martin Luther King in his 'Letter from a Birmingham jail'. In that letter, King asks his white audience to approach understanding though the context for protest by imagining the pain of black parents raising their children in the 60's: 'When you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking, "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"...when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.'
"Obama cannot claim to be fighting a sense of Nobodiness. Indeed, he seems to be courting an image of Everybodiness, as the transcendent candidate.
"Obama borrows and he embeds sermonic rhetoric to cultivate an aura using allusions because the explicit claims he is alluding to could not stand scrutiny. He needed to get ahead of the impression that he has a pattern of dragging his feet when a controversy erupts, vacillating, and the obfuscating--like St. Peter who initially 'disowned' his relationship with 'the Nazarene' three times. First with Rezko, then NAFTA-gate, then downplaying his relationship with Reverend Wright and knowledge of Wright's inflammatory remarks.
"Rather than brave or mature, Obama's most frequent rhetorical strategy is 'I am rubber, you are glue'. If Hillary says he hasn't been vetted, call Hillary the 'least vetted' candidate. If Hillary mentions Rezko, make threats to re-open Whitewater. It's remarkable that he missed the obvious chance to say, 'Shame on you, Hillary Clinton...making unsubstantiated smears about land deals. You should know better than anyone!' Instead, he has Axelrod in 'all out attack' mode, making allusions to a specter 'lurking' in the Clinton library.
"But sermonic rhetoric in his 'major speech on race' is far from juvenile. It is sophisticated, weaving allusions to create a glamour, an aura, a gospel. This is not the first instance where Obama has cultivated such an aura while carefully distancing himself from the explicit claims which might be externalized, if only the media looked to the traditions of sermonic rhetoric.
"Too much has been made about Obama's supposed borrowing of lines from speeches by Deval Patrick and John Edwards without citing the source. But the purpose of pointing out the act of borrowing is to invoke the rhetorical 'Design Paradox'. Good rhetoric loses it's aura (and it's effect) when the aspect of Design is noticeable. Or as Han Solo said to Chewbacca, 'Keep your distance...but don't LOOK like you're trying to keep your distance'. The aspect of design can eclipse the affect it's meant to have. And in Obama's case, pointing out his borrowing diminishes his aura.
"There's a more telling story if you look at how Obama introduces his brand of 'change' in the lines he borrowed from Deval Patrick. In the original speech, Patrick follows a chronology through American history:
1) the Declaration of Independence ('We hold these truths to be self evident')
2) FDR's inaugural address ('We have nothing to fear but fear itself'--referring to the great depression)
3) JFK's inaugural address ('Ask not what your country can do for you')
4) MLK's 'I have a dream'
"Why does Obama deliberately re-order the borrowed lines? He begins with MLK's 'I have a dream', then back to 'We hold these truths', and finally 'We have nothing to fear', skipping JFK's line entirely.
"Deval Patrick's version is chronological, and could be said to invoke a chain of history, a specter of American Destiny in the final sermonic flourish. If Obama had kept the lines in chronological order he would have been open to criticism as a grandiose figure, as if he represents the spirit of America's Destiny, and is channeling JFK and MLK.
"But this grandiose sentiment is expressed by his surrogates, like Civil Rights legend, John Lewis, who explained abandoning Clinton by saying: 'I want to be on the side of the people, on the side of the spirit of history.'
"Whether it's the 'spirit of history' or the 'spirit of youth', Obama's campaign is careful to avoid sounding like either the 'Pepsi candidate' (he doesn't like being called a 'rock star') or the once and future King. Obama's brand reminds me of the Pespi marketing slogan: 'Come alive with the new generation'. Unfortunately for Pepsi, this slogan did not translate well in Hong Kong, where the ad implied 'Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead'. Obama's embedded rhetoric has all the qualities of sermonic rhetoric used in secular advertising, and does not inspire faith that a 'new politics' is ascendant.
As a young presidential candidate with no military or executive experience and short on legislative accomplishment, Obama must be long on "hope" and "change" and lofty rhetoric and use race, specifically, his bi-racial status,to present himself as the One to deliver us from the evil of racism to be a viable presidential candidate.
No wonder Obama says, "Words matter." They are the weapons he is using to try to win the White House.
It behooves voters to realize that they are being mesmerized/manipulated sooner rather than later.
Mr. Hoff's insight can help open-minded voters do precisely that.
Michael J. Gaynor
Biography - Michael J. Gaynor
Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member.
Gaynor graduated magna cum laude, with Honors in Social Science, from Hofstra University's New College, and received his J.D. degree from St. John's Law School, where he won the American Jurisprudence Award in Evidence and served as an editor of the Law Review and the St. Thomas More Institute for Legal Research. He wrote on the Pentagon Papers case for the Review and obscenity law for The Catholic Lawyer and edited the Law Review's commentary on significant developments in New York law.
The day after graduating, Gaynor joined the Fulton firm, where he focused on litigation and corporate law. In 1997 Gaynor and Emily Bass formed Gaynor & Bass and then conducted a general legal practice, emphasizing litigation, and represented corporations, individuals and a New York City labor union. Notably, Gaynor & Bass prevailed in the Second Circuit in a seminal copyright infringement case, Tasini v. New York Times, against newspaper and magazine publishers and Lexis-Nexis. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed, 7 to 2, holding that the copyrights of freelance writers had been infringed when their work was put online without permission or compensation.
Gaynor currently contributes regularly to www.MichNews.com, www.RenewAmerica.com, www.WebCommentary.com, www.PostChronicle.com and www.therealitycheck.org and has contributed to many other websites. He has written extensively on political and religious issues, notably the Terry Schiavo case, the Duke "no rape" case, ACORN and canon law, and appeared as a guest on television and radio. He was acknowledged in Until Proven Innocent, by Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson, and Culture of Corruption, by Michelle Malkin. He appeared on "Your World With Cavuto" to promote an eBay boycott that he initiated and "The World Over With Raymond Arroyo" (EWTN) to discuss the legal implications of the Schiavo case. On October 22, 2008, Gaynor was the first to report that The New York Times had killed an Obama/ACORN expose on which a Times reporter had been working with ACORN whistleblower Anita MonCrief.
Gaynor's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.