This is the first in a 3 part series where I examine the rhetorical styles in the various speeches of the three main Democratic Candidates for President. First up, the frontrunner, Hillary Clinton.
This is an academic experiment. In College (at the best school in the world), I studied rhetoric in political speech, and how the different types of appeals, whether they be emotional, logical, or credibility building, help influence the persuasive and idealogical power of speech.
Clinton speeches are heavy in ethos, that is, source credibility. Clinton reinforces her personal strengths, namely, her long resume of experience and her ability to be President on day one. She has been running on experience and one of her main themes as been that she is “ready to lead.” For example, the following line is present in almost every Clinton speech.
Change, change is just a word if you do not have the strength and experience to make it happen. We must nominate a nominee who has been tested, and elect a president who is ready to lead on day one…Fortunately, I have a little experience standing up and fighting for what I believe is right and what I think America needs and how we can get there together.
On the other hand, as a logical argument her speeches are definitely lacking. Look at her transcripts and see if you can find the governing, central argument and a coherent beginning, middle, and end. Though the central theme is her experience and ability, the speech does not lead to a conclusion that strengthens her argument any more than the introduction does. In a way, it is a series of points and red meat that reinforces that single idea but does not build a coherent argument. However, this does not terribly weaken her rhetorical aims.
It is with pathos, emotional appeals, that Clinton make half-hearted attempts and fails to truly engage the audience effectively. Invisibility is a narrative theme that is common her speeches, for example, this line from the JJ speech.
This election is about those Iowans and those Americans who feel invisible in their own country; who feel invisible to their own president. This election is about the woman I met in LeClair. She and her husband both work really hard, but they had to sell half the family farm to pay their medical expenses.
Clinton then goes on to mention three more examples of Invisibility, but all of the examples follow the same, single sentence, nameless face formula. Quantity does not equal quality here, these repeated, weak narratives do not give her speeches much of an emotional punch, not do they provide any avenue for voters to feel a connection to those she speaks of. Better use of emotional narratives would help her soften her image and connect better with undecided voters.
In conclusion, we all know that Hillary Clinton is not a naturally gifted speaker, and therefore, she is using her speeches to underscore her strengths and look, above all, Presidential. This strategy works well for a front runner, since the main goal of her speeches are to reinforce voter’s opinions on her, and her strengths. In modern political speech, emotional appeals engage audiences, while logical appeals are arguments that should answer the basic stump speech question in a well rounded way – why should you vote for me and not for them?
Clinton’s speeches, in contrast, answer this question – “Why I am the frontrunner, and why I will be the next President.” And so far, this persuasive style is working to her advantage.
Crossposted at Daily Kos