SDSU Communications Discussion

Now that you’ve read Chapter 11 and Trent et. al. on Political Speechmaking and Recurring Forms, I’d like you to take a few minutes to reflect on the following prompt:

Given what we’ve learned about word choices in political speechmaking, as well as sound bites, what language techniques and strategies do you think make for the most memorable political speeches? Pick at least two of the following: antithesis, metaphor, anaphora (or epiphora), chiasmus, quotations, humor. In a paragraph each, explain/define each concept, then provide an example for each that is not provided in the book or in my slide presentation. What do you think makes the use of these techniques so memorable? What emotions/feelings/attitutudes do they evoke?

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Word Choice
Framing is also affected by word choice. Careful attention is
placed on choosing the right word or words to use in a speech.
Words can simultaneously create labels, convey a speaker’s
feelings on a topic, and signal emotional distance between the
speaker and the issue (Fraser & Gordon, 1994). Given that
complexity, the goal of the speech-writer is to select the “right”
word: “the word that does exactly what you want it to do, and
nothing else” (Perlman, 1998, p. 129). In some instances, the
search for the right word is so critical that drafts with blanks
inserted will be circulated, so that multiple suggestions for the
right word are obtained. There is nothing new here. Mark
Twain once wrote, “The difference between the almost right
word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the
difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
Speechwriters generally avoid long words that may be hard for
the speaker to pronounce and harder for the audience to
understand. As Noonan (1998) noted, “Big things are best said,
are almost always said, in small words” (p. 54). Long words can
also create other problems. She recalled a speech on
volunteerism that she wrote for President George H. W. Bush.
Her first draft included the phrase “muscular altruism,”
referring to the need for people to lend a hand and help others.
Campaign aide John Sununu vetoed the term (rightly so, she
says), “Because it sounds like a disease” (p. 37). Use of the
phrase could have made the president the target of ridicule.
Once a word or phrase is identified, it may be used repetitively
as part of a process known as “staying on message” (Norris,
Curtice, Sanders, Scammell, & Semetko, 1999). The authors
worked on one campaign in which the guidelines for a
candidate’s radio interview included working in the phrase
“fiscal conservative” three times. During the 2000 presidential
election, George W. Bush never attacked Al Gore for “lying”
when he made statements that were incorrect, but he
repeatedly said the vice president’s behavior was
“disappointing”; similarly, Bush never talked about spending
“cuts” to reduce government expenditures, but always used the
word “savings” as his euphemism (Bruni, 2000). During the
1980 New Hampshire primary, Ronald Reagan’s consultants
countered concerns that Reagan was too old (then sixty-nine)
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Sound Bites
Two content darlings of public speeches, examples and
illustrations, play a relatively small role in political speeches.
They are still used because examples and illustrations add
interest and clarity to speeches. But while such elements are
favored by live audiences, they are often eschewed by the press.
They simply take too long to replay on the evening news.
Instead, the content darling of the media is the sound bite, a
short concise statement that reflects a candidate’s message in a
memorable manner. As Jones (1988, pp. 31–32) noted, “the
secret to getting an idea broadcast on television is to ‘condense,
condense, condense’until you have a statement that can be said
in twelve seconds or less.”
A variety of techniques are used, but four tend to dominate: the
antithesis, the metaphor, the quotation, and the anaphora. The
antithesis is perhaps the most memorable of these techniques.
It involves the positioning of words with opposite meanings,
either in a parallel or inverted format. Antitheses come in a
variety of formats. The simplest is the single antithesis, where a
single set of antonyms is used to express the statement. The
antiwar slogan of the sixties, “Make love, not war,” fits this
category, with the antithesis created by the words “love” and
“war.” A double antithesis positions two sets of words in
opposition. Democratic consultant James Carville’s admonition
that “We’re right, they’re wrong” fits into this category. In the
double antithesis, each key word in the first half of the
statement is followed by similarly placed antonyms in the
second half. This format is diagrammed as ABAB: “We’re (A)
right (B), they’re (A) wrong (B).” Roemer’s “I hate (A) Louisiana
politics (B), but I love (A) Louisiana (B)” is another example.
More recently, in his 2001 inaugural speech, George W. Bush
praised his opponent Al Gore for a campaign that was
“conducted with spirit and ended with grace.”
An inverted antithesis takes the words and reverses their order
to that of an ABBA format; John F. Kennedy’s most famous
quote falls within this category: “Ask not what your country (A)
can do for you (B), ask what you (B) can do for your country
(A).” Carpenter (1999, p. 39) noted that the impact of an
antithesis is influenced by balance, brevity, and placement.
Balance requires that approximately the same number of words
Types of Campaign Speeches
The Stump Speech
The stump speech is the basic campaign speech used by
candidates in most campaign appearances. Nimmo (1970)
described it as “the prepared speech repeated endlessly” (p.
119). Reporters who follow a candidate quickly identify those
elements that are common to all appearances, and those
common elements quickly become old news to veteran
reporters. In fact, one way to identify the key components of a
presidential stump speech is to compare press coverage of the
speech by local reporters and by national reporters. The
national reporters typically do not cover the stump material,
reporting only on new elements added to the message. Local
reporters, though, often provide detailed coverage of the entire
An ideal stump speech is really a collection of topics usually
generated by survey research from which the candidate pulls
those that are most appropriate for the immediate audience.
Ronald Reagan’s initial stump speech was contained on a file of
three-by-five notecards; he would select a series of cards for use
at any specific appearance, resulting in the use of different
material at different places and varying the length according to
the situation (Ritter, 1968). Each speech was different, and yet
themes and ideas were consistently repeated. Nimmo (1970)
noted that stump speeches are not designed to sway voters’
attitudes or to provide an in-depth view of the candidate’s
position. Their principal purpose instead is credibility
enhancement. “By quoting facts and details on a variety of
issues the candidate leaves the impression that he possesses the
knowledge, sophistication, and acumen to hold public office”
(pp. 119–120).
The Issue Speech
< 8:44 Gil LTE Humor Mario Cuomo once began a speech to the New York Press Club by relating last-minute advice from his wife, Matilda. “I know they're a tough group, but don't be intimidated. And don't try to be charming, witty, or intellectual. Just be yourself.” That introduction is an example of the effective use of humor in a political speech. It establishes a positive start to the speech, diffuses any perception of arrogance on the part of the speaker, identifies the speaker as a witty person (Chang & Gruner, 1981), and establishes a mood that will make the immediate audience more receptive to the rest of the speech. As Litt (2016) wrote, “The bully pulpit has splintered. It's become harder than ever to get people's attention.... Being funny helps” (p. A19). a Noonan argued that every political speech needed humor near its beginning because it provided a “quick victory” for the candidate and shows the audience you think enough of them to want to entertain them” (p. 11). Files (2000) argues that humor has become one of the standards by which voters judge major candidates, particularly those running for president. “Humor has become another proving ground, especially for anyone who wants to be president,” he wrote. “Besides handling stand-up at the annual Washington dinners of powerful media barons, politicians and lobbyists, politicians are expected to appear on the late-night Leno and Letterman shows, as well as on ‘Saturday Night Live” (p. A24). Much of the candidate-based humor is directed at the candidates themselves. At the 1994 Gridiron dinner, Al Gore had himself wheeled to the speaking stand on a hand-cart, thus poking fun at his reputation for stiffness. At the 2000 dinner, he acknowledged the controversy over White House fund- raising with the question, “This isn't a fund-raiser, is it?" The second primary theme for campaign humor is an attack on the opponent. These humorous attacks typically use “gotcha” one- liners, such as Al Gore's campaign line that claimed George W. Bush “thinks fettuccine Alfredo is the Italian prime minister.” a Humor, when done well, can also become the sound bite that is replayed by the press. One highlight of the presidential debates between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale was Reagan's joking approach to the age issue by insisting that he would not make an issue out of his opponent's “relative youth and 8:45 Gil LTE Playing Defense a Since a candidate's image plays a critical role with the voters, an attack on that image can prompt a self-defense speech (Gold, 1978). Such speeches have a long history in American politics, but the modern era of media-based apologies can probably be traced to Richard Nixon's "Checkers” speech. Nixon, besieged by charges that he had misused donations from campaign contributors, went on television to defend his actions; the only gift he had accepted, he claimed, was a puppy his family had named Checkers (Cornog & Whelan, 2000). From the consultant's perspective, the best guideline for responding to attacks is “The truth is the best defense.” The first action is to discuss the action with the candidate, identify the facts in the matter, and develop a defense based on those facts. If the candidate denies the action, or provides some justification for the action, then a variety of options are available. Most of these have been described, under a variety of labels, by a number of communication scholars. Kenneth Burke's (1973) theory of dramatism states guilt as the primary motive behind such speeches. The major means of not accepting such guilt, according to Burke, was a process he called “victimage.” Victimage, or scapegoating, discards the guilt by transferring it to someone other than the accused. Scott and Lyman (1968) identified two other types of account behaviors for self-defense speeches: excuses and justification. Excuses involve admitting to a wrong act but not accepting full responsibility for it. Scott and Lyman identify five subtypes of excuses, one of which is scapegoating. The other four can be added to Burke's limited list-accidents, defeasibility, biological drives, and justification. A candidate uses an “accident” argument when he or she claims that unexpected factors influenced the behavior or act. Defeasibility is used when a candidate argues that he or she could not have committed an action because of a lack of knowledge or completed it because of a lack of will. The biological drive category is better known as the “I couldn't help myself” argument. Justifications are АА <

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