Tuesday, March 29, 2005

On Lazy Welfare Queens and Bankruptcy Cheaters

On my blog plate this week (I promise), is an answer to Marcus's objection to my Christology. But my topic this morning is political rhetoric. I am inspired, for once, by my readings for class. One of the assigned books for my legal writing course is C. Edward Good's Mightier Than the Sword. In a section that advocates "favoring concrete words over abstract words," Good writes:
Good writers won't decry hunger in America. They'll speak instead of those eating dog food from a can. Good speech writers won't extol opportunity in America. They'll speak instead of the successful chocolate-chip cookie tycoon starting an empire from scratch.

Effective writers and speakers, says Good (exemplifying his own rule), use "concrete words" to "staple [their] thoughts to [their] reader's minds."

I think that the Right has done a much better job of using concrete images to this end than has the Left. The inner-city African-American woman with four children dominated the Right's rhetoric surrounding welfare reform and was "stapled to the public's mind" despite statistics showing that welfare recipients were predominantly white and lived in rural areas. The "bankruptcy cheater" who buys a big house and then defaults to exploit "loopholes" in the bankruptcy laws dominates the debate over bankruptcy despite statistics showing that job loss and catastrophic medical expenses are by far the most common causes of bankruptcy.

The Left too often speaks in abstractions and statistics. This lack of concrete images may be seen as a symptom of the Left's failure to forcefully articulate VALUES. I say that it MAY be seen in this way because I think my posts here (Infission's as opposed to jj's more generally) suffer from the abstraction malady but not the lack of values. We (the Left) must not only articulate values but also create concrete images to staple our ideas to the public's mind.

Surely I am not the first to point this out. But perhaps it is unique to posit that such a move would be to follow Jesus' rhetorical pattern. Jesus did speak in abstractions - in broad principles. But he also (much more frequently) spoke in parables, in concrete stories and images that would stick in his hearers' minds. Think the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, etc. The Left, then, should follow Jesus both ethically and rhetorically.


At 10:41 AM, Blogger 42 said...

How are we going to define the "Left" and "Right?" Are we sure that we want to accept the moden alignment?

At 12:21 PM, Blogger ats54 said...

Thanks for bringing that up, 42.

I find trouble in the current accepted camps in the political arena because I find myself aligned (strongly) with both. But, I don't think I'd be considered a moderate. I don't think extreme (not extremist) alignments to both sides average out to the middle.

Can there be another class for someone like me?

At 3:04 PM, Blogger Infission said...

Yes, there should be another "class" or political identity. Jim Wallis talks about a "fourth option" in his book God's Politics. (He argues that there are already three rather than two already because libertarianism is a well-recognized alternative to Right or Left.)

I don't know how I feel about identifying myself as a part of the Left. This ambivalence is, I think, evinced in the post above, where I only once identify myself ("we") with the Left.

I do know that I fit that I fit within "the Left" more comfortably than either of you two do. That is, I find that my political conclusions align with those of the Left -- both economically and socially -- about 80 or 90% of the time. I am also a former agnostic, a status I'm not sure either of you share.

Whether I declare myself a part of the Left depends upon how one defines that term. And I'm not sure it has a precise social meaning at the moment....

At 5:09 PM, Anonymous donzelion said...

Blog argues (aptly): "one problem with the Left is that we focus on abstract debates, rather than concrete illustrations that produce compelling images."

Comments respond: "I don't know about being in the Left. Maybe we're not. Let's produce a new abstract category that is more comfortable and less loaded."

Case proved. BTW, while the new category is constructed, whether it be a "fourth, fifth, or seventy-fifth option," you can expect that an entrenched group will still be churning out welfare queens and greedy geezers - and they'll readily turn such labels against any new category that threatens them.

At 10:18 AM, Blogger Infission said...

Nice rhetorical point. But don't you think we have to define our values before we articulate them with concrete examples? We can't concretize values until we know what they are.

At 9:28 AM, Anonymous donzelion said...

Not intended as a rhetorical point. Among Platonists, the abstract precedes the concrete. But other modes of reasoning start from the concrete and work back to the abstract. And it's possible to separate both.

Just as Aretaic analyses define "virtues" by rejecting vices (e.g., courage = virtue between polar vices of recklessness/cowardice).

The "Right" starts with certain images (e.g., welfare queens/debtor frauds), defines itself as the median rejecting those extremes, claims for itself the "middle position," and then fleshes out precisely what that means. An entire ideology could be premised upon renunciation.

The seductive power of that approach is the wealth of images it can exploit. From Terri Schiavo to welfare queens, anything at all may be presented as an illustration of vice to be opposed.


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