Rhetoric 2012

Hello, students. Welcome to Rhetoric 2012.  I am Professor Priddy.  I have a BS in B.S. and have done 40-mumble years of graduate research that has led to honorary MS (More of the Same) and PhD (Piled Higher and Deeper) degrees awarded by myself to myself.

This will be a class that meets irregularly and requires a great deal of independent study on your part.  The final exam will be on Tuesday, November 6. You will determine your own grade.

From time to time in this campaign year we might feel moved to ask you to join us in considering the rhetoric of the candidates. Candidates love to spout tried-and-true phrases that fill up space in their newsletters,  news releases, and advertising.  Those tried-and-true phrases don’t show up in our news stories very much because we don’t like to write in clichés.

It’s been a long time since many of us were in an English class, so let’s recall that a cliché is a phrase that has become so overused that all of the life has been squashed out of it.  It is pronounced klee-SHAY. We mention this because it has become oh so trendy today to pronounce “niche” not by its preferred pronunciation of “nitch” but to say instead “neesh,”  a secondary or even tertiary pronunciation in dictionaries we have consulted.  God help us if the Cool Word Club decides cliché should be pronounced “kleesh.”

The filing of campaign finance reports this week provides us with our first lessons in Rhetoric 2012.

Dave Spence, a Republican candidate for Governor, put out a press release saying the $2,373,084.54 he raised in the most recent quarter “demonstrates strong support for his plans…”

A check of Spence’s campaign report shows Dave Spence’s “strong support” comes mostly from (dramatic drum roll, please)  Dave Spence.  Two-million of those dollars were donated by Dave Spence.  And the folks at the Democratic State Committee were quick to note that a distributor for Spence’s Alpha Packaging added another $10,000 and the co-owner of a Learjet with Spence, added another $100,000.  Three other Alpha Packaging executives added another $60,000.  “Strong support” appears to be defined in this lesson on rhetoric to mean support from the candidate and five friends, and some others who have contributed eight or nine percent of the donations reported so far.

Let’s move on to Lieutenant Governor.  State Senator Brad Lager raised $733,271.44 and is “honored to have the support of so many outstanding Missourians who understand what career politicians in Jefferson City do not, state government is broken.”   The “strong support of so many outstanding Missourians” basically amounts to three people who contributed $600,000 of that $733,271.44.

It’s always easy to criticize “career politicians” who don’t understand that state government is broken.  Lager’s official biography in the Officials Manual of the state says Lager, who turns 37 this year, has been in elective office for one-third of his life, lost a race for state treasurer four years ago, and wants to hold an elective office for four more years after he is term-limited out of the state senate.  He couldn’t vote until he was 18.  He’s held elective office for 13 of the last 19 years and wants to make it 17 of 23.

We were looking through a roster of members of the Senate in 2009 a little while ago and found only four of 36 members of the Senate listed their occupations as “Senator.”   Lager listed his occupation as “Telecommunications.”  One-ninth of the members of the state senate in 2009 were confessed “career politicians.”   Well, at least we know by their own admissions who the career politicians were who didn’t understand government is broken.,  Only one of them is still in the senate.  No, we will not divulge his name.  If would be unfair because, as Lager says, he doesn’t understand what he has done.

To be fair in another way, we also have to note that incumbent Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder, who wants a third four-year term, served 12 years in the state senate and now has served eight years as Lieutenant Governor.  Kinder will be 58 this year.  Subtract 18 non-voting years and we have someone who has spent half of his other years in elective office. Before that he spent some time on a congressman’s staff in Washington.  We haven’t asked him if he’s a career politician.  But I think I have heard him describe himself as a public servant.

Here’s the difference.  In campaign years I am a public servant.  You are a career politician.

So today, students, we have studied in our first session of Rhetoric 2012 these clichés:

“Strong support” and “career politicians.”

What should really matter in the months ahead is the non-cliché stuff that comes from these people. We’ll do our best to hear it, question it, and report it.  The Missourinet is, to the best of our ability, a cliché-free zone.

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