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Jewish World Review Dec. 15, 2000/ 18 Kislev, 5761

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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In defense of rhetoric -- JAMES BAKER quoted the dissenting opinion of the Florida Supreme Court's 4-3 decision tossing Florida's election laws to indigenous hurricane winds to wit, ". . . this counting contest propels this country and this state into an unprecedented and unnecessary constitutional crisis." The media denounced his "strong rhetoric." Rep. Tom DeLay called the decision an act of "judicial aggression." Rep. Dick Gephardt and Sen. Trent Lott both suggested "toning down the rhetoric."

Let's not bury rhetoric. Pull out all the stops and let it rip: "Dagnabbit, only hard liquor out of the stills of West Virginia or weed out of medically-approved-smokin' LA can get the burrs out of the behinds of these hayseed judges."

Vox populi aside, rhetoric is not evil. Historical ignorance has perpetuated the urban legend that rhetoric originated with Gingrich Republicans. One of my favorite forms of hate mail comes from readers who fret that my opinions are "so strong." Prissies. I've tried milquetoast opinings; they felt unnatural.

We didn't begin, fight or win the Revolutionary War without strong opinions clothed in rhetoric: "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty G-d! . . . Give me liberty or give me death." Network anchors would report, "Patrick Henry lashed out at Loyalists today!" Pundits would clarify, "Living under a king who taxes is hardly chains and slavery." Wimps.

Freedom of speech doesn't have a footnote on rhetoric for it is the motivational capital of opposing views in democracy. Everett Dirksen said words are a politician's weapons. Rhetoric is a release valve for passionate disagreement. We conservatives have used words in lieu of Prozac lo these long Clinton years. Ad hominem, sarcasm, and invective are traditions in our public dialogue.

The Declaration of Independence accused George III of hiring "foreign Mercenaries" for "Works of Death, Desolation and Tyranny." Not as cordial as kings expect. The Gettysburg Address hardly appeased the South with the line on "increased devotion . . . that these dead shall not have died in vain."

Franklin Roosevelt said of the business community in 1932, "The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization." Harry "Give 'em hell" Truman had rhetoric aplenty in his 1948 campaign, "When a bunch of Republican reactionaries are in control of the Congress, then people get reactionary laws." Harold Ickes resigned from Truman's cabinet when Truman selected a friend for Navy undersecretary saying, "I am against government by crony."

"The president has counseled his aides to commit perjury, willfully disregarded the secrecy of the grand jury, while publicly displaying his cooperation with the processes of criminal justice," was not Republican rhetoric during the Clinton administration but Rep. Barbara Jordan's statement during the Nixon impeachment.

Interestingly, rhetorical tolerance vacillates across ideological lines. Camille Cosby's op-ed piece for USA Today following her son's senseless murder along an LA freeway was entitled "America Taught My Son's Killers to Hate Blacks" and complained of "America's intolerable, stereotypical movies and television programs about blacks." As in The Cosby Show? She condemned the racism in pictures of slave owners such as Washington and Jackson on our currency. Mrs. Cosby's shallow rhetoric was praised despite its lack of factual grounding. Children in public schools couldn't tell you who Andrew Jackson was, let alone that he owned slaves. Ten bucks says they couldn't tell you whose picture is on a twenty.

Paul Begala's analysis of the states Bush won was a rhetorical doozey: Texas, where James Byrd was killed, Wyoming, where Matthew Shepard was tortured and left to die, and Oklahoma, where innocents were slaughtered in a bombing.

His MSNBC buddies, shocked at James Baker, had no rhetorical condemnation for him.

This silly left-wing rhetoric is not troublesome. False or misleading rhetoric is dangerous only when unleashed upon the ill-informed. Truth in rhetoric is its passion, its efficacy. False rhetoric falls easily.

"Counting all the votes," (please wince here) means counting ballots of fools who couldn't work a punch card or who wasted their votes, as many do in Florida, writing in "Mickey Mouse."

This past week's liberal talking points emphasize the U.S. Supreme Court's narrow 5-4 vote for entering the Gore litigation bonanza and vote trolling spree. Some truth: the abortion cases since Roe v. Wade, including last year's partial birth abortion right, are all 5-4 and held inviolate by those who now condemn partisan votes.

Remember the rhetoric of the "illegal butterfly ballot" of Palm Beach that "denied the vote to survivors of the Holocaust"? Even the renegade Florida Supreme Court held the ballot was legal and the problem was inept voters, whatever their faith.

Pericles had it right -- the pomp is not in the words, but the truth of facts. Truth trumps. Let rhetoric ring. In fact, give me rhetoric or give me death.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


12/06/00: The company we keep: Lawyers and elections
12/01/00: Liberals' art of trashing of women
11/20/00: Put me out of my misery
11/17/00: On being a statesman
11/13/00: When it's broke, fixing it wouldn't offend the Framers
11/08/00: ELECTION 2000: I SURRENDER
10/27/00: Al in the package? Memo to women: Choosing presidents and husbands
10/20/00: Ten things the gay community should understand
10/13/00: "You Have a Lump."
10/06/00: The government as the pharmacy: Don't
09/29/00: The capacity for truth
09/22/00: Charity with strings and an agenda
09/15/00: The taming of the shrew: Gloria Steinem takes a husband
09/09/00: Why rich folk don't bother me none
08/28/00: Survival of the not-so-fit but conniving
08/25/00: Conventions: A study in contrasts
08/18/00: Resenting the accusations of racial prejudice
08/04/00: Women: Their own worst enemy
07/21/00: Hillary: Our longshoreman First Lady
07/21/00: SUVs: The root of all evil
07/14/00: The basketball gene and white men not jumping so well
07/07/00: I wanna be around
06/23/00: The liberal conversion
06/14/00: Sex and the City: The shallow but vulgar female
06/08/00: No excuses schools
06/02/00: Oh, Canada: Our Nutty Neighbors to the North
05/23/00: The new mollycoddling coach
05/16/00: On adultery and leadership
05/12/00: Taking your lumps
05/02/00: Elian: There's never a liberal around when you need one
04/25/00: Life's circle and tenderness
04/18/00: Womyn who want it both ways
04/11/00: The monsters we're raising with the ergo proposition
04/05/00: Endowing the Hooters Chair for Literature Appreciation
03/28/00: Dr. Laura: The passive/aggressive kid's mom
03/21/00: Dough and campaigns
03/14/00: The volunteerism of conscription and pomp
03/07/00: Hope and pray that religion remains a force in politics
02/29/00: Ditzes in TV Land
02/22/00: Cranky nitpickers make writing a [sic] experience
02/15/00: Those chameleon 60s activists
02/08/00: McCandidate McCain: Flirting with principles
02/01/00: The demise of marriage
01/25/00: Stroke of the pen, law of the land: Clinton's Camelot
01/18/00: Off the Rocker Rorschach Test
01/11/00: Oprah's lemmings
01/04/00: Struggling mightily amidst the comfort
12/23/99: Confused fathers
12/14/99: Drop-kicking the homeless
12/07/99: Turtles and teamsters, side-by-side in Seattle
11/29/99: When conservatives behave badly
11/22/99: Compassionate conservative: Timing and targets
11/18/99: The elusive human spirit and accountability
11/11/99: Succumbing to the intellectual child within with the help of crackpots and screwballs
10/28/99: Live by litigation, die by litigation
10/22/99: Jesse, Warren, Cybill, Donald and Oprah
10/14/99: Inequality and injustice: It's the big one
10/05/99: Dan Quayle, morals and schoolyard bullies
09/30/99: The monsters of epidermal parenting
09/21/99: The Diversity Hoax
09/15/99: Waco Wackos
09/09/99: Selective censorship
09/01/99: The village, the children, judicial imperialism and abortion
08/24/99: Naughty Newt?
08/17/99: In defense of Boy Scouts and judgment
08/10/99: Ruining the finest health care system in the world
08/03/99: Nihilism and politics: ethics on the lam
07/26/99: Of women, soccer and removed jerseys
07/23/99: Not in despair, a mere mortal doing just fine
07/20/99: "Why me?" How about "Why us?"
07/13/99: Bunk, junk & juries
07/06/99: An Amish woman in a Victoria's Secret store
06/30/99: That intellectually embarrassing Second Amendment
06/24/99: Patricia Ireland eat your heart out --- but check out the recipe in 'women's mags' first
06/22/99: Dems and the Creator coup
06/17/99: True courage is more than just admitting troubles

© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings