Archive for October, 2011

Writing Portfolio Assignment #1

Three Cheers for America’s Two-Party System

October 21, 2011 | By Holland Pintarch

The American political system is unquestionably dominated by two major parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. While this has a considerable amount of drawbacks, including many to feel like they must choose between the “lesser of two evils,” there are several advantages that are largely ignored by its critics, who seem to only voice their concerns as primary season rolls into town.

Relying on the assumption that Americans don’t prefer their bi-party dominated politics, it has been asked many a time, “Aren’t you tired of not really feeling like you have a choice?” Well, you do have a choice, and if you don’t like the primary choices that are front-running the presidential election, then vote for a third party candidate, or even a fourth. Setting aside witty banter and sarcastic remarks, often in the form of “I might as well throw my vote away,” supporting a third party candidate is an option that a substantial, although not a significant, amount of citizens pursue each election year.

It’s certainly not throwing your vote away; its proof democracy works.

But what about those who appreciate the Democrat versus Republican elections? Having a two-party system means that the President will be representative of a much larger portion of society than one elected amidst a multi-party election. In fact, under a system characterized by a plethora of political parties, it is found that the one in office embodies only a small fraction of the country’s total population. I, for one, find comfort in knowing that the Head of State and his party share the same political values as over half the country.

Sure, trying to fit varying political issues under the labels of “this” or “that” is difficult, but identifying oneself as either a Democrat or Republican does not mean there is not variance within each party. For example, Liberal Democrats have notably different perspectives than Moderate Democrats, and this follows the same in the GOP. Each Presidential candidate also campaigns on their own, unique political platforms which become most publicized during the primary season.

In the general election, yes, it is almost always Democrat versus Republican, but taking note of the way each candidate tries to incorporate and compromise the vast spectrum of political perspectives within their own party is what allows them to be representative in the first place. Instead of tailoring their message to a small fraction, their politics must be supportive of half a country, forcing them to avoid extremes and unreasonable ideologies.

Also, the two-party system does not, as is usually suggested, alienate the people on partisan lines. In fact, I’d argue that throwing one’s support behind one of two major parties in the general election actually unites more than it divides. In America, the states may be blue and red, but at least they aren’t yellow, and orange, and green, and pink too. When generally half the population supports the same candidate oneself, communal political discourse and participation is bound to thrive.

This, of course, is what fuels our democracy, not destroys it.

Lastly, it is sometimes argued that in only a two-party system, voters feel they must support their party’s candidate even if they disagree with one or more of the candidate’s political platforms, such as abortion or gay rights; the other options are to “throw away” their vote on an underdog third party candidate or simply not vote at all. Deciding between your party and your own ideologies can even boil down to choosing what is right for your country, presumably your party in office, and your own political values or civil rights.

Yet, is this any different in a multi-party system? If given the option to support any number of political parties that each have a real shot at gaining office, there is still very little chance of ever finding a party that will whole-heartedly represent every single one of your own political beliefs. If this were the case, there’d be far too many parties to ever actually represent any significant portion of the country.

Sometimes you have to compromise, and if your party’s candidate parallels your ideals in one issue but not another, you can always support a third party or just realize that sometimes that’s the way it goes.

All in all, the opinion of America’s two-party system as forcing voters to choose the lesser of two evils trivializes a political process that is only in existence because we make it so. Back door politics run by political machines and power hungry rich men is not current reality.

Contemporary presidential elections are dominated by only two major parties for one simple reason; most Americans prefer it that way. ______________________________________________________________


         The original article by LZ Granderson is titled, “Huntsman, best candidate for a third party,” and describes how American’s are becoming increasingly tired with having little choice on Election Day and should support Huntsman as a third party candidate. I myself do not know that much about Huntsman himself to refute LZ’s commentary on his politics, so I decided to argue against the underlying assumption in this article: voters are unsupportive of our two-party system. Like many other LZ articles, it was loaded with sarcasm and witty remarks, which although sometimes add character and provide moments of pause in his arguments, I decided to steer away from this rhetorical tactic in my counter argument. Also, he used a few maxims that I tried to expose, including “choosing the lesser of two evils,” and “deciding which limb to cut off.” I also chose not to appeal to any higher authority to try and legitimize my argument, although this is a good rhetorical technique, because it is obvious that either side of this argument can find quotes from well-known people in an effort to seek validation. Instead, I sought to base my column on the underlying assumption that the democratic electoral process is fundamentally determined by the choices Americans make, and if the majority of us were as “fed up” with the two-party system as LZ’s article assumes, third parties would already have a good shot on election day.

         In making my argument, I chose several of LZ’s assumptions or opinions and offered my own counter-arguments that appealed to logos over pathos or ethos. I myself tried to avoid making any assumptions about the American voter and noted solid advantages of the two-party system while also providing a contrast with elections under a multi-party system.


Feelings are facts!

     We’ve talked a lot in class about constructing good arguments and rhetoric based upon emotional appeals. The book talks about good emotional based rhetoric stirring up or creating specific feelings in the audience, and then using these to persuade. In class we used the example of commercials that depend on pathos to deliver a certain message to the audience. Also, it is crucial that rhetors understand and recognize the emotional state of their audience, especially when they determine whether people will be receptive of their message and if their minds can even be changed. This became very clear during class when we discussed the speech delivered by President Bush in the after math of 9/11. The audience was feeling a very clear set of emotions, ranging from anger to sadness, and Bush and his speech writers understood the emotions that were expected to be taken from his message.

     I’d like to take the opportunity in this blog post to talk about something I read in an inspirational book that deals with systems of logic. The reading states that there are three types of logic one can utilize during a conflict, including Western logic, Eastern logic, and theological logic. Western logic relies on facts, statistics, and evidence to make one’s case, while Eastern logic takes the stance of fate in approaching a conflict, “what will be, will be.” Lastly, theological logic is described by this reading to denote the use of morality, right and wrong, to discuss a person’s actions, behavior, choices, and way of thinking.

     The type of logic being employed during a verbal conflict or case of persuasion is very useful if recognized; you can understand a person’s rhetoric more effectively and communicate better. However, the reading makes it very clear that you should always look to see if any type of logic is being applied to feelings. It is stated, “…wherein you try to convince another of the validity and reasonableness of how you feel, as if feelings require shoring up and proof. In truth, however, feelings are fact, stand-alone realities that neither require evidence nor lend themselves to proof or debate.” It is important in any argument that you yourself do not feel the need to use any form of logic to defend your feelings, as well as use logic to make another feel the need to defend theirs. The type of logic outlined above is useful during rhetorical situations, but as long as it is not used to attack or try to validate audience feelings.

     I find this little lesson important when learning about how to effectively use pathos during communication, whether it be trying to persuade, send a message, or during a conflict. Emotional appeals can be very effective for those uses, but as long as it doesn’t push the audience to feel the need to validate their own feelings on the subject. For example, I might feel that it is not the government’s right to disallow the use of marijuana for cancer patients. Perhaps I have a close relative that is suffering from cancer, but lives in a state that does not allow it for medicinal purposes, yet they are in constant suffering and pain. This stirs up very sad and sympathetic feelings and I would be very unlikely to be receptive to an anti-drug commercial talking about how marijuana has no benefits and is only used by teenagers to get high and drive around with their buddies. I would immediately jump on the defense and feel the need to defend my own emotions on the subject, responding very negatively to the pathetic appeal intended by the commercial.

     All in all, it is important for the rhetor to understand the proper balance between pathos and the audience’s feelings. Effective messages do not step on the toes of the audience and force them into the defense. Instead, rhetors must identify the general feelings of the audience and delicately appeal to a set of emotions that would be most likely receptive, either enhancing those feelings or working to influence them towards new ones. And remember, during any conflict you do not need to defend your feelings with any sort of logic. Feelings need no validation, and you shouldn’t feel the need to offer proof for why you feel them nor demand proof from another about theirs.  Feelings are fact.

Controlling the Message

     LZ Granderson writes a rather lengthy article, published on September 13th, explaining the Republican party’s ability to control the message about Obama’s Stimulus II package and the state of the economy. While he makes several valid points about how this package will in fact help the economy, the major argument focuses on Republic rhetoric.

     Beginning the argument he gives two examples of how GOP politicians choose to use certain words instead of others to denote generally negative or positive meanings. So, instead of describing Obama as “educated,” they use the adjective “elitist,” and rather than talking about “the rich,” they call this section of the public “job creators.” Obviously, Democrats and Obama himself prefers to be regarded as an educated man and they would also like to describe those with money as the rich, rather than the overly optimistic term “job creators.” Using certain terms in political rhetoric gets the public to perceive something in a certain light. This gives them the upper hand, with both strategic influence and control of the message.

     In fact, the overall theme of LZ’s argument describes how the Republican party (described as a “modern-day Houdini”) has changed the term “stimulus” into a four letter word, …one that Obama himself won’t even utter anymore. And the dreaded word? Jobs. GOP politicians constantly refer to the Stimulus II plan as Obama’s “Job’s Bill,” obviously in an overly negative tone and pessimistic terms. Therefor, in order to avoid regurgitating these bad feelings spoon fed to the public by his opponents, Obama now has to sell this package avoid the word “jobs” all together.

     This article  underscores how important rhetoric is in politics, and well, in any message one tries to promote. It is also very important to be the ones to control the message, because let’s face it, offense is definitely prefered over defense in the political sphere. Constantly struggling to promote a Stimulus plan without uttering the word “jobs” is most difficult, because while a stimulus isn’t all about creating jobs, it is a large factor in it and motivation for it.

Sarah Palin’s best decision yet!

     Time for my favorite article written by LZ! Clearly from the more liberal perspective, his analysis of Sarah Palin’s decision not to run in the 2012 Presidential election is very well argued, and also sarcastic, comical, and quite persuasive. Starting the article he states that Palin is respected by the GOP for bringing both life and youthful spirit to the party and then dismissed by the Democrats as …. well, an idiot. Then, throughout the article he determines her decision is not idiotic at all, nor is it to put the Republican party above her own interests. Rather, it’s a strategic move to keep power and favorability in leu of grasping at the strings of power, themselves tied to a big, ole’ bag of responsibilities.

     The overall tone of this article is condescending masked by (pseudo) admiration. LZ states that, “Recent polls all show the majority in her party do not want her to run, but those surveys do not mean people, her people, do not love her.” This shows her mass support and broad appeal amongst Republican citizens and her ability to garner support as both Governor of Alaska and her position as McCain’s VP pick during the 2008 Presidential election. However, he clearly recognizes her status within the GOP, and he also provides examples of spoofs/parodies and political blunders (like the Katie Couric interview).

     When she announced her decision to not run in the 2012 election, LZ’s reaction was made very clear. He did not, like many others, think she realized her inability to win, but rather that this was a strategical move in order to position herself with more influence and power, without all the responsibility and criticism. He states rather eloquently, “She can continue to influence national politics without having to be responsible for actually making a decision. She can criticize with a broad brush without the burden of conceptualizing her statements with detailed, alternate solutions. She’s like a performance artist whose opinions are rarely second-guessed, whose tongue is rarely censored.” Fascinated by this assertion, I re-read that paragraph several times. Then it struck me, he’s absolutely right!

      The president, regardless of party affiliation, is constantly a scapegoat for all the political, economic, domestic, foreign, etc. problems that arise in our country. (This is not to say that they never givencredit for the things that go well, because many times there are). But why not continue to be a popular political figure, with both power and influence, without every decision/word/action under public scrutiny? Granted, many outstanding men (and hopefully in the near future, woman) handle this pressure with grace, dignity, and little complaint; but a “thankless, poorly paying job” is sometimes not the most attractive choice.

     Cracking sarcastic jokes about the likelihood of seeing a herd of unicorns over a “drama-free bipartisanship” in Congress and knowing how to raise book sales but not the delicate economic situation add LZ’s touch of sarcasm found in so many of his other articles. His overall opinion of Palin is that she’s more in touch with the people as a celebrity than a politician and would rather choose the easier road than one that requires constant deliberation and political competence. These opinions are very inherent in this analysis, but at some points I’ve almost been tricked by his complimentary rhetoric until I came around and realized he’s admiring her manipulative ability and strategy to keep power without responsibility.

     I mean, who can really argue with this sentiment: “When you’re loved by so many unconditionally, why risk being hated by everyone for no reason at all? It just doesn’t make sense.” Although logical, I’m sure no one, politician or average citizen, would like this to be the outlook of their decision to step down from any opportunity… weakness is weakness, and choosing the easy road is generally looked down upon.

     Overall, this is a VERY well written article and I urge the class to read it!

Ignorant people voting?

     LZ writes another shocking article titled, “Don’t Let Ignorant People Vote,” in April of 2011. I find that this topic is only going to become increasingly topical, and how he forms his argument I also find relevant to class discussion. He begins this article asking (literally, the first sentence), “Should ignorant people be allowed to vote?” but then follows it reassuring this question is not just for shock value but rather to give pause. Admittedly, this is a question I asked myself in the past two presidential elections.

     Like LZ, I am often stunned and confused by people who know nothing about politics AND who take no time nor make no effort to understand any of the topics. Many, both young and old, simply vote along party lines or based on superficial qualities…. even casting a vote for who a majority of their friends seem to support. While this is appalling, should they be denied the opportunity all together? First instinct tells me that no, they should not be disallowed their vote; I mean, isn’t democracy founded on public participation and the electoral process?

     I’m not entirely sure if the “solution” that LZ suggest, assuming it’s supported by many with similar frustrations with the ignorant, is another use of his sarcasm, shock value, or the like… perhaps this is a solution he actually supports. What can fix this “hiccup in our political system,” you ask? Taking a test, similar to those who seek citizenship in America, might force those who want to participate into taking more of an effort than just pushing a button on a screen on voting day. Or….. it might significantly lower the percentage of people who actually vote, dismissing this test as a “hassle.” I for one wouldn’t really like to take a test in order to cast a vote, and frankly I consider this more of an infringement on our rights than a solution at all.

     Another strong point made in the article is that much of contemporary campaign tactics are no longer aimed at the (non-ignorant) middle of the country, but rather those who are easily misled or manipulated. For example, instead of highlighting the more “weighty” issues and political platforms, phrases like “Obamacare” and “War on Unions” are broadcasted over and over again. These phrases are said by LZ to pander to the people who frankly can’t explain what Congress or the President does, but hey, it’s catchy right? While I understand completely where LZ and others who feel similar are coming from, I don’t know if the political campaigns, PR people, and campaign advisors are really at fault. Publicists largely respond to what the public wants and will most react too… maybe if us, the voters, didn’t seem to be so persuaded by cheap marketing tactics these phrases would no longer garner the results necessary to perpetuate the cycle. On the other hand, I agree that far too often politicians fall back on cheap phrases and “attack” campaigning when they could present valid arguments and present their own political stances to a very welcoming public.

   Regardless, let’s all try to be less ignorant and learn about all the issues and candidates BEFORE actually stepping foot near the ballot box.

Football Fan? Beware! You could be one of those Jersey-Wearing, Beer-Guzzling, Ball-Tossing, SLEEPER SPIES!

     Upon graduating I hope to find a job somewhere in the field of Public Relations, so when I stumble across articles involving aspects of PR they usually catch my eye. Although totally not a huge sports fan, I began browsing through some of LZ Granderson’s articles he posts to his weekly commentary column for The article, “Clarifying Tom Brady’s Remarks,” posted September 16th, 2011 describes a comment that the New England Patriot’s player, Tom Brady, said to a reporter before the season’s home opener game. Apparently Brady stated Patriot’s fans should ” …start drinking early. Get nice and rowdy. It’s a 4:15 game, they’ll have a lot of ime to get lubed up, come out here and cheer for their home team.”

     While this really doesn’t look like a PR nightmare at first glance, LZ describes that New England’s front desk scurried to send out a spokesperson to clarify Brady’s “drinking early” meant drinking lots of water and staying hydrated. Yeah, … right… But was it really necessary for the Patriot’s front office to panick about a little, old statement like that? Nope. In fact, they released the statement that Brady’s words could be interpreted to encourage fans to break the new Foxborough public drunkenness law. Okay, I do understand that celebrities and famous athletes do need to be careful with the actions/thinking/products/etc they seemingly endorse, but encouraging fans to have a good time and drink some beer? I highly doubt that was supposed to be some encrypted call to arms.

     The columnist  then takes the transcending themes from this situation, that of personal responsibility and political correctness, and applies them to broader circumstances and every day life. This is a great rhetorical tactic, showing that one example supporting your argument might not just be an isolated incident; it’s a great strategy to switch from looking at an argument’s specifics to its universals. This article does a beautiful job of taking the relatively insignificant Brady comment and PR drama and re-examining it through a broader theoretical lens. For example, because “get nice and rowdy” could be seen as a command, LZ questions where personal responsibility went? Can’t the fans determine for themselves which actions are deemed appropriate… and LEGAL? If they do in fact break the law, isn’t it 100% their own dang fault?

     LZ (whom I can only imagine to have been shaking his head as he typed this) states, “Political correctness started with good intention but has since been abused and now erodes what it means to be held responsible for our own actions.” Agreed! Far too often PR professionals take the notion of verbal liability to a crazy extreme. Just because someone is a sports icon and admired greatly doesn’t mean he wields some crazy, totalitarian power. For most people, at least, football isn’t a mind control device and “get rowdy” just means to make sure you have a heck of a good time!

“Let’s get it on”

     Well, here’s an interesting enough article written by my columnist, LZ Granderson. Titled, “‘Date Night’ was ruining my love life,” the article expresses a very bold statement a mere nine lines in, “[date night] was ruining my sex life.” Well, okay, I guess that result does seem to be a little counter-productive, frustrating I’m sure. LZ goes on to describe why this has happened, making the argument that having a routine, weekly Date Night set aside for “romance” made it… well, unromatic, and frankly, pretty boring.

     The witty sarcasm of the collumnist really shines through in this article, and seeing him so thoroughly support such a light-hearted arguement (as opposed to war, depression, poverty, abortion, etc) with vivid examples and logical deductions is great. LZ doesn’t just go off on a tangent griping about how much it stinks when two spouses have such busy schedules. Rather, he bodly describes his own personal struggles with Date Night, adds a statistic from the U.S. Burea of Labor Statistics, testimony from a friend, and clear reasons to support each attack against the activity.  In fact, I’m never a fan of just reading an all-out, super negative, complain-fest and if LZ’s article was anything like that I’d have been more bored than him on his 14th in a row Thursday Date Night.

     One of the most fascinating points he brings up in the article is in his concluding paragraph. Paraphrasing, he says that he did not write this article about the tradegy of conflicting schedules, routine blah-ness of a regular Date Nate, or how crazy it is to keep up the romance in a home full of kids as a confession of being unhappy. In fact, he expressly stated how happy he is with his partner and that he’s “resisting any construct that could undersmine the most essential element for any long term couple: passion.” My first thought after reading that sentence was how perfectly the exact language he chose articulated his point. In my view, he did an unbelievable job condenscing what his entire article was arguing into one clear and concise sentence. It is very important for a good rhetorician to be able to communicate their whole message in a precise and elegent way like LZ has. It demonstrates mastery of your argument, and if asked directly to summarize your message you’ll have an easier time articulating it than verbally fumbling around for the right words.