Sarah Palin’s (Empty) Rhetorical Style

The heart of Sarah Palin's appeal is —

Wait, did you see that? There! She did it again: wrinkled up her nose in a way that either looks like a sneer or is adorably reminiscent of Samantha from "Bewitched." Depending on whom you talk to.

Style: Examining Sarah Palin’s Rhetorical Style. Libby Copeland, Washington Post

Governor Palin reminds me of a boss I once had. He was good looking, always ready with a smile, and on the surface supportive and helpful. He seemed the ideal academic administrator. Over the course of several years, however, the bright surface seemed more and more like a flashing mirror distracting you from his real goals. He demanded total control over his little kingdom.

Eventually, I came to realize that he was a profoundly immoral human being; a particular type of tyrant that is all too common. I don’t think you can call him manipulative in any substantive sense, because the link between appearance, the public face, and the private power, the authoritarian control, is so close. It’s what success looked and felt like to him: to be powerful is to fool people.

He did some awful things, too, ruining lives in both petty and serious ways and undermining the ability of teachers to do their jobs. He could never be held responsible, though, because on the one hand he had that smiling face, and on the other hand he had a gun under his coat and he was not afraid to use it. We all thought he would certainly become a dean.

My partner is livid that Palin is the “type” that now represents successful women– successful politics– to so many. It particularly galls her that so few seem to even want to try to see behind the flashing mirrors; it’s as if the substance is irrelevant, and nothing matters but the performance. We point out the wink, but then, in effect, we wink in return: isn’t that adorable!

It’s exactly like my old boss. In fact, I think we in academia have had a hand in promoting a way of thinking, so well represented by the Washington Post article, that empties out the content of rhetorical analysis. Maybe it’s because it’s so important to a successful career in the American university. There’s ugliness behind that cute little nose wrinkle, though, and we ignore it at our peril.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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