Weekend Pop Culture: Presidential Rhetoric

We were fortunate enough to present at the College Board Forum this week and saw amazing presentations, met amazing people associated with education, and had amazing opportunities.  One of these opportunities was to attend a discussion about education with four Republican Presidential candidates:  Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum.  When we first entered the auditorium we were greeted with flyers of information about each candidate’s views on education, not paid for by taxpayer dollars, of course.  Always the English teacher, we found ourselves really interested in the language choices and structure each candidate chose and what it revealed about them and their platform.  For example, Rick Santorum’s pamphlet on education begins with “As a husband and father…”  Honestly, these are the first five words.  This instantly made us start examining the role of rhetoric in the current political race.  While political information of any era can be studied in a variety of fashions, this weekend we are going to focus on the role of persona.  How is a persona created through a piece of writing?  Authors always strive to create voice for their speakers, but none are more important than in candidate’s material.  Every word must be scrutinized to ensure the specifically designed persona is created. 

Again, this can be done with a variety of speeches (even those that are actually in office).  However, we think there is much more at stake for those pursuing office, which makes their writing rich with purpose and voice.  Plus, it is timely and gets the students involved in the debate.  To help students identify a candidate’s persona consider giving them a copy of publically released information from multiple candidates about the same topic.  Ask students to study the difference in rhetoric as it is communicated through the information (below are links to the current Republican candidate’s views on the economy and jobs).  Ask your students to read all of the information and consider asking the following:

  • How would you summarize each candidate’s argument about the topic?  How does it differ from the others?
  • What underlying values or beliefs are communicated indirectly through the stylistic choices made in the piece?
  • What persona is created for each candidate because of the composition of their information? 
  • What audience is each candidate writing to based on the language and strategies employed?  What is your proof?
  • What is the larger purpose of each pamphlet?  While they might be talking about the same topic, they can still have different purposes. 


Republican Candidate’s Views on the Economy

Michele Bachmann

Herman Cain (then click on “Economy”)

Newt Gingrich

Rick Santorum


Photo from jeannerene

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