Controversy Over Obama's Rhetoric: Energizing or Just Talk?


  • newswise-fullscreen Controversy Over Obama's Rhetoric: Energizing or Just Talk?

    Shawn Parry-Giles, University of Maryland Professor of Communication

Newswise — As voters go to the polls in New Hampshire, Barak Obama's rhetoric has become a "controversial, key storyline" says University of Maryland political communication expert Shawn Parry-Giles, who has been in New Hampshire observing media and candidates and citizens.

"People who hear him in New Hampshire rave about how powerful a speaker he is. Even journalists traveling on Hillary Clinton's press bus talk of how inspirational his speeches are. Yet, Obama's alleged oratorical brilliance, is not without controversy," says Parry-Giles, who directs the University of Maryland's Center for Political Communication and Civic Leadership and is a professor of communication.

More from Parry-Giles:

"As Obama becomes what some in the news media talk of as a 'movement' phenomenon because of his ability to inspire, the Clinton campaign has taken direct aim on his oratory. Throughout her stump speeches on the final days of the New Hampshire primary, Hillary Clinton begins each speech with the argument that her political activities are about 'doing not talking,' emphasizing that she is concerned with 'results not rhetoric.'

"The assumption, as it has been historically, is that rhetoric represents empty and ornamental speech that is disconnected from reality and lacking in substance even though some of our famous presidents have been the nation's most gifted orators.. Such a critique of Obama's rhetoric is really a condemnation of his entire candidacy for Clinton - inspirational yet lacking in substance. Many in the news talk of his events as 'rock concerts,' which furthers this sense of style over substance.

"Yet, such campaign rallies also reflect the energy of past oratorical forums, where people gathered in past centuries to be inspired, informed, and engaged in the events of the day - a major source of civic participation throughout not only U.S. history but dating back to antiquity as well.

"The force of his oratory may well say as much about the state of the electorate in the post-Bush years, where citizens seemingly desire to be inspired and want to renew their faith in the nation, which has long been a hallmark of the rhetorical presidency, the centerpiece of presidential campaigning, and an integral component of the nation's history.

If Obama ultimately wins the Democratic nomination, the true test of his oratorical power is whether or not it can transcend the political turbulence of a general election. In the meantime, it is clear that many Democrats and Independents are civically energized and renewed by Obama's stump speech, even in an age of blogs, YouTube, and Facebook, which is a key storyline of the 2008 presidential primaries."

Link to additional dispatches from New Hampshire:http://www.newsdesk.umd.edu/sociss/2008/NHBlogs.cfm

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