Chris Moody has an article up at Yahoo News that represents one of my favorite sorts of articles to bring up in composition classes. Moody provides an overview of the strategies Republican thinkers have come up with to counter the rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street. I highly recommend a full read of them based on the insight it provides into both the Occupy movement (or at least popular perceptions of it) and into the political politics of the day.
What I’m immediately drawn to though is the way that these sorts of stories highlight the fluidity of language and the oftentimes quite easy means to manipulate it. In the composition classroom I find an article like this one to be a way to make a compelling case for specificity in writing and, above all, the importance of evidence. Moody’s article is a great one for pointing out just how much our political rhetoricians tend to talk about these issues in generalities that ultimately mean nothing. Changing phrase A to equally meaningless but less offensive phrase B doesn’t get you anywhere and once they’ve seen it in action, students are quick to point out the doublespeak. Watching students begin to take this sort of rhetoric apart (whatever its source) and replace it with their own nuanced critiques is honestly one of the best aspects of teaching composition.
I have to say that number 7 on the list Moody gives us is my personal favorite. “I get it” is just a dodgy sort of response to the legit concerns of voters. I’d think that in most cases it would fail (miserably) in signifying that the speaker comes remotely close to “getting it.” The strategy that Frank Luntz (the Republican strategist who came up with these talking points) suggests here tells it all. After saying “I get it” you’re supposed to start offering Republican solutions to the problems. Maybe Luntz also said that you should listen carefully to the complaints first. Let’s be honest though, the strategy in practice translates to “I get it, now please be quiet so I can talk at you until you vote for me.” Ultimately that’s politics though. I’m not saying this to be pessimistic either. You can be involved in politics and make a real difference in society. At the end of the day though, they’re selling a product though. To engage in an actual dialogue you have to see the boundaries your interlocutors are attempting to establish and see when those boundaries are being manipulated to your detriment. “I get it” is just that sort of manipulation.