Citation: Mary E. Triece. “Appealing to the ‘Intelligent Worker’: Rhetorical Reconstitution and the Influence of Firsthand Experience in the Rhetoric of Leonora O’Reilly.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 33, no. 2, 2003, pp. 5–24. www.jstor.org/stable/3886095.
Needless to say, like most of us, the result of this presidential election shocked me. The day after I felt numb. The day after that I just felt angry. But after the anger subsided I felt this overwhelming desire to understand why this had happened, specifically I wanted to understand the numbers surrounding the women vote that emerged in the days after the election. Why did women, especially “uneducated” (a term I am coming to hate more and more) women turn their back so vehemently on Hilary? What was the disconnect? Yes, its true women internalize sexism. Without a level of cognitive awareness and an ability to analyze the world we live in, women often often fall victim to what often seems to be an all encompassing patriarchal pressure of society, but I don’t think this election can be reduced simply to the assumption that uneducated women are victims of their own ignorance. There is more to it than that.
Appealing to the “Intelligent Worker”: Rhetorical Reconstitution and the Influence of Firsthand Experience in the Rhetoric of Leonora O’Reilly is a rhetorical examination of Leonora O’Reilly, a early 20th Century labor activist who was enormously successful at energizing and politically empowering working women. O’Reilly’s audience consisted of mainly uneducated women, who were active participants in gender norms. They did not speak up for themselves. They simply put their heads down and worked. This group of women was a significant loss for Hilary Clinton. She failed to speak to these women. Her message, whether it was meant to be inclusive and empowering to all or not, did not reach them. To many of these women, Hilary Clinton was part of the so-called “liberal elite”, a woman who they did not understand and did not understand them.
As hard as it still is for me to grapple with, Hilary Clinton and her campaign seriously failed in reaching these voters. To be frank they failed in even trying to reach them. From my perspective, a vote for Trump was unforgivable and completely beyond my realm of comprehension. I hate the normalization of his blatant racism and sexism. I cannot understand why so many women could still vote for him. But many women did. I don’t think this necessarily means that these women did so without a regretful thought, but they voted for him anyway. He bothered to speak to the working person. He bothered to tell them they mattered and that their decision to support him was smart, a technique so artfully used by O’Reilly when she appealed to the “intelligent worker” in order to garner support from women for labor protests. As painful as this process of reckoning is, the truth is Hilary Clinton did not. Her rhetoric asked these voters to make a leap many “uneducated” women voters could not make. It asked them to see their own empowerment in her accomplishments. She did not engage in the rhetorical process of reconstitution or the successful blending of message and persona in order to awaken a sense of empowerment in her voters. There were failing in this campaign, beyond simple “women hating” which was also very real and had a deep and crushing impact on the impact of this election, but it is not the only reason for Hilary Clinton’s failure.
This article left with many questions, that I expect I will spend the next months trying to answer. One of the biggest take aways I had from this article was that the lack or misguided appeal to working women or working individuals is not just a failure of Hilary Clinton’s campaign, but a current failure of the democratic party and it is a failure that has to be addressed. How should the democratic party address this failure in their rhetoric surrounding working class voters? How can the democratic party empower all women? And finally, a more broad underlying questions, is economic status often the ultimate motivating factor behind political change?