During my exploration I looked at the usage of logical appeals in Hillary Clinton’s victory speech upon receiving the democratic nomination and winning the primaries. This was a historic moment, since she was the first female candidate to receive a major party’s nomination for the presidency. In that moment she chose to appeal to the values and beliefs of voters. The results of the 2016 election however, were unfortunately not in Clinton’s favor.
My hope is that by synthesizing the context of Clinton’s candidacy, the way in which she was viewed by the media, the arguments she put forward in her speeches, and the methods she used, I can come to understand how her campaign might have misjudged the hierarchy of values present in many Americans in my final series of blog posts.
It would be unwise to ignore the gendered aspects of Clinton’s campaign, and so we must start from the very beginning – when women first fought for their right to vote. The Declaration of Sentiments, written in 1848, utilizes “the argument from justice” as defined by historian Aileen Kraditor. In short this is where women make the appeal that women’s rights are “natural rights.” An appeal which Clinton herself would mirror in her speech at the United Nations 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, China.
There was another appeal popularly used by suffragists: the argument from expediency. It talked about the moral qualities of a woman in comparison to men, and how that difference earned them rights.
This “argument from expediency” might best be mirrored in Sarah Palin’s speech while running for the vice presidency in 2008. As my classmate “jameswheat” points out in the comments, “She relies heavily on patriotism, alluding especially to war and soldiers. She relates to families of soldiers and to special needs families, drawing connections in order to boost her reliability.” This display of ethos uses a feminine delivery in order to convince her audience that she has moral competency.
Image via Reuters
However another female candidate, Shirley Chisholm, does not rely on any suffragist appeals. She says in her speech, “I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I am a woman, and I am equally proud of that.” Chisholm was the first African American woman elected to congress, and yet in her speech she distances herself from this identity. My classmate “jameswheat” suggests this might have been in an effort to appear less intimidating, however it may also be that she sought to appeal to a value outside identity.
By putting the focus away from her identity and onto issues of true leadership, she might have proved to have a more uniting voice. This idea of leadership seems to be larger than any one candidate, as President Obama references in his speech after the 2016 election. He argues that the preservation of our democracy is more important than any other value or belief. In that way his appeal mirrors Chisholm’s speech.
Despite these appeals from politicians, the media is focused on vastly different values. We see a strong focus on scandal and distrust. The American people seem drawn to this media, and so it perpetuates. In this blog post, “professorhayden” references this article which discusses the Facebook “echo chamber effect.” Most people get their news from social media sites, but these sites are not taking their editorial responsibility seriously, often spreading false information.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Media has also popularized satirical articles, which can “poke fun” at these issues of scandal and mistrust. While the intent may be benign the effect may have drastic consequences when they come from widely accepted and respected sources like the New York Times. In David Mandel’s article “Hillary’s First 100 Days” a satirical recap of Clinton’s first 100 days in office reference everything from pantsuits, to e-mails, to a supposed involvement with ISIS. My classmate “clogan10” offers an interesting criticism on this style of journalism in her comment on this blog post:
The growing place that humor holds in our political rhetorical discourse could possibly be linked to the lack of agency many people feel within our current governmental system. We are more comfortable laughing at what is going on because, well what else are we going to do? … A lack of political agency, coupled with a lack of political seriousness does not a informed and empowered electorate make.
Image via New York Times / Ruth Gwily
So if the benefits of satirical journalism do not necessarily outweigh the criticisms, what style of writing is effective? We looked at this op-ed piece in the New York Times, written by Richard W. Painter, a Republican who was also a former White House ethics lawyer. He supports Clinton’s candidacy due to her “qualifications” yet spends the majority of his editorial discussing the scandal associated with the Clinton Foundation. Perhaps those like Painter value Clinton’s qualifications because they have a deeper knowledge of life in D.C.
For many Americans Clinton’s qualifications made her seem too deeply involved in “establishment” politics. Yet in this article, the author is not deeply steeped in politics, he is an editor for the Huffington Post. In fact he is a self professed “Bernie Bro.” He apologizes to HRC in his article, acknowledging the qualifications she holds as the reason why she has earned his vote.
Unfortunately these instances often seem to be the exception to the rule. In this exploration blog post my classmate “yimchristina” writes at length upon the “untrustworthiness” so often associated with HRC. Ultimately, the post comes to the conclusion that it is Clinton’s delivery that perpetuates this issue.
However when we break apart Clinton’s speeches we find that she has grown immensely. For example, in 1995 her speech at the United Nations 4th World Conference on Women in China had incredible content. However, as my classmate “ciaobellalou,” explains – the delivery is “businesslike.” Yet she appeals to a shared value of unity that gives the speech weight regardless.
Moving forward to another speech in 1996, Clinton uses the term “superpredators” in reference to inner city youth likely involved in gang culture. This term came under great scrutiny, but the speech also makes weak rhetorical appeal. My classmates “briedanielle” and “wordsofthewall” both note a weak appeal to pathos in the speech with their comments.
Jumping to June 2016, upon receiving the presidential nomination, HRC makes an incredible speech focused on value and belief. She explains that the election is really about “who we are as a nation.” My classmate “pmurphy54” looks at this speech in his exploration post. He explains:
The general line of thinking that both Hillary and her supporters follow is that America used to be strong because it supported the people of America and not just the elite, that America is still a strong nation that is not being torn apart by fear and hatred, and that America (with Hillary at the helm) will become a success that rivals a bygone era of American success.
While this may be true, there may in fact be a strategic flaw in this line of thinking. It is essentially the same line of thinking as her opponent, except not as clear, and not as emotional. (I use that term loosely, assuming her opponent’s rhetoric of fear is inherently emotional).
My own exploration post considered the same speech. I found that Clinton was trying to win over voters based on value and belief in her speech. However, “socially progressive voters” wouldn’t disagree with Clinton on most social issues. My exploration paper assumed this was a starting point, but perhaps she never continued along the path.
As the campaign progressed Clinton did an interview with Humans of New York. Perhaps her most successful attempt to relate to voters, Clinton spoke about the challenges of being a woman pursuing a career in law. She presents this anecdote as an explanation for why she often appears cold and aloof. While this is interesting in a gendered sense, it also offers a perspective on Clinton’s delivery (as explored here). So what is the fault in Clinton’s rhetoric this election: her delivery, or her rhetorical appeals?
Image via HONY / Brandon Stanton
In her concession speech Clinton seemed in tune to what her audience needed to hear. She offered an authentic delivery, focused on reassuring listeners that they should continue to fight for justice in every sense of the word. My classmate “buffington36” writes, “Hillary’s painful concession speech – ironically may end up holding a place in history as one of the most inspiring.” Why is it that upon losing the election, Clinton’s rhetoric seems more successful?
Looking to “the experts” we can come to understand that gender has a lot to do with HRC’s political success. Karlyn Kohrs Campbell discusses how Clinton does not “perform femininity” to society’s standards, and so she is often unnecessarily scrutinized. My classmate “yimchristina” had an interesting perspective on this issue:
Ideally, Clinton’s preference of appealing more to logos than pathos shouldn’t be a detriment to her credibility or likeability, but even male public figures (e.g., Ronald Reagan) make their discourse more endearing by adopting a self-disclosing tone and incorporating anecdotes, so it seems like, to play the game of politics, it would behoove her presidential campaign to adjust her usual lawyer-like presentation.
I believe we did see Clinton adopt the feminine styles in some situations (like when she spoke about motherhood in her Stronger Together speech). However, it might not have been enough. Karrin Vasby Anderson discusses Elizabeth Dole, who ran for the presidency in 2000, and certainly “performed femininity” to society’s standards. However this led to voters believing she was unqualified, and her husband might be the one truly in charge. So we realize that distance from feminine style is not sufficient, and performing femininity is easily critiqued. This crossroads makes the presidency a difficult role for a woman to obtain.
Yet this does not mean women have no place in the White House. Shawn J. Parry-Giles and Diane M. Blair discuss “The Rise of the Rhetorical First Lady” and how these women have shaped the role of the First Lady within a gendered sphere. Most first ladies take on issues regarding women and children, but Clinton taking on healthcare was a distinct change. It’s proof that while women may be typecast in politics, they do have the agency to expand their work, however slowly the change may be.