“Fairness” and “Common sense”

Two articles take apart the language of political rhetoric:

Arthur Brooks examines the way the Democrats invoke the concept of “fairness” and shows that there is more to justice than just taking from the rich: Obama says it’s only ‘fair’ to raise taxes on the rich. He’s wrong. – The Washington Post.

Then, from the other side, Sophia Rosenfeld critiques the way  Republicans are invoking the concept of “common sense”: Beware of Republicans bearing ‘common sense’

In a day when reason is widely rejected and political discourse has become reduced to manipulative rhetoric, is political debate just a matter of who gets control of the language?  Can you think of other examples of this sort of thing?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Booklover

    “anti-choice” “against women” “assault on women’s health” “war on women”

  • Booklover

    “anti-choice” “against women” “assault on women’s health” “war on women”

  • Kirk

    “Pro-Family” v. “Pro-Marriage,” “Pro-business” v. “Environmental,”

  • Kirk

    “Pro-Family” v. “Pro-Marriage,” “Pro-business” v. “Environmental,”

  • Tom Hering

    Frank Lutz.

  • Tom Hering

    Frank Lutz.

  • DonS

    ultra-conservative, far right, religious right, extremist, progressive, moderate

    Tom @ 3: isn’t it Frank Luntz?

  • DonS

    ultra-conservative, far right, religious right, extremist, progressive, moderate

    Tom @ 3: isn’t it Frank Luntz?

  • Porcell

    Well, Arthur Brooks makes a reasoned case for the unfairness of over-taxing the “rich,” while Sophia Rosenfeld’s article one-sidedly warns of the Republicans claim of common sense.

    The truth is that both Republicans and Democrats make the common sense claim. Common sense is an overrated term, often used by populists including Thomas Paine. The problem with common sense is that is suspiciously all too common.

  • Porcell

    Well, Arthur Brooks makes a reasoned case for the unfairness of over-taxing the “rich,” while Sophia Rosenfeld’s article one-sidedly warns of the Republicans claim of common sense.

    The truth is that both Republicans and Democrats make the common sense claim. Common sense is an overrated term, often used by populists including Thomas Paine. The problem with common sense is that is suspiciously all too common.

  • Michael Z.

    British Colonies 1774
    United States 1860
    Germany 1936.
    Russia 1916.

    I’ll admit that that is a bit dramatic. But it is what came to mind when you asked your question.

  • Michael Z.

    British Colonies 1774
    United States 1860
    Germany 1936.
    Russia 1916.

    I’ll admit that that is a bit dramatic. But it is what came to mind when you asked your question.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I suppose one could claim that these columns are examples of “manipulative rhetoric”. But, honestly, is there anyone out there who doesn’t think that their position is both “fair” and full of “common sense”? These terms are no more manipulative than simply saying “I am right and you are wrong.”

    Meanwhile, I think some of your own rhetoric, Dr. Veith, if not manipulative, may at least contain unexamined ideas.

    Consider the strict dichotomy assumed by your phrase “from the other side”. It very much plays into the Republican/Democrat (or even more ridiculous, and infinitely more inchoate, conservative/liberal) duopoly — to the political parties’ pleasure, no doubt. But such is the reductive tendency of American political discourse that everything must be construed as belonging to one of two sides. Fie on thee, third parties!

    Then there is your phrase “In a day when reason is widely rejected and political discourse has become reduced to manipulative rhetoric…” Which tells the reader that this was not always so — why, back in the day, reason was celebrated by everyone, and political discourse was nothing but the most enlightening exchange of pure logic! Truly, we live in an exceptionally evil time!

    And then, of course, there is your “who gets control of the language”. Which, ultimately, smacks of conspiracy and victimhood. As if language were something that someone could gain control of and force others to use! “Why, the only reason we Christians haven’t yet won the abortion debate is because the liberals have siezed control of the English language and, for some reason, refuse to label themselves as ‘pro-murder’.” No doubt some Christians actually think like that, but to do so is to fail to understand those people’s thinking about their position, as well as the popularity of that position. But no, let’s chalk it all up to some mythical top-down “control” of the language, even though we’re obviously not subject to such control ourselves.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I suppose one could claim that these columns are examples of “manipulative rhetoric”. But, honestly, is there anyone out there who doesn’t think that their position is both “fair” and full of “common sense”? These terms are no more manipulative than simply saying “I am right and you are wrong.”

    Meanwhile, I think some of your own rhetoric, Dr. Veith, if not manipulative, may at least contain unexamined ideas.

    Consider the strict dichotomy assumed by your phrase “from the other side”. It very much plays into the Republican/Democrat (or even more ridiculous, and infinitely more inchoate, conservative/liberal) duopoly — to the political parties’ pleasure, no doubt. But such is the reductive tendency of American political discourse that everything must be construed as belonging to one of two sides. Fie on thee, third parties!

    Then there is your phrase “In a day when reason is widely rejected and political discourse has become reduced to manipulative rhetoric…” Which tells the reader that this was not always so — why, back in the day, reason was celebrated by everyone, and political discourse was nothing but the most enlightening exchange of pure logic! Truly, we live in an exceptionally evil time!

    And then, of course, there is your “who gets control of the language”. Which, ultimately, smacks of conspiracy and victimhood. As if language were something that someone could gain control of and force others to use! “Why, the only reason we Christians haven’t yet won the abortion debate is because the liberals have siezed control of the English language and, for some reason, refuse to label themselves as ‘pro-murder’.” No doubt some Christians actually think like that, but to do so is to fail to understand those people’s thinking about their position, as well as the popularity of that position. But no, let’s chalk it all up to some mythical top-down “control” of the language, even though we’re obviously not subject to such control ourselves.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I tend to agree with Todd. Nobody’s got control of the language, and especially not in these days of the Internet, where it’s easy to present to the masses a call of shenanigans on rhetorical usage.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I tend to agree with Todd. Nobody’s got control of the language, and especially not in these days of the Internet, where it’s easy to present to the masses a call of shenanigans on rhetorical usage.

  • SKPeterson

    Where is the line between “manipulative” rhetoric and rhetoric that is merely “persuasive”?

  • SKPeterson

    Where is the line between “manipulative” rhetoric and rhetoric that is merely “persuasive”?

  • http://Www.Toddstadler.com tODD

    SK (@9), that line is between me and all the people who are wrong, of course!

  • http://Www.Toddstadler.com tODD

    SK (@9), that line is between me and all the people who are wrong, of course!

  • SKPeterson

    As it always is, Todd. As it always is. :)

  • SKPeterson

    As it always is, Todd. As it always is. :)


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