There are times in our lives, when only the power of elocution and rhetoric are able to change the situation. The ability to convince and persuade is needed almost every day – with our teachers, colleagues, partners, and other people surrounding us. This vital ability is especially needed with the life of an individual is easily made public – especially the politicians. The history of the world, as well as the history of the United States, is full of scandals and costly blunders, and only those politicians, who were able to publicly declare their attitude to some event or even admit their faults, were able to recover and rehabilitate in the eyes of the society.
When the far-famed Lewinsky scandal or “Monicagate” took place in 1998, President Clinton had a hard time denying the facts first, and then, when the credibility was lost completely and then facing the impeachment trial. He was impeached on December 19, 1998 by the House of Representatives and subsequently acquitted by the Senate on February 12, 1999. Not only he faced charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, he totally lost face in the eyes on the nation and the whole world. Denying the truth is certainly wrong, but if one thinks over the situation, he or she would certainly find the motives and reasons of such behavior.
The problem was regaining the status in the eyes of publicity after the fact of lying was publicly covered in mass media.
A public recant is one of the most difficult aspects of rhetoric art. In rhetorical discourse many aspects are important: for example, the personality of the speaker, his or her intension, the intended audience and the content of the message itself. But more importantly, to persuade the audience, the speaker/author of the text should find means of identifying himself with it. Political discourse has additional means of influencing the audience, like the ideograph, and it is undoubtedly effective, but it also in important to “resolve” the conflict through making the audience feel its “unity” with the speaker.
The success of any speech is determined by the fact whether it has fulfilled the author’s (or speaker’s) intentions. In case with President Clinton, the speech intended to at best to regain the audience’s credibility, and at worst to apologise and to try to change the subject of the general attention. Any of the goals stated above is not easy to achieve, for the name has been breathed on heavily for quite a long time (thus jeopardizing or even ruining the ethos of a trustworthy person, necessary for a successful speech), and persuading such critically disposed audience may be compared to a miracle. Still, the power of words provides an opportunity to reach the highest goals.
To an average man, a speech is a set of words and phrases. For a more informed listener, a rhetoric is a set (or, rather, a balanced combination) of various elements. If one puts it into the terminology, the elements would constitute the “identification” of the speaker, the “pentad”, which determines the prerequisites of the conflict, the pathos, and the logos. For rhetoric to be resulting, and successful, the author/speaker should carefully balance the use of these elements to win the audience’s benevolence through the power of words.
A profound rhetorical analysis always includes several questions of vital importance that, in fact, determine the value and the distinction of the given piece. The analysis always takes into consideration the so-called “rhetorical situation” (the historical occasion that gave rise to the composition of this text or caused the need for persuasion). For President Clinton’s speech of Monday, August 17, 1998, such “situation” was the scandal he was involved due to the President’s short-term sexual relationship with a 22-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinski.
A successful speech is always a combination of various important elements, and without proper attention to these issues, the speech might not be effective. Even the use of proper words might play an important role in the effectiveness of the speech.
For Clinton, personal credibility was obviously lost long before he decided recant publicly. Still, in any speech, the speaker should establish ethos, to ensure the audience’s listening and, more importantly, hearing.
If we use Burke’s concept of dramatism, a form of critical technique, and try to analyse Clinton’s speech through the prism of the “pentad”, we would see that the five elements of this concept, which determine the dialectical tensions from which the rhetoric arises. “The Act” (shortly, “the false evidence”), “the Scene” (the White House and other governing institutions, the Court), “the Agent” (The President, Senators, the “victim”, all having their own opinion and judgment on the situation) all influenced the situation and brought conflict into life. ”The Agency” is presented through the public scandal, much supported by the mass media. “The purpose” of the agents’ activities varies depending on their role in the story. The speech is rich in other agents like “wife”, “family” and “the American citizen” Clinton identifies himself with.
In his speech, Clinton uses an ideograph to excuse his behavior “in a deposition in January”. To excuse his lies, President Clinton uses wonderful ideograph for the statement “While my answers were legally accurate, I did not volunteer information” because “I answered their questions truthfully, including questions about my private life, questions no American citizen would ever want to answer” Though this establishing the ideology of the community, which, in fact excuses his behaviour and beliefs.
According to Kenneth Burke’s A Rhetoric of Motives, “persuasion is enacted in a transformation of one’s perception and attitude, and the elements of that process of transformation are identifications”. In his speech, Clinton identifies himself with his audience as any American citizen, and thus helps the audience to sympathize with him more. It is in fact absolutely necessary to establish the identification, to reach the goals through rhetoric. By proclaiming the unity or similarity, the speaker averts or enfeebles the conflict, with is the source of rhetoric itself.
In the speech, President Clinton tries to create an ethos of a deeply repenting man, who has been able raise after falling, admitting his mistakes and having re-established his values of family and God. At the same time, he uses his arguments to emphasize he is a professional, whose reputation, despite the much-discussed event, is clean, and who has many important problems to resolve within the country. In such manner, the President makes an attempt to revive the personal credibility, respect and status.
The use of proper words and effective figure of speech is also important. Besides providing the clear, open and fair monologue, Clinton uses powerful words that are of great value for the audience and would undoubtedly influence its opinion on the matter. To change the subject of the disputes, he uses the discourse to persuade the nation the problems under consideration are trivial and of no importance already: “Our country has been distracted by this matter for too long, and I take my responsibility for my part in all of this. That is all I can do.
Now it is time — in fact, it is past time to move on.” The triviality of the conflict it reemphasized in the following phrase: “We have important work to do — real opportunities to seize, real problems to solve, real security matters to face.” Opportunities, problems, security matters are the things that were always important for the nation – Clinton’s target audience. By stating these matters are real, he automatically diminishes the significance of his own misconduct that led to a scandal.
Clinton uses the technique of pathos primarily to evoke the emotion of sympathy, understanding, and support. He is emphasizing heavily the family values and his right for privacy.
The conflict is, on the contrary, significantly deemphasized. The speaker publicly repents through “taking full responsibility” and re-stating the “true” values: family and religion, and pressing intensely on the right of private life, which has been made too public in “the past seven months”. Clinton calls the scandal a ‘spectacle’, another word to diminish the value and meaning of the conflict. He questions the relevancy of the investigation, thus destroying of the weightiest arguments of the charge.
Due to the use of strong words and clenches, Clinton’s confession does not sound pitiful and does not make an impression of a defense (although it actually is a defensive speech). The public apologies are followed by the questioning of some aspects of the charges and the appeal to turn to more important things, or “real problems”.
The appeal (or call) is another important element of the proper rhetoric, for it provides a request of further activities, which, in case the speech was successful, would be made by the audience. Without the element, the speech would be informative, but would not reach the goals of persuading the listeners.
The rhetoric is a complex art of resolving conflicts through the means of persuasion. For the speech to be successful (effective), it is important for the author to use the rhetoric techniques that help to win the audience’s favor or at least their attention (especially when the ethos, or personal credibility, has previously suffered).
Only a balanced combination of the rhetoric concepts and techniques provides an opportunity for success. The ‘balance’ certainly depends on many factors, including the author’s/speaker’s intentions. The art of a professional rhetoric is in the understanding and the ability to provide this “balanced combination”.
“Lewinsky scandal.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 23 Nov 2006. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 23 Nov 2006 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lewinsky_scandal&oldid=89584478>.
“Impeachment of Bill Clinton.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 21 Nov 2006. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 23 Nov 2006 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Impeachment_of_Bill_Clinton&oldid=89333563>.
Clinton, Bill. The official speech. August 17, 1998. CNN. 23 Nov 2006. http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1998/08/17/speech/transcript.html
Burke, Kenneth. A Rhetoric of Motives, University of California Press, 1969.
Burke, Kenneth. 1945. A Grammar of Motives. Berkeley: University of California P, 1969
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