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Figaro rips the innards out of things people say and reveals the rhetorical tricks and pratfalls. For terms and definitions, click here.
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    Dear Figaro,
    I think I don’t really understand Barack Obama's original quote [in Figaro's July 5 journal: "Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality."]... that may be what the problem is...I can't think of an example that would define what he is trying to say...
    MV

    Dear MV,
    Aristotle said the main topic of deliberative argument is the "advantageous"--what's to the mutual advantage of you and your audience. This separates deliberative argument from "demonstrative" rhetoric, which is about values and tribal concerns. And from "forensic" rhetoric, which assigns blame and punishment.
    Obama is doing the same thing. Let's talk about what's to our mutual advantage, not about who's wrong or right. Take the rapid expansion of prisons: if it's a matter of locking up all "bad people," then we should build them until no "bad person" is left outside. That's demonstrative rhetoric. If it's a matter of what's best for the country, then we have to start a realistic discussion of the most practical ways to reduce crime without excessive costs. See the difference?
    Yrs,
    Figaro
    July 23, 2006 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    Dear Figaro,
    Now here’s a rhetorical move that would challenge anyone. This comes for the Rhetoricians for Peace listserv:
    "Anne Coulter's disgusting claims about the 9/11/01 widows is typical neo-con rhetorical strategy--accuse your opponent of doing exactly what you're doing by making the accusation in the first place. It's Coulter who's capitalizing on the tragedy of 9/11/01 by using it to accuse the East Brunswick Witches of being unpatriotic. Cons use the same strategy when the accuse "liberals" of conducting class warfare by opposing tax cuts for rich people. I'm sure there's a term for that rhetorical move, but I don't know it."
    Thought you might want to take this up.
    Best,
    Gerri

    There is indeed a term, Gerri, but I made it up. I call it “setting a backfire.” Bush’s aides did it with their behind-the-scenes fostering of the Swiftboating. Watch the Republicans hit the Dems hard this next election on fiscal irresponsibility.
    I’ve covered that a bit in past blogs, and do it more extensively in my book. But I’ll follow your suggestion and take it up again. Thanks for writing.
    Yrs,
    Figaro

    [NOTE: THE FIRST POSTS ARE COPIED FROM EMAIL EXCHANGES WITH FIGARO.]
    July 22, 2006 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    Dear Figaro,
    Since discovering your website, I've spent the majority of my free time working on my rhetoric skills. This is a remarkably informative and fun site. That being said, I have a dilemma for which I humbly ask your help. After reading the section "10 Ways to Use Figures," I can't seem to figure out if I should be focusing on using these figures more often in my speech, or calling people out when they use it, in a way similar to your snappy comebacks. It's a bit of a dumb question, perhaps, but I'm just a novice on the subject. I would greatly appreciate any clarification or other insight you can give me. Thanks!
    Kreg

    Hello, Kreg,
    That's not a dumb question at all. Rhetoric gives you insight into this persuasive world. People who have read my book say that arguments that got them angry or frustrated in the past now fascinate them. So most beginning rhetoricians use their new-found knowledge to observe, not show off. (Well, if you do want to show off--"You just made an anaphora!"--go right ahead.)
    Once you find yourself seeing figures under every rhetorical rock, you might feel comfortable enough to use some yourself. The best way to start is to repeat what your interlocutor says while thinking how you might twist it. You could restate in reverse as a chiasmus. Or, if it's a cliché, try taking it literally--"Sure, the early bird gets the worm. It can have it."
    Keep me posted on your progress.
    Yrs,
    Figaro

    [NOTE: THE FIRST POSTS ARE COPIED FROM EMAIL EXCHANGES WITH FIGARO.]
    July 22, 2006 | Registered CommenterFigaro

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