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    They Should at Least Wear Tights and a Cape

    Superman_SOTU.jpgThought you might like to see this exchange on Ask Figaro.

    Dear Figaro,

    As usual the president praised some new heroes in his State of the Union Address.

    BUSH:  Three weeks ago, Wesley Autrey was waiting at a Harlem subway station with his two little girls, when he saw a man fall into the path of a train. With seconds to act, Wesley jumped onto the tracks, pulled the man into the space between the rails, and held him as the train passed right above their heads.  He insists he’s not a hero.  He says: “We’ve got guys and girls overseas dying for us to have our freedoms.  We have got to show each other some love.”  There is something wonderful about a country that produces a brave and humble man like Wesley Autrey.

    What is the technical term for this digression?

    Arie Vrolijk

    Dear Arie,

    While there are figures for interruptions within a sentence (APPOSITIO, PAREMBOLE), we don’t know of one that suits this sort of digression—other than “digression.”  That may be because there is little art to this presidential fad of naming heroes during State of the Union addresses, one that Reagan started and succeeding presidents have followed.

    Increasingly, occupants of the White House avoid deliberative rhetoric—the language of politics and of decision-making—in favor of demonstrative rhetoric, which speaks of values and reinforces tribal identity.  The heroes stand for what is best in America.  (Though Bush also celebrates the creator of those ridiculous Baby Einstein videos, whose heroism escapes Figaro.)  Nothing wrong with extolling heroes’ virtues, but what do they have to do with Iraq, health care, or climate change?

    And that, of course, is exactly the point.  Heroes allow the president to bask in their virtue, while distracting us from the issues at hand.


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    Reader Comments (1)

    Hi Figaro! Since you're posting some correspondence lately, I thought I'd point you over to my blog, where I am asking for your advice. Basically I'm wondering if the phrase, "Peace through military strength" is any sort of figure of speech. See here for the back story: http://www.heresyourwater.com/blog/2007/01/oh-how-mighty-haveconceeded.html
    January 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterStacia

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