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    The Bin Laden Gesture

    Obama's plainspoken announcement of bin Laden's death shows his understanding of the nature of the rhetorical gesture.

    "Justice has been done," he said, using the mild passive voice before going into a bare account of the raid.

    So where's the gesture? In rhetoric, any meaningful action--any action with a rhetorical purpose--counts as a gesture. A gift can be a nice gesture. Writing a thank you note instead of sending an email: that's a gesture of medium. Killing a ruthless terrorist in his luxury mansion: that's one big honkin' gesture.

    A good gesture speaks louder than words, which is why the words accompanying a gesture shouldn't be too loud. Talk softly after swinging that big stick. This may be hard to believe in this era of touchdown dances and missions accomplished. But when in doubt, let the gesture do the big talking.

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    Reader Comments (2)

    I couldn't agree more. In fact, I think the whole thing (9/11, terrorists, terrorism) should have been treated as a criminal matter. What changes murder to terrorism? Our perception of it. The perpetrator(s) can intend it to be terrorism, but they can only terrorize us if we let them, if we consent to be terrorized.
    Extradite & prosecute so-called terrorists like street criminals. Now there's a gesture. We don't think you're special. You're just another thug.
    May 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterContent
    In which case, was the shooting of bin Laden illegal? As with any analogy, there's no perfect fit between terrorism and any other name for it.
    May 5, 2011 | Registered CommenterFigaro

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