In a rare press conference yesterday, Obama did exactly what Figaro urges persuaders to do: define the terms favorably.
He’s trying to gain an advantage in negotiations over increasing the debt limit—the authority Congress gives the president for paying the nation’s bills. In the past decade, Congress has controlled the terms, calling the debt limit increase a “check,” as if they’re authorizing new bills. This time around, Obama turned the check into a bill.
Here’s how Aaron Blake put it in The Washington Post:
Rather than argue over whether the debt ceiling should be raised to authorize more borrowing, Obama is instead arguing that Congress is voting simply to pay the bills that it has already racked up — a semantic difference, perhaps, but a very important one at the same time. In effect, Obama is trying to shift the burden of failure to Republicans in much the same way he did during the fiscal cliff debate.
Aaron, every definition strategy entails semantic differences. Semantics make the rhetorical world go round.