The Oratory of John McCain
This chapter posits that John McCain provides an interesting case for the study of oratory and rhetoric. Having served in the US Senate since 1987 and twice running for President, he is one of the most recognisable figures in modern American politics. McCain and his chief speechwriter Mark Salter have written six books together, and McCain is said to be one of the most quotable people in politics today. McCain’s appeal to voters and the media is in part due to his compelling biographical story. McCain’s military experience and the military experience of his family have frequently led him to adopt a rhetorical strategy that emphasises personal character, such as honour, integrity, and sacrifice.
This chapter also posits that this strategy provides a rhetorical advantage only under certain political contexts and only with certain audiences. Moreover, this strategy lends itself to the mode of persuasion based on the person’s character and credibility (ethos), but often at the expense of other modes of persuasive appeals (i.e., pathos and logos). Furthermore, McCain’s persona as a ‘maverick’ willing to go against his own party also ties into a rhetorical strategy that emphasises character and credibility, rather than on emotional appeals (pathos) or logical appeals (logos). In the pre-9/11 context of the 2000 GOP presidential primary, McCain’s persona as war hero was less valuable in garnering ethos. In addition, the Republican base was less sympathetic to a candidate who boasted about his record of crossing party lines.
By 2008, the Republican Party was more receptive to McCain and rhetoric, in part because of the credibility his military experience provided, and in part because of McCain’s support for the Bush administration and the Iraq war. However, this chapter posits that declining public support for the Iraq war and the severe economic downturn in 2008 made the war hero and maverick rhetorical strategies less effective in persuading a wider audience in a general election.
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