The first day of the Democratic National Convention was a pleasure for fans of rhetoric to watch. Many of the presentations were emotionally powerful and delivered superbly. (The terms that you’ll see in parentheses are Aristotle’s concepts of effective persuasion: ethos, or credibility; pathos, or emotional engagement; and logos, or logic. See our previous posts for more about these concepts.) Note how many of these hit some of the arguments that we listed in our previous post. Speeches worth noting:
1. Tammy Duckworth, the Democratic Illinois congressional candidate and a veteran who lost both her legs in the Iraq war, delivered a speech that even conservative pundits have applauded. She was credible (ethos), emotionally engaging (pathos), and by her very presence revived criticism that has been made of Romney for not mentioning the war in Afghanistan during his convention speech. In the words of GOP politico Ellen Carmichael, “Heroism knows no party!”
2. Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, was a powerhouse of logic (logos), asking how the Republicans dare talk about freedom while at the same time denying women the right to make fundamental choices about their health and their lives.
3. Kathleen Sebelius demonstrated strong ethos because of her calm, reasonable, elegant tone. You are more believable if you can keep your cool.
4. Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts, was strong and confident. His credibility comes from his inside knowledge of following Romney as governor. His indictment: “Mitt Romney talks a lot about all the things he’s fixed. I can tell you that Massachusetts was not one of them. He’s a fine fellow and a great salesman, but as governor he was more interested in having the job than doing it.” He offered a stirring challenge to his party: Grow a backbone!
5. Stacey Lihn, the mother of a very sick child, offered a short, powerful speech packed with emotion to put a face on Obama’s health care law. Her daughter, Zoe, was born with a heart defect and is facing her third open-heart surgery this year. Under the old system, she will hit her lifetime cap on insurance soon and her family will not be able to afford the care she needs to survive. Said Lihn, “Governor Romney says people like me were the most excited about President Obama the day we voted for him. But that’s not true. Not even close. For me, there was the day the Affordable Care Act passed and I no longer had to worry about Zoe getting the care she needed.” When you’re talking about an emotional topic like your sick child, it is important not to overdo the delivery, or the audience will feel manipulated. Lihn got it just right, remaining composed even as her obvious connection to her theme came through.
6. Lilly Ledbetter, who inspired legislation on fair pay for women, offered conviction coupled with a strong down-home delivery. She argued her case like a pro trial lawyer. Most memorable line: “[W]omen still earn just 77 cents for every dollar men make. Those pennies add up to real money. . . .Maybe 23 cents doesn’t sound like a lot to someone with a Swiss bank account, Cayman Island Investments and an IRA worth tens of millions of dollars. But Governor Romney, when we lose 23 cents every hour, every day, every paycheck, every job, over our entire lives, what we lose can’t just be measured in dollars.” This is great writing—bringing statistics to life.
7. San Antonio mayor Julian Castro offered a forceful, animated delivery and some sharp writing. His theme of community over self-interested individualism served as a sharp contrast to the Republicans’ themes last week (“Of all the fictions we heard last week in Tampa, the one I find most troubling is this: If we all just go our own way, our nation will be stronger for it.”). He contrasted his early struggles with Romney’s, offering this observation: “Mitt Romney, quite simply, doesn’t get it. A few months ago he visited a university in Ohio and gave the students there a little entrepreneurial advice. “Start a business,” he said. But how? “Borrow money if you have to from your parents,” he told them. Gee, why didn’t I think of that?” Another lovely turn of phrase: “In the end, the American dream is not a sprint, or even a marathon, but a relay.”
Unquestionably, though, the star of the evening was the First Lady, Michelle Obama. Her speech deserves its own post. You can read it here.