Chapter 5. Arguments about ‘rhetoric’ in the 2008 US presidential election campaign

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Barack Obama’s prowess in the art of rhetoric, for which he had gained a national reputation with a stirring keynote speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, was much commented upon during the 2008 US presidential election campaign and became a stimulus for public debate on the necessity, value, and danger of rhetoric as a political-communicative practice. Extending work by Craig (1996, 1999, 2008; Craig & Tracy 2005) on normative concepts and arguments in ordinary metadiscourse (practically-oriented discourse about discourse), this paper presents an initial survey of arguments about rhetoric that appeared in public metadiscourse of the 2008 campaign. Issues that emerged in this debate engaged classic lines of argument between rhetorical and critical traditions of thought concerning the legitimacy of rhetoric, thus showing the continuing relevance of those traditions and their capacity to illuminate essential tensions in democratic public discourse.


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