January 12th, 2008

ozarque figure

Linguistics; political language; "emotional moments" as strategy...

I've been listening to the tv anchors and pundits discussing Hillary Rodham Clinton's very public "emotional moment" on the day of the New Hampshire primary -- the moment that many of them claim is largely responsible for her having won that primary. And one thread in that discussion has really caught my attention.

Let me say first of all that I have no idea whether the incident, during which Clinton looked and sounded as if she were on the verge of tears, was a deliberate strategy or -- in the words of the anchors and pundits -- totally "genuine." What gets my attention is this: Those same anchors and pundits make it very clear that in their opinion it would be in some way wrong -- immoral -- if that emotional moment was a deliberate strategy rather than "genuine."

I can tell you without hesitation that if I had been in Clinton's position -- way behind in the polls, criticized as being too "cold" and too "wooden," with the anchors and pundits (hereafter the A&Ps) warbling on endlessly about how I was going to lose by "double digits," I would have sat down with my best strategists and speechwriters and advisers and said this:

"What I need today is a well-crafted believable emotional moment that will make the voters perceive me as One Of Them, and as someone who's being unjustly picked on and deserves their support. Let's work out a good set of possible scenarios and lines for making that happen." I would have done that no matter what my gender might have been. And in a situation like Clinton's -- where there were more female voters than male voters -- I would have added an instruction that those scenarios and lines should be slanted a bit more toward women.

No one among the A&Ps has suggested that it's immoral for John McCain, when he is so furious that he could bite nails in half, to stand or sit there in front of the cameras and behave as if he's perfectly comfortable and serene about the things being said to him or about him. Any candidate who can behave as if he or she is calm while actually having an emotional moment of blind rage is admired for not losing his or her temper. That behavior -- faking an emotional state of serenity -- is considered to be an acceptable strategy of political rhetoric. No one has suggested that it's immoral for Rudy Giuliani, while being grilled mercilessly about his personal pecadillos by the A&Ps, to just keep smiling and laughing as if he were delighted by the line of questioning. That behavior -- faking an emotional state of amused tolerance -- is considered to be an acceptable strategy of political rhetoric.

But skillfully faking an emotional state of distress and dismay? That's immoral?