By Marianne M. Jennings
James Baker quoted the dissenting opinion of the Florida Supreme Court's 4-3 decision tossing Florida's election laws to indigenous hurricane winds, to wit, "... this counting contest propels this country and this state into an unprecedented and unnecessary constitutional crisis." The media denounced his "strong rhetoric." Rep. Tom DeLay called the decision an act of "judicial aggression." Rep. Dick Gephardt and Sen. Trent Lott both suggested "toning down the rhetoric."
Let's not bury rhetoric. Pull out all the stops and let it rip: "Dagnabbit, only hard liquor out of the stills of West Virginia or weed out of medically approved smokin' Los Angeles can get the burrs out of the behinds of these hayseed judges."
Vox populi aside, rhetoric is not evil. Historical ignorance has perpetuated the urban legend that rhetoric originated with Gingrich Republicans. One of my favorite forms of hate mail comes from readers who fret that my opinions are "so strong." Prissies. I've tried milquetoast opinions; they felt unnatural.
We didn't begin, fight or win the Revolutionary War without strong opinions clothed in rhetoric: "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God!... Give me liberty or give me death." Network anchors would report, "Patrick Henry lashed out at Loyalists today!" Pundits would clarify, "Living under a king who taxes is hardly chains and slavery." Wimps!
Freedom of speech doesn't have a footnote on rhetoric for it is the motivational capital of opposing views in democracy. Everett Dirksen said words are a politician's weapons. Rhetoric is a release valve for passionate disagreement. We conservatives have used words in lieu of Prozac lo these long Clinton years. Ad hominem, sarcasm and invective are traditions in our public dialogue.
The Declaration of Independence accused George III of hiring "foreign Mercenaries" for "Works of Death, Desolation and Tyranny." Not as cordial as kings expect. The Gettysburg Address hardly appeased the South with the line on "increased devotion... that these dead shall not have died in vain." Franklin Roosevelt said of the business community in 1932, "The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization."
Harry "Give 'em hell" Truman had rhetoric aplenty in his 1948 campaign, "When a bunch of Republican reactionaries are in control of the Congress, then people get reactionary laws." Harold Ickes resigned from Truman's Cabinet when Truman selected a friend for Navy undersecretary saying, "I am against government by crony."
"The President has counseled his aides to commit perjury, willfully disregarded the secrecy of the grand jury, while publicly displaying his cooperation with the processes of criminal justice," was not Republican rhetoric during the Clinton administration but Rep. Barbara Jordan's statement during the Nixon impeachment.
Interestingly, rhetorical tolerance vacillates across ideological lines. Camille Cosby's op-ed piece for USA Today following her son's senseless murder along an L.A. freeway was titled "America Taught My Son's Killers to Hate Blacks" and complained of "America's intolerable, stereotypical movies and television programs about blacks." As in "The Cosby Show"? She condemned the racism in pictures of slave owners such as Washington and Jackson on our currency. Mrs. Cosby's shallow rhetoric was praised despite its lack of factual grounding. Children in public schools couldn't tell you who Andrew Jackson was, let alone that he owned slaves. Ten bucks says they couldn't tell you whose picture is on a 20.
Paul Begala's analysis of the states Bush won was a rhetorical doozy: Texas, where James Byrd was killed, Wyoming, where Matthew Shepard was tortured and left to die, and Oklahoma, where innocents were slaughtered in a bombing. His MSNBC buddies, shocked at James Baker, had no rhetorical condemnation for him.
This silly left-wing rhetoric is not troublesome. False or misleading rhetoric is dangerous only when unleashed upon the ill-informed. Truth in rhetoric is its passion, its efficacy. False rhetoric falls easily.
"Counting all the votes" (please wince here) means counting ballots of fools who couldn't work a punch card or who wasted their votes, as many do in Florida, writing in "Mickey Mouse."
This past week's liberal talking points emphasize the U.S. Supreme Court's narrow 5-4 vote for reversing and remanding the Gore litigation bonanza and vote trolling spree. Some truth: The abortion cases since Roe v. Wade, including last year's partial birth abortion right, are all 5-4 and held inviolate by those who now condemn partisan votes.
Remember the rhetoric of the "illegal butterfly ballot" of Palm Beach that "denied the vote to survivors of the Holocaust"? Even the renegade Florida Supreme Court held the ballot was legal and the problem was inept voters, whatever their faith.
Pericles had it right - the pomp is not in the words but the truth of facts. Truth trumps. Let rhetoric ring. In fact, give me rhetoric or give me death.