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Rhetorically speaking…
Speechwriters Blog on Speechwriting

The DoubleSpeaker

What a phenomenally bad speech by Michael Martin.

He hadn’t done his homework. He looked and sounded like a man out of his depth. And he had the chutzpah to insult his audience with a, “Look - it’s not me, it’s you” argument.

I find it incredible that someone under such vicious fire should respond with such a weak defence.

Posted by Simon Lancaster on May 19th, 2009 :: Filed under Argument, Politics

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Maxim-um power

Maxims have a strong ring of authority built in. When they are used in speeches they tend to be accepted without challenge, no matter how wrong or fallacious their reasoning. The fact that they are maxims means they must be true.

Today, everyone is repeating the old Heseltine maxim that “he who wields the knife never wears the crown“. But doesn’t history prove that’s rubbish? Wasn’t it Brown who finished off Blair in the coup of September 2006? Wasn’t it Menzies Campbell who assassinated Kennedy? And wasn’t it Margaret Thatcher who stuck a dagger in Ted Heath’s back?

Perhaps a more suitable maxim for wannabe assassins might be “The killer takes it all…

Posted by Simon Lancaster on May 5th, 2009 :: Filed under Argument, Metaphor, Politics

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Introducing the rule of four…?

Rhetoricians often rave about the magical rule of three, known as tricolon. This is when soundbites are built up on three individual parts, eg “Education Education Education” or “I came, I saw, I conquered.” or “This, that and the other.” The effect produced is one of completeness and finality. It appears to wrap up an argument and close off alternatives.

But, in his speech to Birmingham Chamber of Commerce last Friday, David Cameron seemed to be toying with a new “rule of four”. The main rhetorical flourishes at both ends of the speech were in fours.

At the beginning: ”Orders are down. Sales have slumped. Import costs are rising. Credit has dried up.

Ar the end: “We’ll get through: stronger, better, richer and fairer.”

The main argument of the speech was also a four: ”Tackling debt. Rebalancing our economy. Getting people back into work. Regulating our economy properly. If we do all these things, we can confront - and will overcome - the fundamental weaknesses of our economy.

Both of these sections sound a bit peculiar to me. Slightly off-beat: like Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”, the bar goes on just slightly longer than expected.

One of the cardinal rules of using rhetoric is not to be caught using rhetoric. And the rule of three can sometimes sound a little tired and obvious, it has been devalued and diminished through over-use. By spurning this old rule, Cameron may be reinforcing this idea that he is a new kind of politician with a new kind of political language.

Posted by Simon Lancaster on March 16th, 2009 :: Filed under Politics, Soundbites
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Metaphorically speaking

The pre-briefing suggests that Brown will use his speech to  the Joint Houses of Congress to compare today’s economic struggles with the fight against Nazi-ism in the 1940s.

War metaphors are handy devices for embattled leaders. They rally audiences, invoke evocative memories and reduce critics to traitors.

This is not the first time Congress has witnessed a politician use this strategy.

In 1964, Lyndon B Johnson declared a “war on poverty”. In 1971, Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs”. In 1974, Gerald Ford declared a “war on inflation”. Nixon’s hyperbole was staggering. He said inflation threatened to “destroy our country, our homes, our liberties, our property and our national pride, as surely as any well armed wartime enemy.

Of course, it’s not just an American thing. Here we have had our wars against illiteracy, waste and crime. In fact, the only Department which doesn’t like to declare war is the MoD.

Posted by Simon Lancaster on March 5th, 2009 :: Filed under Politics

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