are you making a point? or a mess?

by smb on November 6, 2008

Even though most of us in the United States are just about saturated with political coverage, today there was an exchange between Shep Smith of Fox News and Ralph Nader that’s worth a moment of reflection.

Whether or not you were a supporter (or detractor) of his third party run, in this clip I think Nader is making a significant, and classic, rhetorical mistake: his attachment to how he is making his point obscures what he is actually trying to say.

A litmus test of leadership is knowing how to assess the use and impact of language.

The use of culturally, and politically loaded phrases can be a calculated gamble.  When successfully deployed, they can create dramatic interest.  When used poorly they are insulting, distracting, and undermine your message.

The problem is, though, that  inflammatory declarations often masquerade a rhetorical flourish and it is way too easy to get caught up in your verbal dexterity and lose your own plot.  That is, what i think, happens to Nader in this clip.

Instead of making his larger point about corporate interest, poverty and highlighting his recommendations to the new administration – he gets sidelined by his use of a poorly selected phrase that attracts all the wrong kind of attention, and detracts from his message.

Clever is knowing when your language lifts your message, instead of burying your meaning.

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