By now you’ve most likely seen Republican candidate Rick Perry’s most recent presidential 2012 campaign ad “Strong.” If you haven’t seen it or grown tired of it yet, here it is:
The ad has already inspired a number of parodies as well as criticism for what many perceive as a homophobic message. But little attention has been paid to its rhetorical moves—how the ad attempts to persuade its audience and make its argument. That’s where Religious Rhetorics comes in.
Some moves are more obvious than others. The war metaphor for instance. Perry depicts a war over religion in America between liberals and presumably conservatives, with liberals seeking to destroy the country’s historic faith. This sets the stage for Perry who, if elected president, will save the day from Obama, liberal of liberals, and defend America’s religious heritage.
But one rhetorical move is less obvious. It’s a move that has an archaic Greek name: ploche. Ploche is simply perfect verbal repetition and it occurs in this sentence:
But you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.
Ploche occurs here with the word “openly.” Ploche is a rhetorical means of bringing two separate phenomena together, linking them together and conceptually obscuring their differences.
Here Perry takes the adverb “openly” to modify the actions of gays in the military and children in public schools in order to argue that they are equal. Equality is a fundamental principle of America, therefore equal things ought to receive equal treatment. However, according to Perry, these two things are receiving unequal treatment. Gays can serve in the military, but kids can’t practice their religion, specifically Christianity, in public schools. America’s principle of equality has been violated.
But as stated before, ploche is a rhetorical means of conceptually obscuring the differences of unique phenomena. What if Perry’s ad said this instead?
There’s something wrong in this country when openly gay men and women can serve in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.
Note the difference. Now the first instance of “openly” modifies an adjective, “gay,” and the second instance modifies two verbs, “celebrate” and “pray.” In his ad, Perry obscures the differences between the two situations he compares. In the case of gays in the military, the issue was not whether lesbian, gay, and bisexual people could serve, as they were already serving, but whether they could serve in full disclosure of their sexual identities. In the case of children celebrating Christmas and praying in public schools, the issue is whether students are practicing certain religious acts in government-sponsored spaces that violate others’ first amendment rights, not whether students’ full disclosure of their religious identities risks their expulsion. Perry’s ad obscures these very real differences.
Please note that I’m not making any ultimate claims about the truth of Perry’s argument. I leave it to the reader to decide whether these are two comparable situations. But there’s no question that Perry makes a savvy political argument. An argument that’s not necessarily built on more knee-jerking homophobia.