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Understanding the Obama Rhetoric

19 Mar

While thinking about President Obama’s 2008 campaign promises and what he’s failed to do over the last year, and then thinking about all of this talk on “health care reform,” it sparked a memory from my Communication Theory class at the University of Utah.  Ernest Bormann’s Symbolic Convergence Theory, which focuses on what Bormann calls Fantasy Theme Analysis, can be used to see right through President Obama’s health care reform message and every other piece of ideologically driven policy that he has presented.  Em Griffin, a noted Comm Scholar, while discussing this theory in his book says:

Sharing common fantasies transforms a collection of individuals into a cohesive group. Symbolic convergence occurs when group members spontaneously create fantasy chains that display an energized, unified response to common themes. A fantasy theme analysis across groups can reveal a rhetorical vision that contains motives to enact the joint fantasy. (Rhetorical and socio-psychological traditions)

To explain why this theory is legit, Griffin continues:

Bormann’s theory has roots in both the scientific and rhetorical traditions.
Bormann maintains that the sharing of group fantasies creates symbolic convergence.
During symbolic convergence, fantasy chain reactions build community or group consciousness and transform a collection of individuals into a group.
Fantasy themes voiced across many groups create a shared social reality, labeled a rhetorical vision.

Okay, so let’s take this one step at a time.  A small thought of “Hope and Change,” with a catalyst of “Yes We Can” was all that was needed to propel Barry O into the White House.  The fantasy of Hope and Change transformed a collection of voters into a cohesive group of supporters.  Got that?  When an energized, unified response (Yes We Can) to a common theme (Hope and Change) was created, a symbolic convergence happened for all Obama supporters – they could be the means of bringing change to the country and the agent for change was Barry Sotoro Barack Obama.

Another useful tool is looking at how President Obama frames his issues.  When framing as issue there are three levels:

Level 1: expression of overarching values, i.e. fairness, responsibility, equity, equality
Level 2: general issue being addressed
Level 3: details re. policy, tactics

Level 1 is the most important because it is the most difficult to change!  During the 2008 campaign, the level 1 expression was “Hope and Change.”  Once this fantasy theme started to snowball, “[various groups] spontaneously create[d] fantasy chains that display[ed] an energized, unified response to [a] common theme,” Hope and Change.  Now, Obama is trying to do the same thing with health care reform but he doesn’t have a catchy phrase so he needs to use overarching values – “everyone will be covered;” “costs will be held down;” “we will control the eeeeeevil insurance companies;” etc.

When you can see through the rhetoric and understand how he uses it, his message falls apart and doesn’t hold any water.  The problem is that many in congress are actually giving in to this empty suit, while a majority of the average American citizenry, has gotten wise to the man behind the curtain.

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