Sunday, November 4, 2012

"The Party of No"?: Considering the Contemporary Manifestations of Raum and Measel's "Monolithic Opposition"

Over the course of the semester, we've learned of countless specific polarizing rhetorical techniques.  In order to contextualize their often technical definitions in the academic pieces we read, it seems necessary to consider their manifestations in the contemporary political climate.  Monolithic opposition, as described in Raum and Measell’s study, is the way in which an entity perceives or attempts to portray an oppositional force itself, rather particular elements of its ideas as unequivocally and consistently unreasonable.  As a rhetorical strategy of subversion, it derives its effectiveness from other polarizing tactics that work to establish the perception of a clearly defined battle in a political debate.  In presenting the interactions of his or her political party with another as militaristic, a politician tends to use motive disparagement (presenting the opposition’s motivations as despicable), and artificial dichotomy (portraying debate as having only two distinct positions).  These various tactics work in concert to present the same war-like picture and begin to create a frame of reality wherein the idea of a monolithic opposition is a natural extension of logic.    

Fortunately for the civility of our public discourse, the war-like depiction of domestic political debate is not holly embraced by American society.  Though there are certainly extremities of each party and particular debates that that take on militaristic qualities, the public still seems interested in bipartisanship, (consider the way in which politicians use it as a selling point for congressional legislation).  Simply put, it seems unlikely mainstream Democratic or Republican forces could consistently delegitimize the motives of the opposing party (as Raum and Measell showed George Wallace doing).  Doing so in today’s political culture,  much of the public might say, would “undermine the spirit of bipartisanship” and would likely turn off a large portion of even the supporting demographic.

Consider, the ways in which members of our unpopular Congress attempt (at least at a rhetorical level) to transcend the monolithic opposition ideology.  One such example can be found in this video.  On the House floor Robert Dold of Illinois touts the “bipartisanship” of a bill he was involved in introducing.  Exhibiting the same embrace of bipartisanship, Nancy Pelosi endorses work across party lines despite admitting her dedication to the Democratic party in this video.

Still, there are plenty of examples of politicians and entire parties implying the monolithic unreasonableness of the opposing party.  This video, for example demonstrates one democrat, in diatribe form, using motive disparagement to delegitimize the opposing ideology. In his extremity the congressman implies a belief in the monolithic nature of Republican opposition.

Raum and Measell use the term monolithic opposition to describe the way a polarized entity percieves its opposition as completely and consistently illegitimate.  In my attempts to gather more information, I discovered there are few web references to Raum and Measell’s term.  In a CNN video interview recently, however, Obama strategist David Axelrod, in response to Republican opposition of Obama policy, asserted that “the nature of Washington is not monolithic opposition [as a political strategy] to everything that the chief executive wants to do.”  Though Axelrod’s use of the term differs from Raum and Measell’s (and admittedly was likely not an academic referenc), his comment present an opportunity to analyze the way in which the distinct interpretations of the same two words are related.  Logically speaking, an entitsy perceiving an oppositional force as monolithic in its unreasonableness (Raum and Measell interpretation) would inevitably lead that entity to monolithically oppose any ideas from its challenger (Axelrod interpretation).  Axelrod’s condemnation of Republican “monolithic opposition” as a “political strategy” (not as a natural extension of their feelings about President Obama), however, might inhibit the possibility of the two interpretations being implicit to one another.  Axelrod seems to be suggesting that, in the contemporary political climate, Republicans are monolithically opposing their challengers without making the partisan and delegitimizing assertion (or even believing) that their opposition has despicable motives.  Instead, monolithic opposition, today, might be artificial, and more political strategy rather than rhetorical technique. The Time article “The Party of No” corroborates Axelrod’s perceptions about monolithic opposition in the contemporary mainstream political climate.  It speaks about the concerted effort of Republicans to hinder President Obama’s efforts as commander in chief.  This video compilation from the Democratic National Convention dramatically portrays the Republican party as the “party of no”.

I find it necessary to, as I did in my previous post, make an attempt to demonstrate a certain level of impartiality.  The preceding comments admittedly show Republicans in a poor light as compared to Democrats.  I would attribute this inconsistency in portrayal, at least in part, to the respective minority and majority rules Republicans and Democrats have played during the course of the last four years (with President Obama in the White House and a majority in at least one house of Congress).  Previous to 2008 there may have been similar examples wherein the two parties assumed opposite roles.  In the interest of scope, I opted to limit my analysis, however, to the political environment Axelrod was referring to in his 2012 comment about Republican “monolithic opposition”.  

Other Sources Referenced:

“Wallace and His Ways:  A Study of the Rhetorical Genre of Polarization” - Raum and Measell

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