In the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books John Yoo recounts the “embarrassingly biased statements [about George W. Bush] from some of the leading lights” of the history profession as he reviews Stephen F. Knott’s Rush to Judgment: George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and His Critics. Eric Foner, Joseph Ellis, Douglas Brinkley, and Gary Wills, among others, applied a double standard in evaluating use of executive power when analyzing President George W. Bush’s actions following the 9/11 attacks.
The abandonment of objective standards happens not only in the field of history but even in composition, as I learned while attending the 2011 annual meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication. Scholars presumably engaging in discussions about rhetoric resorted to ridicule. The mere mention of Glenn Beck’s name evoked peals of laughter.
But when it came to discussing the rhetoric of Barack Obama, praise replaced analysis. One presenter made a reverential reference to the “Fourth Locale” in “A More Perfect Union.” Dinesh D’Souza, in Obama’s America, however, claims the speech is an example of “skillful political deception”; it diverts attention from Obama’s long association with Reverend Jeremiah Wright with a misleading sermon on race relations. From Aristotle to Cicero, to Richard Weaver, the standard for political rhetoric has been not only a fluency with words, but adherence to the truth.
Sadly, the student who is assigned this, or any other Obama speech in a composition textbook, is not likely to get a scholarly appraisal. While co-writing the first Dissident Prof Guide Book, “A New Beginning,” or a Revised Past? President Barack Obama’s Cairo Speech, I realized that the historical errors in the Cairo speech are legion. But the Norton Reader perpetuates the errors in the footnotes and presents topic questions that allow students only the option of praising Obama.
The textbook follows the scholarship being done on the rhetoric of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The September 2011 issue of Rhetoric Review carries Jason Thompson’s article titled, “Magic for a People Trained in Pragmatism: Kenneth Burke, Mein Kampf, and the Early 9/11 Oratory of George W. Bush.” That same year, Rhetoric & Public Affairs published “One Dream: Barack Obama, Race, and the American Dream.” Robert C. Rowland and John M. Jones conclude that Obama “did more than read a teleprompter; he read the feelings of millions of his fellow citizens and pointed them toward a better future, a more perfect union.”
These are the assessments students will get from most professors as we gear into full-throttle election season.