Lessons in Rhetoric

Rhetoric is Salesmanship

Nobody needs a new opinion. We have plenty of our own, and we’re very comfortable with them, thank you. They express our personalities and fulfill essential functions every bit as much as our trusty used cars do. But we can be made to want new cars if we are shown shiny new models that make our own seem out of date, unsophisticated, or maybe even dangerous. Writers use the same techniques employed by new car sellers because rhetoric is salesmanship.

Proper Preparation

An argument cannot be won in the Introduction, but it can be lost. The best introductions do what one of the four below accomplishes: they provide useful information or illustrations completely relevant to the argument of the essay. At their very best, they can be read together with the conclusion as a two-paragraph summary of the main ideas of the entire work.

Fear of Flying. (Four Openings)

(Version 1) Airplane travel is a necessity for people wanting to cover large distances as efficiently as possible. It’s still the best way to get from one end of the country to the other, at least until we build Star Trek teleporters to “beam ourselves” to La La Land. But for medium distances, such as from Philadelphia to Cleveland, the calculation is more difficult. We can make the drive in about eight hours while the flight takes just two hours and a half. But that doesn’t make it quicker. Once we factor in the time it takes to get to the Philadelphia airport, the two hours we spend there, the actual flight time, and the trouble of getting from the Cleveland airport to our final destination, we might as well drive. At least nobody will drag us screaming from our car.

(Version 2) The first scheduled commercial airline flight was on January 1, 1914 on the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. The 23-minute flight of a wood and muslin biplane flew between St. Petersburg and Tampa some 50 feet above Tampa Bay with one passenger, the former mayor of St. Petersburg, who paid $400 for the privilege of sitting on a wooden bench in the open cockpit. The Airboat line operated for about four months, carrying more than 1,200 passengers who paid $5 each. A lot has changed in airline travel since then.

(Version 3) Flying was once an adventure, as close to a magic carpet ride as any of us would ever experience. But over the years, it has become as thrilling as a two-transfer bus ride. We wait in endless lines for the chance to strip out of our coats and shoes and belts, to be patted down like suspects, X-rayed like cancer patients, interrogated, insulted and finally separated by class as we finally board. And it can get worse from there.

(Version 4) Recently a reporter scammed United Airlines by faking a psychological illness so he could fly with his “therapy pig.” A counseling center wrote him a letter prescribing the pig as the “primary treatment” for his “psychological disorder,” and the airlines complied by permitting the pig to fly on the reporter’s lap. Not only was Sally the pig welcomed, she became so popular with the flight crew that the reporter had to wait to deplane while they took selfies with Sally for social media. Compare that to the treatment received by a human passenger this weekend.

Body Copy

On Sunday, security officials at Chicago’s O’Hare airport literally dragged a passenger off a United flight because the airline needed seats for its staff. United’s CEO declined to apologize for the manhandling of the passenger, a doctor who was bleeding from the mouth in the videos, instead calling him “disruptive and belligerent” for objecting to his removal.

Brutalizing customers is now standard airline operating procedure. The industry rakes in billions in profits while squeezing seats in coach ever closer together and charging checked-bag fees. We’re now invited to pay extra for early boarding, more legroom, and even the right to stash bags in overhead bins.

Airline executives know that no matter how they abuse their passengers, their bottom lines are secure. Four large airlines command nearly 69 percent of the domestic air-travel market, but in most markets fliers have at most two options for carriers to any given destination. United and American Airlines serve nearly 80 percent of passengers at O’Hare.

Lax oversight by antitrust officials permitted a series of megamergers between airlines like American and US Airways; United and Continental; and Delta and Northwest. The result is near monopoly in most markets. Even a tepid proposal to require airlines to disclose extra fees for things like baggage can’t get passed. As long as big airlines can avoid competition, and government watchdogs sleep on the job, United and every other airline will continue to treat passengers like cargo.


Form a small team and decide together which of these four introductions best fit the following descriptions:

  • Provides an attractive anecdote about air travel, but distracts readers by focusing on passenger behavior instead of airline behavior. (1, 2, 3, or 4?)
  • Provides an excellent introduction by detailing the steady decline of passenger comfort that culminates in the overt abuse of the doctor in the essay.  (1, 2, 3, or 4?)
  • Distracts readers with irrelevant details of the history of air travel that bear no relationship to the facts of the specific case at hand.  (1, 2, 3, or 4?)
  • Tries but fails to create a relevant comparison between the inefficiency of air travel and the mishandling of passengers by the airline industry.  (1, 2, 3, or 4?)

Don’t Make Enemies

The quickest way to lose an argument is to put readers on the defensive. .

“Those Same Liberals”

This mythical group is referred to by conservative writers who wish to belittle their opponents by exposing their so-called hypocrisy. When a conservative hero or political position is opposed for any perceived failing, conservative apologists don’t bother to defend the hero or position; instead, they attack the accusers for accepting similar failings in their own heroes or positions.

“Those Same Conservatives”

To be clear, both sides play this same game. “Those Same Conservatives” are just as mythical, and just as often conjured by thoughtless liberal commenters.

Here’s an example about cheating politicians.

Liberals never cease to amaze me with their gutter attacks on everything moral and good in society. The Washington Post and other vile leftists are now attacking Vice President Mike Pence for being too loyal to his wife. Pence has a rule that he doesn’t dine with another woman alone if his wife isn’t present. Instead of praising this man for honoring God, his marriage, and his children, the left is attacking him. It’s disgusting to realize that the same liberals who are bashing Mike Pence for his conservative values praise men like JFK and Bill Clinton who cheated on their wives while they were President. They also praise men who cut off their genitals and wear make-up and dresses. Let that sink in.

And an example about charter schools.

The same liberals who are going ape about the nomination of newly-appointed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are the same liberals who were silent about confirming a far more controversial Rex Tillerson because, while she is far more mainstream and in touch with Americans than they are on education policy, liberals are afraid that if they lose their grip on the minds of American children and the billions taxpayers are forced to pay for an education system that does not serve us, their party and political coalition are in serious trouble.

And one about defense spending.

We note that those who seek to disarm citizens in their homes are the same liberals who tried to disarm our Nation during the Cold War and are today seeking to cut our national defense below safe levels.

And one about anti-semitism.

Democratic politicians and liberal groups who pushed the narrative that candidate Trump’s insensitivity to ethnic minorities unleashed a series of bombings of Jewish Community Centers should apologize now that they’ve been shown to be wrong. That won’t happen, because the same liberals who were so heavily invested in blaming Trump are already falling back to the position that even if the president didn’t inspire those who committed these crimes, his conduct was still reprehensible and might have incited somebody to do something bad somewhere.

And one that identifies another mythical group.

Feminists have long denounced marriage as slavery and have done everything possible to destroy the insoluble bond of matrimony through free love, contraception, and divorce. But those same feminists who condemn marriage for heterosexuals are enthusiastic supporters of marriage — when it applies to same-sex unions. They proclaim their freedom to define marriage yet bring down the force of law to support the “right” to same-sex “marriage” through a license, flowers, photos, banquet hall, lodging, or wedding cake.


Choose and search your own mythical group.
Nobody is off limits. Sloppy arguments are written all the time about “the same students who” this or that; “the same parents who” this or that, and so on.

  • Pick any group you like and do a google search for:

“the same ______________s who”

  • Use quotation marks to narrow the search.
  • Report your results to the class.

Playing to Prejudice

This tactic of ascribing particular opinions to every member of another group is convincing only to readers who are comfortable with stereotype and prejudice. It’s deceitful, entirely unfair regardless of who deploys it, and valuable only to the choir. Any thoughtful reader sees through the fallacy. But it can be used to rouse the rabble.

Playing to Truth

Of course, we have higher ethical standards than scoring propaganda points. As academic writers devoted to a more nuanced truth, we recognize that our “opponents” in argument are capable of discriminating thinking. We don’t address them directly, accuse them of holding any particular belief, or pretend to be able to speak for them.

We respect them by leaving their personalities out of the argument. We spend our energy on ideas and facts, on ethical and logical judgments, on proposals for change that appeal to good people from all “sides” of the political spectrum.

Remove People from the Equation

TOO PERSONAL: Rat-huggers who value animal comfort more than they want to cure diseases in humans have been screeching for years against animal research. Using expensive media campaigns and over-the-top publicity stunts, they send a biased and negative message about the role and value of animal studies for medical research. The same people who cry over the discomfort rabbits experience in humane experiments are the heartless rabble-rousers who condone violence against researchers seeking a cure for human cancer. In their extreme world view, no use of animals—for food, entertainment, or research—is morally acceptable. They are either brainwashed or deliberate contrarians who confuse animal welfare with animal rights. Their disruptions threaten the humane and well-regulated animal studies that contribute to breakthroughs in medicine absolutely necessary for progress against dreaded diseases.

PEOPLE REMOVED. Animal research is not universally accepted. Understandably, the discomfort rabbits experience in service to medical research are the regrettable but unavoidable cost of curing the diseases that scourge humanity. No publicity stunts or exploitative media manipulation can obscure the obvious benefits of animal testing that simply cannot be achieved by alternative research methods. Even more obviously, threatening the lives of the researchers is hypocritical and counterproductive. As long as our cultures raise animals for human consumption, we are acknowledging the service role animals naturally perform for our benefit. No one in the medical community advocates cruelty to any animal; everything is done to minimize the suffering of lab subjects in the service of essential research to end the scourge of disease.

Focus on an Individual

FOCUSED APPROACH. In an unsigned post on the PETA website, the animal rights organization makes several extremely provocative claims that would be truly disturbing if they were true. “U.S. law allows animals to be burned, shocked, poisoned, isolated, starved, drowned, addicted to drugs, and brain-damaged. No experiment, no matter how painful or trivial, is prohibited—and pain-killers are not required.” The intended effect of this screed is to make us imagine ourselves burned, shocked, and poisoned. We are meant to imagine ourselves in a lab without the protection of law. But the truth is, U.S. law doesn’t outlaw painful experiments on human beings either. Technically, U.S. law “allows” anything it doesn’t specifically prohibit, and no federal law specifically addresses the treatment of animals in medical laboratories. While PETA’s claim pretends that US law condones inhumane treatment, in truth it leaves the regulation of animal use to the states, which have adopted very stringent restrictions.


Revise the following paragraph to remove people or to focus on an individual.

2 Responses to Lessons in Rhetoric

  1. romanhsantiago says:

    Must try something first to feel pathos
    Use illustration that is very relevant and contributes to the argument I am about to make
    Try to not use terms that might offend people that have different points of views “let readers be on the right side with you”

  2. nickalodeansallthat says:

    The lecture does a good job of getting the point across and is overall very good

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