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Archive for the ‘Legal Rhetoric’ Category

The latest incident of a politician calling a rhetorical gaffe a simple case of “I misspoke” is Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, whose comments about “legitimate rape” have erupted into a national firestorm.

I’ve never quite understand what it means to “misspeak”; the term reminds me a bit of Richard Nixon’s press secretary declaring certain presidential statements “inoperative.” Huh? As Time magazine headlined ironically a t the time, “they misspoke themselves.” Whatever that means.

Akin certainly “misspoke himself.” Setting aside the moral debate, the rhetorical one is pretty clear: Saying there are “legitimate” rapes necessarily suggests there are “illegitimate ones.”

And in his apology he ignored this central matter, instead saying he “used the wrong words in the wrong way.” There is, in fact, nothing confusing about his original statement. As everyone from Mitt Romney to Rush Limbaugh has now said, it was just ignorant (or worse).

As the Democrats scurry to tie Akin to the presidential ticket, their clearest path seems to lead to Paul Ryan, who cosponsored abortion related legislation with Akin. And, once again, odd rhetorical formulations are the key. The Ryan “personhood” legislation included restrictions on abortions in cases of rape, creating a new legal category: “forcible” rape. I didn’t realize there was any other kind; as with Akin’s “legitimate” comments, the recognition–in an explicit legal context–of “forcible” rapes necessarily means there is a category of “unforcible” rapes.

Wouldn’t it not then be a rape? Ultimately voters will have to decide what’s going on here. Be prepared for some highly charged rhetorical assaults. And more misspeaking.

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Here’s the link to my op-ed column today in the Greensboro, North Carolina News and Record  N&R Op-Ed on Chief Justice John Roberts’ crucial vote on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). With many on the Right howling about Roberts betraying the conservative cause, I thought it important to point out to my fellow swing-state voters here in the Tar Heel state that properly understood, conservatism — and especially legal conservatism — has always rejected the concept of party lines and ideological “correctness.” Discussing Roberts’ ACA vote with a former law professor of mine who has strong ties to the legal conservative movement, I was reminded that some of Roberts’ prior votes have indeed reflected typical conservative party-line thinking. But that, to my mind, is the point — and value — of his ACA vote. It shows the Chief Justice as intellectually inclined to judge each case on the merits and within its own context. The modern conservative movement, as represented by thinkers like William F. Buckley Jr., Russell Kirk, Irving Kristol, and even Ayn Rand, were adamantly opposed to ideology as a concept. They viewed it as a limiting, almost inhumane philosophical mindset that had much more in common with totalitarian, single party rule politics than with the deliberative democracy of the Anglo-American tradition. (Something Edmund Burke was writing a couple of  hundred years ago regarding the revolution in France.) This shared conservative tradition is rooted in the principles of rhetoric, debate, and the exchange of ideas which formed the foundation of the ancient Greek and Roman democracies from which our culture emerged.

The reflective, creative, deliberative conservatism that Roberts represents is dwindling. As Judge Richard Posner — a powerful force in the conservative legal community — recently told NPR, “these conservatives who are blasting Roberts are making a very serious mistake.”

I thoroughly concur.

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