The Day Sara Came to Madison, or Analyzing Rhetoric

I spent a chunk of Friday night in prep for the counter rally. The planning Friday night operated with full cognizance that, aside from Sara Palin showing up, we really didn’t know what we were going to get. We knew a few hundred people were getting bussed in from all over. With Palin as the headliner, we expected a turnout of anywhere from 1-8k for the Tea Party Rally. We, on the other hand, also had only Sara Palin for our major draw, and were genuinely worried they’d outnumber us. We’ve swamped the Tea Party every other time they’ve shown up and in the wake of Prosser’s victory, did not want to break that streak. We hoped that between people being upset over the shenanigans in Waukesha county and it being the first weekend of the farmer’s market* we’d pull it off, but there was concern.

Last weekend was gorgeous. Sunny, warm, veritable spring time come to Wisconsin. Of course, yesterday’s weather sucked. It started cold and dreary, moved on to rainy, and right about the time people showed up, it started, I swear to god, snowing. Icy snow. Painful, miserable, thisshitwastotallyokayinFebruraybutWTFweather, snowing.  (Sunday was, of course, back to gorgeous. I think the Madison weather gods must hate the Tea Party)

The Tea Party took the King street corner of the capitol the way they have the other times they’ve been here. This time, though, they had a big screen and a much more impressive sound system. They also had temporary walls up along the sides of the path. I’m not sure what the purpose of those walls was, but it made it hard to see the stage from some angles. When I saw the setup, I congratulated us on not underestimating them. With that much infrastructure in place, they were expecting a big crowd, too.

It was the most pathetic display of under-performance I have ever seen. There were, if I’m being generous, 400 people with the Tea Party rally. Three hundred is probably the more accurate number. The Tea Party portion of the crowd didn’t fill up half the pathway from the stage out to the square. They used upa bout fifty square feet. The rest of that area, space to either side of it, the sidewalk around the square, and the parallel opposite side of the capitol (the corner with Lady Forward) were filled with counter-protesters How do I know this? The Tea Partiers brought their “Don’t Tread on Me” flags. They were big, noticeable, and vaguely impressive.** There was a line in the crowd where all of a sudden those were gone, and the people were carrying “Recall Walker” signs. I did a triple-take when I realized that the crowd gathered around the stage, eagerly waiting for Sara Palin to show up, consisted almost entirely of counter-protesters. Underestimating? Try mega-overestimating.

Palin’s speech was fascinating, though, and anybody interested in watching this going forward really, really ought to at least read the transcript. Even I overcame the fact that every time I hear her talk my uterus curls up in shame and embarrassment. I feel so strongly that you should read this speech, I’m going to go ahead and engage in some intellectual property theft and post it here, with breaks for my kibitzing.  (This post tagged for writing because this speech is great for the kind of rhetorical analysis writers should be interested in doing)

 Hello Madison, Wisconsin! You look good. I feel like I’m at home.

Don’t get comfortable. Our mosquitoes are almost as bad as yours and our pollen count is worse.

This is beautiful. Madison,

She keeps talking to ‘Madison’ throughout the speech. I find this weird since the only people from Madison there are at best rubbernecking and at worst hoping she’ll get frostbite. The people who like her are not from Madison and, as far as I could tell, none of them were even from Wisconsin. Thus begins the cognitive dissonance that plagues me throughout the entire speech.

I am proud to get to be with you today. Madison, these are the frontlines in the battle for the future of our country. This is where the line has been drawn in the sand. And I am proud to stand with you today in solidarity.

Splutter. Yes, she just said that. This is why you have to read this speech. It’s a masterful study in co-opting the enemy’s talking points. Do you remember when I rambled on about how letting the anti-bill protesters claim red as their color was a tactical mistake on Walker’s part? The rhetorical tricks in this speech are how you recover from that.

I am here today as a patriot, as a taxpayer, as a former union member, and as the wife of a union member. What I have to say today I say it to our good patriotic brothers and sisters who are in unions. I say this, too, proudly standing here as the daughter of a family full of school teachers. My parents, my grandparents, aunt, cousins, brother, sister – so many of these good folks are living on teachers’ pensions, having worked or are still working in education.

A pension is a promise that must be kept.

Now she’s stealing my lines. I’ve been ranting about this at least since Enron. Why do I get foamy about the Tea Party? Because they sound too much like me. Stop it!

 Now, your Governor Scott Walker understands this. He understands that states must be solvent in order to keep their promises. And that’s what he’s trying to do. He’s not trying to hurt union members. Hey, folks, he’s trying to save your jobs and your pensions! But unfortunately some of your union bosses don’t understand this, and they don’t care if union members have to be laid off. No, they want to protect their own power, and if that means forcing a governor to lay off union workers, then so be it; they’ve proven that that is fine with them.

Citation please. With the exception of the Milwaukee police union, all of the unions were willing to make concessions to avoid layoffs. Talk of layoffs was most prominent when Walker was using them as a stick to make the Fab 14 come home. We all remember the rolling “If this bill isn’t passed by x arbitrary deadline, I’m laying off gob tons of people,” threat, right? The one he never followed through on despite his claims that it would be forced on him by financial circumstances? Yeah, that’s the only time there’s been a potential for layoffs. There are lots of places where anti union-boss rhetoric would work great, because the basic concept behind what she’s saying is true there. Wisconsin is not one of those places. The unions here, not corrupt, and much smarter than GM’s union was.

But that’s not real solidarity! Real solidarity means coming together for the common good. This Tea Party movement is real solidarity!

See above point about co-opting the enemy’s rhetoric. When we’re done here, go back and count how many times she says “solidarity.” This is going to turn into another “Real America” thing where the only true solidarity is Tea Party solidarity. I know people with tattoos of Wisconsin with “Solidarity” over it who are not going to take that well.

Well, I am in Madison today because this is where real courage and real integrity can be found.

Well, thank you ma’am.

Courage is your governor and your legislators standing strong in the face of death threats and thug tactics. Courage is you all standing strong with them!

1) Remember what I said about death threats being hand jobs for the Republicans. This right here is the part where you get sticky.

2) Aw, Grothman must still be upset about getting hugged.

You saw the forces aligned against fiscal reform. You saw the obstruction and the destruction. You saw these violent rent-a-mobs trash your capital and vandalize businesses.

What? Cue cognitive dissonance. They still haven’t released numbers for how much damage was done to the capitol, because the numbers are tiny. The day after the occupation, we went back to clean everything up ourselves, and were told we couldn’t because they were going to hire professionals. We raised money to donate towards cleaning efforts to defray those costs. We never got a bill, and as far as I know (don’t quote me, I’m not 100% certain of this) their professionals were volunteers from the historical society. As far as vandalizing businesses, now she’s making up new lies.

Madison, you held your ground.

I hate to harp on a point, but she really must not know who she’s talking to. There might be ten people in Madison who support this bill. As we all know from listening to our fair governor, Madison is the whacked out unreasonable part of the state irrationally aligned against him. It’s the fois gras.

Your governor did the right thing. And you won.

Actually, nobody has won yet. The bill got passed, maybe, but there’s still a lawsuit pending to pick the winner.

Your beautiful state won. And you know what – people still have their jobs because of it! That’s courage. And that’s integrity. And that’s something that’s sorely missing in the Beltway today.

1) Her speech writer, who is otherwise fairly clever, should be ahsamed of missing the chance to do a Beltway/Beltline parallelism here. The missed opportunity pains my inner rhetorician a lot.

2) Oh, and there haven’t been layoffs because the fiscal crisis isn’t actually so dire we’re facing imminent layoffs, and nothing has happened. Which, you know, victory to my side.

Because let me tell you what isn’t courageous: It’s politicians promising the American voters that, as we drown in $14.5 trillion debt, that they’re going to cut $100 billion out of this year’s budget. But then they cave on that and they reduce it down to $61 billion after they get elected. Then they get in there and they strike a deal and decide, nah, they will reduce that down to $38 billion. And then after some politics-as-usual and accounting gimmicks, we find out it’s not $38 billion in cuts. You know that $38 billion – we don’t have it; we’re borrowing it. We borrow from foreign countries to give to foreign countries, and that’s insanity. We find out it’s not even $38 billion; it’s less than $1 billion in real cuts. Folks, that $352 million in real cuts – that’s no more than the federal government is going to spend in the time it takes us to hold this rally today! That is not courage; that’s capitulation!

This is the part of the speech that explains why she keeps addressing it to “Madison.” It also explains why it doesn’t matter that their rally was microscopic. This speech is for the national Tea Party and the Republicans courting them. When it’s over, they’ll have heard Sara Palin calling the House out for failing to shut down the government and be able to talk about how the dissent in Madison isn’t being represented in the media, but it’s big enough that it was worth Palin’s time to go speak to it.

Now, there’s a lesson here for the Beltway politicos, something they need to understand; the lesson comes from here in Madison. So, our lesson is to the GOP establishment first. And yeah, I’ll take on the GOP establishment. What more can they say about us, you know?

So, to the GOP establishment: if you stand on the platform, if you stand by your pledges, we will stand with you. We will fight with you, GOP. We have your back. Together we will win because America will win!

What is America winning? I’m confused.

We didn’t elect you just to re-arrange the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic.

Is anybody else thinking of Steven Colbert’s roast at the Correspondent’s dinner a few years back? It’s just me? Never mind, then.

We didn’t elect you to just stand back and watch Obama re-distribute those deck chairs. What we need is for you to stand up, GOP, and fight. Maybe I should ask some of the Badger women’s hockey team—those champions—maybe I should ask them if we should be suggesting to GOP leaders they need to learn how to fight like a girl!

Did you know my uterus can weep? I didn’t either.

And speaking of President Obama, I think we ought to pay tribute to him today at this Tax Day Tea Party because really he’s the inspiration for why we’re here today.

That’s right. The Tea Party Movement wouldn’t exist without Barack Obama.

So glad you’re willing to admit it, you racist hypocritical…oh, that’s not what she means. Keep reading.

You see, Candidate Obama didn’t have a record while he was in office; but President Obama certainly has a record, and that’s why we’re here. And hey, media, it’s not inciting violence and it’s not hateful rhetoric to call someone out on their record, so that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do it to be clear. That’s right: we’re here, we’re clear, get used to it!

I can’t parse the actual content of this paragraph at all. The rhetorical content is obvious. When she upgrades to a speech writer who won’t flub his parallelisms she’ll get one who can do both at once.

Also, rhyming here and clear?  Yuck.

Candidate Obama promised to be fiscally responsible. He promised to cut the deficit; but President Obama tripled it!

Candidate Obama promised that fiscal responsibility; but President Obama flushed a trillion dollars down the drain on a useless “stimulus” package and then he bragged about the jobs he “created” in congressional districts that don’t even exist! That’s right; on this, White House, you lie. The only thing that trillion-dollar travesty stimulated was a debt-crisis and a Tea Party!

Your timing is off. The first inklings of the Tea Party crept up after the Bush’s stimulus, then got going in full swing when Obama emerged as a front-runner. So his stimulus can’t have caused the Tea Party, what with it having been around before. That said, uhm, yeah, bailouts bad, stop agreeing with me.

Now, the left’s irresponsible and radical policies awakened a sleeping America so that we understood finally what it was that we were about to lose.

There was a lot of rhetoric at the Tea Party rally that made no sense to me, and it all had to do with this sleeping giant thing. I would say that organized leftists capable of staying focused and cooperative with each other for two whole months would be a wakened giant. I thought the Tea Party was the silent majority? Has there been a rhetorical shift in their branding that I missed?

We were about to lose the blessings of liberty and prosperity. They caused the working men and women of this country to get up off their sofas, to come down from the deer stand, get out of the duck blind, and hit the streets, come to the town halls, and finally to the ballot box. And Tea Party Americans won an electoral victory of historic proportions last November. We the people, we rose up and we decisively rejected the left’s big government agenda. We don’t want it. We can’t afford it. And we are unwilling to pay for it.

Turn out wasn’t particularly high overall. The Tea Party didn’t come out so much as the Dems stayed home. Something about them finally figuring out that Obama’s a shill.

But what was the president’s reaction to this mandate for fiscal sanity?

Less than 90 days after the election, in his State of the Union address, President Obama told us, nah, the era of big government is here to stay, and we’re going to pay for it whether we want to or not. Instead of reducing spending, they’re going to “Win The Future” by “investing” more of your hard-earned money in some cockamamie harebrained ideas like more solar shingles, more really fast trains – some things that venture capitalists will tell you are non-starters.

Bitch, do not get me started on my train. Also, did we watch the same State of the Union? I don’t remember solar shingles. I would agree that windmills would be a better investment, what with solar not yet paying for itself before degrading. Oh, and that speech actually did outline goals for cutting spending and paying down debt. Maybe you were in your duck-blind during those bits.

That said, “bullet train to bankruptcy” is a brilliant piece of rhetoric.  It’s catchy, and packs good imagery.

We’re flat broke, but he thinks these solar shingles and really fast trains will magically save us. So now he’s shouting “all aboard” his bullet train to bankruptcy. “Win The Future”? W.T.F. is about right.

Uhm, somebody give her speech writer the memo, she’s too old to say W.T.F. out loud and not look like a tool. And if she is going to use netspeak IRL, she needs to practice so it doesn’t sound awkward and forced.

I didn’t catch the Win the Future W.T.F. parallel until doing this in text.  That’s the sort of rhetoric that doesn’t work in a speech, but is nice on the page.  .5 points to the writer, for trying.

And when Wisconsin’s own Paul Ryan presented a plan for fiscal reform, what was Obama’s response? He demonized the voices of responsibility with class warfare and with fearmongering.

I kinda want to see Obama do some fear mongering. It would make me feel better about how irritated I get with him. Also, interesting point, both sides were dropping “class warfare” rhetoric yesterday. I suspect this has been part of the Tea Party toolbox for a while, though. Can anyone confirm?

And I say personally to our president: Hey, parent to parent, Barack Obama, for shame for you to suggest that the heart of the commonsense conservative movement would do anything to harm our esteemed elders, to harm our children with Down syndrome, to harm those most in need. No, see, in our book, you prioritize appropriately and those who need the help will get the help. The only way we do that is to be wise and prudent and to budget according to the right priorities.

I’m back to having no idea what she’s talking about.

Now, our president isn’t leading, he’s punting on this debt crisis. The only future Barack Obama is trying to win is his own re-election!

True dat. Maybe in order to win it he’ll finally close GITMO. Yeah, yeah, a girl can dream.

He’s willing to mortgage your children’s future to ensure his own. And that is not the audacity of hope. That’s cynicism!

And when the speech writer tries for topical parallelism this is what we get? Owie. I am not begging somebody to shoot him only to keep from violating my own admonitions about death threats and hand jobs

Piling more debt onto our children and grandchildren is not courage. No, that’s cowardice!

But did you notice when he gave that polarizing speech last week there was a little gem in the speech.

Awkward construction aside, rhetorical props for “that polarizing speech.” It could have been about kittens, and now it’s eeevil.

Maybe you missed it. But he spoke about the social contract and the “social compact.” Well, Mr. President, the most basic tenet in that social compact is adhering to the consent of the governed. That would be “We the People.” President Obama, you do not have our consent. You didn’t have it in November. And you certainly don’t have it now. You willfully ignored the will of the American people.

This was eerie. At the planning meeting the night before, as the resident rambler with a bead in the Tea Party psyche, I’d ranted about how they exist because they recognize the same problems, and we disagree because we have a fundamentally different understanding of the social contract.

You ignored it when you rammed through Obamacare.

Yeah, because taking a year to hand us a piece of shit that looks just like a Republican plan was totally ramming it through.

You ignored it when you drove up the debt to $14.5 trillion.

You ignored it when you misrepresented your deficit spending.

You ignored it when you proposed massive tax increases on the middle class and our job creators.

Letting idiotic tax cuts expire is not the same as raising taxes. Also, the people affected, not middle class, rich. Not filthy stinking rich, but rich. AKA, “upper class.”

You ignored is when you went to bat for government-funded abortions and yet you threw our brave men and women in uniform under the bus, Mr. Commander in Chief.

You ignored it when you got us into a third war for fuzzy and inconsistent reasons, a third war that we cannot afford.

1) He proposed government funded abortions? My hero! Can we mandate them next?

2) OMG, ROFLMAO, Iraq.

You ignore it when you apologize for America while you bow and kowtow to our enemies, and you snub our allies like Israel.

Can’t breathe, still laughing.

And you ignore when you manipulate the U.S. oil supply. You cut off oil development here and then you hypocritically praise foreign countries for their drilling.

And when hardworking families are hit with $4 and $5 a gallon gas and your skyrocketing energy and food prices as you set out to fundamentally transform America, you ignore our concerns and you tell us we just better get used to it.

Didn’t she just whine about his alternative energy policies, which would help with that? Also, I’m not going to take the time to fill you in on the background for this, but that whole section is another shout out to the national party at large and their displeasure with Fed policy. In other words, yet more proof that this speech has nothing to do with Madison.

Well, Mr. President, we’re not going to get used to it. Not now. Not ever. You ignored us in 2010. But you cannot ignore us in 2012.

Mr. President, you and your cohorts threw all the hatred and all the violence you could at these good folks in Madison, Wisconsin. But you lost here.

Really now, this is as bad as John McCain constantly calling me his friend.

And Madison, you defended the 2010 electoral mandate. You are heroes, you are patriots, and when the history of this Tea Party Movement is written, what you accomplished here will not be forgotten.

Your historic stand brought down the curtain on the last election. And the 2012 election begins here.

More. Cognitive. Dissonance.

We will take the courage and the integrity that you showed all of America. We will take it and we will win back our country!

God has shed His grace on thee, America. We will not squander what we have.

We will fight for America! And it starts here in Madison, Wisconsin!

It starts here! It starts now! What better place than the state that hosts the Super Bowl champs, to call out the liberal left and let them know: Mr. President, game on!

God bless you, Wisconsin, and God bless America!

So that speech…had nothing to do with Wisconsin. I’d accuse it of being a canned speech, but the rhetorical theft is too integral to it. Then again, I’m not sure what the buzzwords in places not Wisconsin are right now. The rhetorical thievery might work for her in Ohio and Minnesotatoo.

* Seriously bad planning, Palin. That’s 5-8k on our side just for the fresh spinach and cheesy bread

** I am bitter about the Tea Party co-opting that flag for themselves. It’s a badass flag, and now it’s going to go the way of the confederate flag.

ETA: I screwed up on the solar shingle; they did get referenced in the State of the Union.  I was probably muttering darkly about wire tapping during that part and missed it.  That said, Obama wasn’t proposing we develop them, but citing them as an enterprise benefiting from a government loan which is rather different from how Palin characterized it.  Still, my bad for not double-checking the transcript.  This is what I get for blogging on air planes.

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4 thoughts on “The Day Sara Came to Madison, or Analyzing Rhetoric

  1. Good analysis, but one minor point regarding solar shingles. President Obama referenced a man in the audience who runs a solar shingle factory and benefited from the stimulus.

  2. GE says they can power the US with 100 square miles of solar paneling. Call it 200 and those things can degrade all they want.

    200 square miles isn’t all that much, but I bet there’s at least one state that has the space…

    • As of the last time I looked into it which, granted, was probably two years ago now, solar panels have an optimal life of about ten years. That means that even if we managed to power the entire grid with solar panels (which might actually be cost-effective with current oil prices, but probably still isn’t since most of our power generation comes from coal) we’d have to upgrade or replace that infrastructure every decade. We’re already not maintaining the current grid infrastructure with significantly longer life spans.

      That’s actually why the solar shingle idea is so cool. Roofs generally turn over every decade or so anyway, so it won’t matter that their production potential degrades at that point. (I have not looked into the details for any of the specs on solar shingles, but I’m assuming they’re roughly equivalent to standard panels. That may be a good research project the next time I have free time…so, July maybe)

      Solar is definitely sexy and cool, and I want to keep pushing the boundaries on it, but in terms of what’s ready for us to run with it right this minute, wind is a better option.

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