So, when folks consult “experts” in American politics, political scientists and historians tend to be the go-to specialists. What can a rhetorician bring to the table? A little background on me might shed some light.
I am currently Associate Professor of Communication Studies, and Chair of the Fine and Performing Arts Division of Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. As a member of the Communication Studies Department faculty, I teach courses in political communication, rhetorical theory and criticism, media studies, and communication research. Two of the current staples of my teaching responsibilities are courses entitled “Communication, Politics, and Citizenship” (an introduction to political communication and rhetorical studies), and “Critical Analysis of Messages” (a course in the rhetorical criticism of public address, which I teach in a Learning Community with Chris Whitt on “The American Presidency in Times of Crisis”).
Politics aggravates a lot of people. Politics confuses a lot of people. And because of this, politics disaffects a lot of people. According to a May 21, 2009 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press,
More than three-quarters (76%) agree that “elected officials in Washington lose touch with the people pretty quickly.” More than half (51%) agree that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does.”
This condition, clearly, is most troubling for a political system and a larger political culture committed (at least in theory) to a democracy grounded in the active participation of citizens. We find ourselves in an irksome paradox: the shape of our politics can’t improve without active citizen involvement, but active citizen involvement is depressed to a large extent due to the state of our politics. What to do? The Political Denizens believe that informed discourse on our public life is a crucial piece to this puzzle.