View Full Version : VP Debate: Ethos, Pathos and Logos

10-09-2004, 09:37 PM
This is my first draft for an Argumentation speech over the VP debates (formatted slightly for better forum-reading). I've done the paper in relation to the three rhetorical styles.

If John Edwards was the lawyer in this debate, Dick Cheney was the judge. The cool and collected Vice President emitted self-confidence in a professor-like manor, while he defended attacks on the administration from the young, and charismatic Senator Edwards. They answered several questions on both Foreign and Domestic policy often echoing much of the presidential debate that took place only a few days before. While both of them appealed to all three rhetorical styles, they had different kinds of persuasive leverage.

Using the three main elements of argumentation, as coined by Aristotle himself, we start with “Ethos” (which appeals mainly to the character and reputation of the speaker). Dick Cheney had the advantage here before he even sat down and the first question was read. Having a distinguished career as both a businessman and politician, he already had served four presidents, been a high member of congress, and directed two major military campaigns—even winning a metal of freedom for his performance in the Gulf War. Compared to John Edwards, a trial lawyer and freshman senator, this particular branch of the triad was one he would have to surrender, but not without a fight. Often saying, “a long resume does not equal good judgment”, he attempted to break down the years of experience in one swipe. This wasn’t all Edwards did to corrupt the obvious Ethos advantage of Cheney, as he expectedly criticized the billions of dollars in contracts awarded to his former company, Halliburton. This was another mountain Edwards could not climb, as congressional auditors reviewed Halliburton only to find that the company met the legal guidelines. In many cases, Halliburton was the only company capable of performing the work required of them. During the debate, the Vice President didn’t attack Edwards’ work as a trial lawyer—he didn’t have to. Instead, Cheney boldly stated, "Your rhetoric, senator, would be a lot more credible if you had the record to back it up."

“Logos” is the appeal to one’s logic, as reason and factual information is presented as indisputable evidence. In the debate, both sides used potentially verifiable information—but they almost always contradicted each other. Because of this lack of “common-ground”, the numbers and “facts” became somewhat meaningless to most of the general, undecided public. These conflicting statistics made this less a game of logos and more a game of ethos. People had to decide who they trusted more before they could believe anything that was said. Both sides stretched intelligence findings, especially over Saddam’s ties to Al Queda. Edwards put forth the argument that a connection was unthinkable and nonexistent, while Cheney clearly stated that Iraq "had an established relationship with Al Qaeda." So, which is it? The Vice President noted that Hussein had given money to the families of suicide bombers killed in 9/11. In reality, the intelligence reports found that there were several contacts between the two in the 1990s, but there was not enough evidence to amount this to a state-sponsored “connection”. In another example, Cheney took the “global test” statement by John Kerry and used it to explain that John Kerry would give other nations veto-power over American decisions. Edwards was quick to point that the statement had been taken out of context, and John Kerry had, in fact, said the exact opposite. There were many other discrepancies that forced all viewers to take “evidence” with a big grain of salt, inevitably rendering logos almost entirely useless in this debate.

Lastly, we saw Pathos, the emotional aspect of rhetoric that Edwards tried to take a strong advantage of. People are often persuaded heavily by emotion, but where Cheney was able to appear confident—Edwards was so exaggerated in his melodramatic retelling that he seemed disingenuous. He recreated a scene with a little girl in defending his job as a lawyer, and closed the arguments with a story of his father-learning math on the television. These are quite obviously said to make people emotionally connected to an issue on a common level, in the same way he likely would in working a jury. This should have been a strong suit for him, but most Americans were expecting it—and as a result saw right through it. Often qualities were painted more towards the presidential candidates. Cheney said he “clearly believe[s] that George W. Bush has demonstrated vision, conviction and determination”, while Edwards made the point that he and John Kerry would unite the country where the administration had failed to using a different, and more stable vision.

Rhetoricians will always use Ethos, Logos and Pathos to their advantage when they speak, but as I’ve shown, they won’t hesitate to also use them against each other. Cheney and Edwards both used their strengths where they could to overshadow their weaknesses—the American people will decide who did a better job.

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10-10-2004, 08:25 PM
Ah man, this paper must suck <img src=smilies/cwm11.gif>. Normally I'd have a truckload of responses by now. Any advice on how to improve it?

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10-11-2004, 01:35 AM
Hmmm... let your conclusions follow more naturally from the concrete details, rather than presenting them at the get go.

For example, "Cheney said blah blah, lifting the spirits of the crowd. This was a strong appeal to Pathos," rather than "Cheney used Pathos. This was shown by his statements blah blah blah." It's not that one form is conventionally better than the other, it's simply that things are more interesting if they're mixed up a bit.

By the by, I've gotta say I think Cheney beat the snot out of Edwards in the VP debate. I'd like to see him against Kerry.

> Ah man, this paper must suck . Normally I'd have a truckload
> of responses by now. Any advice on how to improve it?

<P ID="signature">The more often you fail, the sweeter the taste of success!</P>