The Playful Goddess Campaign I

Written on February 26, 2008 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Arts & Cultures & Societies, Literature, Philosophy

Miguel Herrero de Jáuregui

Gladstone_speaking_2 If we were Rennaissance painters, we would be now painting allegorical frescoes called The Triumph of Electoral Campaign, in which this goddess, daughter of Rhetoric and Power, aims to seduce Triumph. Furthermore, if we were ancient poets we would be singing a theogony which told how from her mating with Triumph sprang the Political Parties, who are protected by Necessity and Order, on the one hand, and Corruption and Tyranny, on the other. We would say that Campaign is a welcome visitor to the House of Fame described by Ovid in Metamorphosis XII (and then by Chaucer), where Rumours and Suspicion dwell. But if ever such a scene should come up in a recently discovered fresco or an unearthed scrap of papyrus, you can be sure that it is a fake, no matter how ancient it seems, because such a thing as an electoral campaign is an extremely modern thing, and no ancient Greek or Roman ever dreamt of anything remotely similar.

In fact, electoral campaign is a genuine American invention, not imported from Europe: it is inevitable to representative democracy and political parties, which of course first came along together with the independence of the USA. It seems that in 1840 General Harrison was very popular but lacked a coherent political program, so his supporters made him win the presidency by creating the first electoral symbol, the “log cabin” which represented his brave soldierly origins. Some decades later, in England, William Gladstone’s Midlothian Campaign, a series of speeches and articles focused on the events in the Ottoman Empire, first made foreign policy the issue of the elections, and made the whigs win unexpectedly against the tories led by Disraeli.

In England electoral campagining sprang mainly from the previous parliamentary tradition, which opened progressively to the masses along with the broadening of voting rights. The Oxford Union, the celebrated debating society where many British politicians found their vocation, trained speakers to address both the MPs and the masses in a parliamentary tone which is the modern refuge of classical rhetoric. Cicero and Quintilian would find themselves at home in a British campaign.

In continental Europe the American tradition looms clearly larger over electoral campaigns than the British model. The present Spanish and Italian campaigns –or the past French one– have an unmistakable flair of “imported” good which makes the electoral period markedly different from the “normal” political life which is theoretically centered around the parliament. In TV debates between the candidates, for example, quick answers and snappy sentences which sound good in newspaper headlines are much better valued than round argumentations and well-shaped discourses which would be charateristic of parliamentarism. Campaigning turns upside down the traditional political rhetoric in Europe.

Until the irruption of the mass media in electoral campaigns, any discourse, be it judicial or political, followed the classical structure exordium-narratio-refutatio-argumentatio-peroratio. The exordium begins the discourse trying to catch the benevolence of the public (captatio benevolentiae) and putting him in a mood appropiate to listen. The narratio summarizes the point at stake, the refutatio refutes (sorry for the redundance) the rival position, the argumentatio argues (see how Latin just says everything in the shortest and best way?) the points of the speaker, and the peroratio ends up insisting on the main points and striking the appropiate chordes to raise the enthusiasm of the public. Of course exordium and peroratio have a similar tone, more elevate and forceful, intended to awake the emotions rather than to persuade the rational mind, unlike the parts in the middle of the discourse (where all the persuading techniques described by Julián some weeks ago were used). Some exceptions to this canonical order were contemplated, in order to avoid monotony (i. e. including some perorative-like speech in the middle) or to cause a higher effect (i. e. beginning in medias res, just going straight to the point, to show that it stands alone and needs no rhetoric to defend itself). But now, these exceptions are the absoulte rule: when the candidate knows that the cameras are filming him for the CNN daily news, he inserts the four sentences he wants millions of people to hear, much more important than the few thousands who are listening to him, and who are anyway already persuaded in the main part. Just imagine, as if Cicero said his famous “quo usque tandem, Catilina, abutere patientia nostra?” not at the beginning of his speech, but two or four times in the middle of it, interrupting his detailed account of Catilina’s conspiracy.

Now, how is it possible that political life in Europe has integrated so naturally an element alien to its normal course as Campaign? The answer is, in my opinion, the playful nature of the goddess, which will be dealt with in the next post.


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