Wise Minds Will Parse the Rhetoric About Biden Classifieds 'Found'
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Rhetoric is “the faculty of observing, in any given case, the available means of persuasion.”Aristotle, The Art of Rhetoric

I once attended a lecture by the legendary author Tom Wolfe who described the mandatory curriculum he took at St. Christopher’s school in Richmond, Virginia. His sophomore year included a yearlong course in “rhetoric.” The entirety of one semester was spent reconstructing, interpreting and rewriting a simple Latin phrase written 2,000 years prior. As Wolfe later explained in an interview with the National Association of Scholars, “we all had to take a course in formal rhetoric in our sophomore year. Not just simple figures of speech such as simile and metaphor and oxymoron but also the really beautiful stuff, such as metonymy, litotes, anaphora, periphrasis—Dickens loved that one—epanados, as in “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,” tropes, figurae dictionis, figurae sententiae……

St. Christopher’s taught its students how to think, a skill set in limited supply these days as evidenced by how many Gen Zers cannot complete a 10 word sentence without uttering the word “like” six times. Sadly, large swaths of the voting public are “rhetorically unequipped” to spot misleading rhetoric uttered by our national political class and its obsequious apparatchiks in the media.

The big news this week is “advisors” to Joe Biden “found” classified documents that were in his possession, and then they “immediately” contacted the National Archives and the Department of Justice. Richard Sauber,  special counsel to Biden, said the documents were turned over in a “timely manner.” Elam Winthrow “Tom” Bosworth, Tom Wolfe’s legendary instructor at St. Christopher’s would have surely challenged his 10th graders to parse the language of the news reporting of this story. “Advisors” = lawyers. “Found” means “searched for” and “timely manner” is lawyer speak which probably means “we looked through all these files and extracted the ones that were embarrassing and coordinated how to cover up what we found with the crooks running the DOJ.” Ole Tom would have certainly asked his students why these lawyers were searching for classified documents, some of which were related to Ukraine?  Does Joe Biden’s family have any connection to Ukraine, do they have anything to hide? Who “ratted” Biden out and why? Certainly, this story would never have seen the light of day unless some provocateur had threatened to “go public” with the fact that Biden held these records. Tom also taught Greek and Latin for 50 years and surely was familiar with the ancient Roman idiom: “falsus in uno falsus in omnibus.” Using the parlance of today, this tried and true bit of wisdom simply means “don’t believe anything these sons of a bitches say because they are proven liars.”

I wonder what example Tom Bosworth would have used to explain “oxymoronic thinking?” Jerome Powell is on record stating costs are rising too fast; therefore, he is going to raise interest rates and make everything more costly such that things won’t cost as much. Perhaps Tom would’ve asked his 10th graders to write a research paper on how often the “Fed” is or has been right about anything? He likely would instruct his students to read the ancient Greek tale of Icarus to understand the concept of hubris and how Fed members can also become reckless with pride and self-importance. No doubt he would have driven his point home by having his class discuss Narcissus, son of a Greek god, who fell in love with his own reflection to his doom. What lowers costs is capital investment and a dynamic economy where billions of people are unencumbered by government to create wealth. These “no-names” are always at work figuring out ways to lower costs and improve the quality of their products and services. When millions of no-names get no credit, it is easy for an Icarus to assume the laurels for something he didn’t do. Ever notice how presidents take credit for positive economic news like increased employment by saying such things as “we created 100,000 new jobs this month?” Uhm, no you didn’t. Millions of other people busting their ass, sweating, worrying, thinking, competing and hustling created those jobs.

Instead of indoctrinating students into woke groupthink culture, it would be refreshing if today’s schools used the Socratic method to steer students away from rote memorization into actual critical and independent thinking. Today’s rhetoric class will parse recent statements by Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen regarding the debt ceiling debate in Congress.  Our first topic is the “Intimidating Conclusion.”  Last week she stated Treasury will take “extraordinary measures” to continue paying the nation’s bills if lawmakers did not act to raise the statutory debt limit. Is it fair to use history to determine her meaning of “extraordinary measures?” Might “extraordinary measures” mean measures that are completely unnecessary solely to scare and infuriate the public such that its faux conclusion will not become a reality?  Are there any historical examples of political figures scaring the public to achieve a self-serving political goal? Now let’s move on to the “false assumption,” aka the “false choice.” Yellen says she will begin by refusing to fund federal pensions. Is this an example of a false choice?  Are there no other spending programs that can be curtailed other than ones that might cheat employees out of their contractual property rights?

Now let’s examine other rhetorical devices; that of “hyperbole” and its older sister “auxesis.” Yellen stated, “[f]ailure to meet the government’s obligations would cause irreparable harm to the U.S. economy, the livelihoods of all Americans and global financial stability.” Does anyone believe that if Congress passes a debt ceiling that would simply keep spending at current levels or better yet the prior fiscal year’s spending then this will cause world-wide destruction? In this example, hyperbole is employed, and it grows (the Greek word for growth is auxesis) to reach a scary climax. If last year’s spending habits didn’t cause the world to implode, why would keeping spending the same do so now? Class, what is better? As a lender (or bondholder) do you want your borrower to borrow from dozens of other people to buy fancy cars and take vacations along the Cote d Zur, or would you rather have your borrower be prudent and limit his overall liabilities? If it is assured that your borrower will not be able to pay your loan back based on current spending habits, does it not make sense to intervene now and fix your recalcitrant borrower’s bad habits with some tough love?  What does history tell us about governments that cannot pay their debts? Do governments ever debase their currencies to “cover” their excessive spending habits? What happened to Rome when the gold Aureus and the silver Denarius were debased? 

THE BELL RINGS: Tonight’s reading assignment, the Spendthrift and the Swallow, is one au courant in the 6th Century BC by a Greek storyteller. Read it and have a 1,000 word report on my desk tomorrow morning outlining parallels if any with public expenditures and Ms. Yellen’s rhetoric on the debt ceiling.


Class dismissed.

Robert C. Smith is Managing Partner of Chartwell Capital Advisors and likes to opine on the Rob Is Right Podcast and Webpage.

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