POLITICAL ECONOMY AND RHETORICAL MATTER by ProQuest

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In March, 2008, a major financial crisis began with the collapse of the investment firm Bear Stearns. Each of the three remaining presidential candidates, John McCain, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Barack Obama, responded to that exigence with a major address during the week of March 24. This essay explores the visions of political economy forwarded by the three senators. It suggests that they understand the economic activity through fundamentally different principles: virtue, expertise, and contingency, respectively. [PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]

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									      POLITICAL ECONOMY AND RHETORICAL MATTER
                                     JOHN M. MURPHY




In March, 2008, a major financial crisis began with the collapse of the invest-
ment firm Bear Stearns. Each of the three remaining presidential candidates, John
McCain, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Barack Obama, responded to that exigence
with a major address during the week of March 24. This essay explores the visions
of political economy forwarded by the three senators. It suggests that they under-
stand the economic activity through fundamentally different principles: virtue,
expertise, and contingency, respectively.


R      oughly ten years ago, Thomas B. Farrell proclaimed, “Rhetoric is the art,
       the fine and useful art, of making things matter.” The “enemy of rhetoric,”
he continued, “its antithesis (if you will) is futility, the … meeting of helpless-
ness and hopelessness that always lurks around the concerns of our most fer-
vent convictions.”1 This strikes me as a useful definition. To constitute rhetoric
as the art of “making things matter” crafts it as practical and theoretical. Most
people understand what it means to make things matter. If something matters,
we care about it, or Farrell writes, “the art of rhetoric, when it is working, is to
engage us with the world, to make its appearances near and dear to us, to help
us care.”2 Yet the definition also makes of rhetoric a weighty matter; that is, it
gives to rhetoric’s study theoretical heft and a clear focus: how does rhetoric
make things matter? What facets of argument make matters subject to public
dispute, reflection and, if we are granted good luck, solution?
    Like many, I could address these concerns in the abstract; I value such theo-
retical work, but I am a critic. It seems best to explore the rhetoric of making
things matter in a controversy, and what better place to look than to the very
considerable material losses we have suffered of late? It’s quite an achievement
to lose such an extraordinary amount of matter in such a short time—three
trillion dollars in stock value in 2008 alone—but we’ve done it.3 It’s a tribute to
American ingenuity.


John M. Murphy is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-
Champaign. The author appreciates the comments and feedback received at the Rhetorical
Citizenship and Public Deliberation Conference at Copenhagen, Denmark, October 9–10, 2008.

© 2009 Michigan State University Board of Trustees. All rights reserved.
Rhetoric & Public Affairs Vol. 12, No. 2, 2009, pp. 303–316
ISSN 1094-8392
304                                                      RHETORIC & PUBLIC AFFAIRS

    The controversy concerning such losses took form in March 2008. Since
1980, the Washington consen
								
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