This interview is selling us something. Us being the audience, the interview being MSNBC’s four-minute video clip of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the something being exactly what Cortez describes it as… “Something.” Her advocation for the Green New Deal is being analyzed (as well as the behavior of everyone involved) and every word choice calculated. Calculated to get the most views, the most supporters, and the most of whatever other goals are in play. The use of rhetoric is on display as they all use it to achieve their goals. As we will come to find out, politics and rhetoric go hand in hand.
The interviewer questions Cortez in a very ambiguous way. His goal above all else is to have a long, fruitful, and rewarding career, and he knows that in order to do so, he must capitalize on every opportunity he has. His job relies heavily on rhetoric, as media is meant to convince the audience of something, so he aims to do it well. He wants to bring attention to this interview, so he tip-toes around juicy words that would look good for headlines. He’s just trying to get more clicks. In this day and age, humanity has seen it all. The only attention-grabbing stories are those of remarkable stature. The “best” and “first” always prevail compared to the more unprolific tales. In an attempt to garnish more views, the interviewer must try to sensationalize any and every given topic. He begins by asking if the Green New Deal is socialist, midway through his sentence he jokes around with the audience and releases the tension, and then ends his question by asking if the government call pull it off. This mess of a question intends to confuse the interviewee and bait her into some sort of an attention-grabbing response… but is that all?
Since MSNBC is a liberal-leaning news source, the goal of this interview is solely to shed positive light on the Green New Deal… right? If only it were that simple. One thing we can all agree on is that the main driving factor is money. MSNBC is going to do whatever it takes to make the most of it. Whether that be endorsing Cortez or throwing her off the deep end, they will do it. In this situation, the interview seems much more as an advocation for her, but that can’t be the only underlining goal. Of course, everyone involved has their own individual goals, but they are all coming together to achieve something as a unit. Everything from the live audience, dialogue, title, and location, is planned. The audience is hand-picked, the dialogue is rehearsed, and the title is meticulously thought upon. Just the same as rhetoric, it is delivered with preconceived intent.
The live audience differs from the people watching from their homes. They are not the true audience for this message. Referring to Burke’s pentad, they can be considered a mixture of the agents and the scene. They are meant to blend into the environment and provide positive reinforcement, such as applause and an inviting atmosphere. They are supposed to convince the real audience (the people watching this video clip at home), that what the agents are saying is right. They clap when they are told to clap and smile when they’re told to smile. I can’t say they’re purely an addition to the scene because they are human, but it is surely their role. With that being said, I now need to know the purpose.
While the overarching backstory of the interviewer’s question lies in his quest for attention, it stems deeper than that. The latter half of his question finds him attempting to be relatable. Rhetoric dictates that relatability plays a role in our lives. We try to find it in our comedy, cinema, and story-telling, because naturally we gravitate to what we all have in common. Relatability is a comforting feeling, quite the opposite of loneliness. The interviewer is trying to convey that feeling by asking a question that the target audience would genuinely ask, “Can you pull this off?” It builds up his credibility. If the audience buys into him, they buy into how he thinks. He uses rhetoric to sell himself because credibility can lend to an ease of persuasion.
He acts like a listener who is skeptical about the deal, which seems to be the people they are trying to persuade. Speaking as someone unsure of it, allows the audience (who is also unsure, because that’s who they are targeting) to relate to his position, so if at the end of the interview, he responds in agreement, the audience will too. It’s an intelligent choice of words in order to persuade people to agree with what he thinks. If they agree with the question, they might agree with the answer. They can visualize themselves in his shoes and asking the same question. Eventually it can transform into their visualizing their response embedded in his.
It’s clear that this interviewer is acting towards his long-term goals, not just this interview. There can be a nominal payoff if he continues to be a positive light in the public’s eye. Simultaneously, he’s doing what he’s told. While some may look at his question as a reflection of his character: relatable and appropriate, Cortez’s response may disprove those thoughts. Her disregarding the socialism part of the question by saying, “If you want to bring up labels that’s a whole different conversation,” casts the interviewer as a scapegoat and a fool. This shifts the relatability to her, as nobody wants to relate to a fool. It emphasizes that the interviewer was just throwing key words in so we could put it in the title of the interview. After she ignores it, it’s never mentioned again, yet the title of the video clip on MSNBC.com is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez addresses whether or not the Green New Deal is socialist, even though she did no such thing.
She then begins her argument by stating that there is a problem and that Exxon Mobile and the U.S. Government knew about it before and chose to ignore it. Nowadays, culture demands women empowerment (and self-love in general), so she can basically say anything and if she seems passionate about it, it’ll receive support. She hasn’t stated anything of substance by this point, but halfway through her sentence the audience is already clapping. This goes to show that it’s not what you say, but how you say it. While the people in the room have been hand-picked to cheer her on, the audience at home can cast their own impressions. Her delivery makes her look invigorated and ready to take on the world. That resonates with people. If someone was to mute the volume of the video, they would still be able to see her passion. That speaks leaps and bounds of how she can motivate people to agree with her.
Her genuine caring creates credibility. Similar to how the interviewer is trying to establish credibility, Cortez is doing so too. They both know public support is key. If the public buys into one’s character, any wrong doing will have a just excuse. A fanbase or support group can become just as powerful as the law. Just as there is a “pretty privilege” for attractive women, whoever gains the public’s trust can be a massive threat to their enemy’s position. The opinions of the many outweigh the opinions of the few. She mentions her age for three reasons. For those younger than her to look up to her, for those her age to connect with her, and for those older than her to know the future is in capable hands.
Cortez’s argument boils down to one small phrase. She says, “We need to do something.” While it is only five words, it speaks universally for what she is advocating. This can be compared to Ronald Reagan’s final presidential address. He dumbed down his argument for the general public, by saying that what he did was, “Not too bad.” As a democrat, Cortez needs to appeal to the Americans who don’t believe her. Her arguments are not only meant to convince the already convinced, but to initiate a change in doubter’s minds. That goes for the people in middle America (let’s just call the mainly conservative states middle America for now). She emphasizes that while we don’t have to radically change the government, something needs to be done. Society considers change to be good, so her argument is as simple as enforcing it. It’s easy to swallow and agreeable. Why turn heads with the gritty details of what her deal involves when she can just say, “We need to do something.”
She is speaking the same way President Trump does. Ending her sentences on powerful but easy to grasp terms like “deny” and “rebuke,” that can figuratively start a life in the audience’s head (as in they are so easy to remember that they will live in their minds for eternity). It’s clever to use her oppositions’ rhetoric against him. She treads the line of saying something wild that’ll get her a lot of attention, but something true to turn that attention into supporters. Trump took the world by storm, winning regardless of the youth and democrats alike consistently panning him on the media. She knows that all the attention became a weapon for him. With him constantly being the focus of news-sites, what better white knight is there than the youngest female representative ever to be elected.
She’s followed by two more speakers who go on to agree with everything she just said. The first one dives a little more into the details of the goals they have for the Green New Deal, but doesn’t speak of how they plan to reach them. She touches more on how beautiful the world will be after its completion, instead of the difficulty of its implementation. Her use of more eloquent language leads her to be more forgettable. She is meant to bore the target audience, so they grow much fonder of Cortez. The last speaker actually points out the “socialism question” as a strategy. He says it’s to make the Green New Deal seem un-American. This call-out intends for the viewer to take a step back and realize that they should be agreeing with Cortez. It further punishes the interviewer and makes him seem far more deviant.
For saying a lot of words Cortez really didn’t say much. It’s clear she wasn’t trying to explain the entire deal, but rather just trying to pitch it. She basically ended her argument by saying the Green New Deal is about doing something to change the bad stuff that’s happening. I may have put it in simpler terms, but not by much. She needs to appeal to as many people as possible, so she did just that. The rhetoric involved stems deeply from what the speakers are intending. Cortez wasn’t trying to explain the entire deal, but rather influence the public to buy into it. This was one small step in Cortez’s long campaign in trying to bring about the Green New Deal.
Burke’s Pentad | Intro to Rhetoric. (2018, June 20). Retrieved from https://natureofwriting.com/burkes-pentad/
McKay, K. (2018, November 03). Classical Rhetoric 101: The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Invention. Retrieved from https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/classical-rhetoric-101-the-five-canons-of-rhetoric-invention/