Master of Rhetoric

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Ron Paul is a master of rhetoric. The average TV commentator does not understand this. I do. That’s because, ever since age 16, I have been a very effective speaker. I always wanted to be a master of rhetoric. "Nice try. No cigar." Ron Paul got the cigar.

In 1976, I wrote a speech for him: 2-minutes long. He decided not to use it. That was one of his wiser moves. He never has used a speech writer. That, too, has been wise.

I hear the criticism that Ron Paul is not a polished speaker. This criticism is correct. But he is a nevertheless a master of rhetoric.

How can both positions be true? Because rhetoric is all about persuasion. Great oratory is not necessary.

It is usually assumed that a spellbinder is a master of rhetoric and vice versa. This is not necessarily the case. The mark of mastery of rhetoric is this: the speaker persuades a crowd to accept something that it had previously opposed. A supreme master is a person who has not only changes their minds but persuades the listeners to take action. This is so rare as to be unheard of.

The greatest master of political rhetoric in American history was William Jennings Bryan. He was also a great orator. He made a fortune on the lecture circuit after 1896. With one speech in 1896, he changed American history. He converted the low-tariff, low-tax, pro-gold standard Democrat Party into a Populist, statist political organization. It was captured by Progressive Woodrow Wilson in 1912. Nothing like this had happened before. Nothing like it has happened since.

The Wiki account of his "Cross of Gold" speech is accurate.

Now, Bryan was ready to conclude the speech, and according to his biographer, Michael Kazin, step "into the headlines of American history".

Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

As Bryan spoke his final sentence, recalling the Crucifixion of Jesus, he placed his hands to his temples, fingers extended; with the final words, he extended his arms to his sides straight out to his body and held that pose for about five seconds as if offering himself as sacrifice for the cause, as the audience watched in dead silence. He then lowered them, descended from the podium, and began to head back to his seat as the stillness held.

Bryan later described the silence as "really painful" and momentarily thought he had failed. As he moved down the aisle, the Coliseum burst into pandemonium. Delegates threw hats, coats, and handkerchiefs into the air. Others took up the standards with the state names on them with each delegation, and planted them by Nebraska’s. Two alert police officers had joined Bryan as he left the podium, anticipating the crush. The policemen were swept away by the flood of delegates, who raised Bryan to their shoulders and carried him around the floor. The Washington Post newspaper recorded, "bedlam broke loose, delirium reigned supreme."

In that brief time of silence, a thousand delegates reconsidered a political legacy going back to Thomas Jefferson, extending to Andrew Jackson, and – still in office – Grover Cleveland. Then they switched sides. That was rhetoric in action.

Ron Paul possesses this gift. He is persuading people to change their minds. He is gaining support where it should not be available: among recent graduates of the tax-funded school system.

This report in Time is indicative.

David Richardson, clad in his black leather Led Zeppelin jacket, rode his bicycle into the middle of the Iowa Speedway in Newton. There were no drivers on the track, but there was a different kind of race under way in a small building at the center of the facility – one fueled by money and votes instead of gasoline. Texas Congressman Ron Paul was there on Wednesday afternoon to make his case for becoming the next President.

One look at Richardson, a 28-year-old factory worker, and it was clear he had already been won over. Along with a thick nose ring, he sported a Paul beanie and a Paul T-shirt bearing Iowa’s state motto: "Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain." Richardson is one of many young people rallying to the 76-year-old Republican’s candidacy. Some, like Richardson, have volunteered for him and are committed to voting for him; others are just intrigued. But the appeal is undeniable, and it could well determine where Paul finishes in Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Despite his age, there is an air of rock ‘n’ roll around Paul. One supporter even flashed the rock-out-horns sign when asked on Thursday whether he was sold on the candidate: "Hell, yeah, for Ron Paul!" he said. "The message of liberty is really appealing to younger people," says Richardson, a heavy-metal fan who got interested in politics through battles over music censorship. One can spot dreadlocks or "Paul is my homeboy" T-shirts in the crowd at his campaign events. American Idol pop star Kelly Clarkson recently endorsed Paul on Twitter.

This is surreal. Paul is the oldest person ever to be a serious contender for a major party’s nomination for President. (Mike Gravel was older, but he was never a serious contender. Harold Stassen in his last – twelfth – try in 2000 had been a joke ever since 1964, and he knew it. He was doing a recurring Pat Paulson routine.) Reagan, playfully referred to as "geezer," was 73 when he ran against Mondale in 1984. He had already won once. Yet Paul does not seem old. Everyone knows he is 76, but it’s not a major topic in the media. It helps that, except for his knees, he is in better physical shape than the talking heads. He has always been in top-flight physical condition – except for his knees. In a swimming pool or on a bicycle, he is not to be trifled with.

[I have an idea for a YouTube ad. Paul is riding his bicycle. He is wearing a gold colored jacket. On its back we see this in red: Judgment Day. He is carrying a pole. As he rides down a bicycle trail, he passes a series of signs. Federal Reserve System. Whack! Down it goes. Department of Education. Whack! Department of Energy. Whack! And so on, as he rides off into the sunset. There would be a pirated version that goes viral. A voice-over is heard. "I am Ben Bernanke, and I do not approve of this ad."]

The article continues. The heart of his message is optimism. (Note: that was also true of Reagan’s rhetoric.)

And there are parts of Paul’s stump speech that communicate youthful earnestness and optimism. "What you want to do with your life, what your religious beliefs are, what your intellectual pursuits are, what your private habits are – that’s part of freedom," he said in Council Bluffs on Thursday. Paul’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, says young people have an "amazing BS meter," and they often say they see Paul as more sincere, more reliable than the other candidates. "He’s somebody that will solve the problems going on right now," says 17-year-old Aaron Schoppe, who will attend his first caucus this year. "They haven’t had time to become cynical yet," says Benton.

They are young. They do not really understand the Austrian theory of the business cycle: "Intense pain now, permanent relief later." They may not have mortgages. They may not have wives and kids. But they do see what’s coming if the federal deficit is not brought under control: disaster. No other candidate hammers on this.

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Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

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