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Thinking about Political Leanings in Rhetoric

From Donald Lazere, "Teaching the Political Conflicts: A Rhetorical Schema," College Composition and Communication, Vol. 43, No. 2 (May 1992), 192-213.



A Semantic Calculator for Bias in Rhetoric

(Lazere 209-210)


  1. "What is the author's vantagepoint, in terms of social class, wealth, occupation, ethnic group, political ideology, educational level, age, gender, etc.? Is that vantagepoint apt to color her/his attitudes on the issue under discussion? Does he/she have anything personally to gain from the position he/she is arguing for, any conflicts or other reasons for special pleading?"
  2. What organized financial, political, ethnic, or other interests ar backing the advocated position? Who stands to profit financially, politically, or otherwise form it?
  3. Once you have determined the author's vantagepoint and/or the special interests being favored, look for signs of ethnocentrism, rationalization or wishful thinking, sentimentality, and other blocks to clear thinking, as well as the rhetorical fallacies of onesidedness, selective vision, or a double standard.
  4. Look for the following semantic patterns reflecting the biases of the previous set of questions


a) Playing up:

* arguments favorable to his/her side

* arguments unfavorable to to the other side.

b) Playing down (or suppresing altogether):

* arguments unfavorable to her/his side,

* arguments favorable to the other side.

c) Applying "clean words (ones with positive conotations to her/his side and "dirty words to the other.

d) Assuming that the representatives of her/his side are trustworthy, trustful, and have no selfish motives, while assuming the opposite of the other side.


If you don't find signs of the above biases, that's a pretty good indication that the argument is a credible one. If there is a large amount of one-sided rhetoric and semantic bias, that's a pretty good sign that the writer is not a very credible source. However, finding signs of the above biases does not in itself prove that the writer's arguments are falacious. ..."

Political Terms and Positions

(from Lazere, 210-213)

Left wing and right wing

  • "Left wing" is a broad term that refers to a diversity of parties and political viewpoints. The term includes liberals (who are nearest to the center of the political spectrum) and--moving progressively further from the center--socialists and communists. the latter two are sometimes called the "radical left."
  • "Right wing" is a broad term that refers to a diversity of parties and political viewpoints. The term includes libertarians (who are nearest to the center of the political spectrum) and--moving progressively further from the center--conservatives, ultra-conservatives, plutocrats, and fascists.


Leftists tend to support Rightists tend to support
The poor and working class Middle and upper class
Labor, consumers, environmental and other controls over business Business, management, unregulated enterprise
Equality (economic, racial, sexual) Inequality (economic, racial, sexual)
Civil and personal liberties Economic liberty; controls on personal liberties (e.g., sexual conduct, abortion, obscenity, drugs)
Cooperation Competition
Internationalism Nationalism (primary loyalty to one's country)
Pacifism (except for Communists) Strong military and willingness to go to war
Religious pluralism, skepticism, or atheism Religious orthodoxy


Types of economic systems


  • "An economic system based on private investment for profit. Jobs and public services are provided, and public needs met, to the extent that investment in them will predictably result in a return of capital outlay. In its principles capitalism does not provide any restrictions on extremes of wealth and poverty or of social power, but its advocates (especialy pure, libertarian capitalists) believe that the workings of a free market economy, unrestricted by government control or regulation, will minimize social inequity. Capitalism is not a political system; in principle, capitalist economy can operate under either a democratic government or a dictatorship."



  • "An economic system based on public investment to meet public needs, provide full employment, and reduce socioeconomic inequality. In various models of socialism, investment and industrial management are controlled either by the federal government, local governments, works' and consumers' cooperatives, a variety of community groups, etc. Socialism is not a political system; in principle, a socialist economy can operate under either a democratic government or a dictatorship."



  • "with a lower-case 'c': Marx's ideal of the ultimate, future form of pure democratic socialism, with virtually no need for centralized government."
  • "with an upper-case 'C': A socialist economy under undemocratic government. Historically, Communists have manipulated appeals to left-wing values like socioeconomic equality and worldwide cooperation in order to impose police-state dictatorship and military aggression."



  • "Rule by the rich. A capitalist economy under undemocratic government."



  • "A combination of capitalist and socialist economies under an undemocratic government. Historically, fascists have manipulated appeals to conservative values like patriotism, religion, competitiveness, anti-communism, respect for authority and law and order, traditional morality and family, in order to impose police-state dictatorships.


Conservatives, Liberals, and Socialists in America


  • "In the American context, conservatives are pro-capitalist. They believe the interests of business also serve the interests of labor, consumers, the environment and the public in general. ...They believe that abuses by business can and should be best policed or regulated by business itself. ..."



  • "American liberals believe that the interests of business are frequently contrary to those of labor, consumers, the environment, and the public in general. ...liberals think business abuses need to be policed by government regulatory agencies that are free from conflicts of interest, and that wealth should be limited."



  • "American socialists, or radicals, believe even more strongly than liberals that the interests of business are contrary to the public interest; they believe that capitalism is basically an irrational and corrupt sytem where wealthy busines interests inevitably gain control..."

Questions to consider; things to blog about

  1. Where do you fit on the political spectrum?
  2. Read the editorials and letters from the Daily Collegian. Can you determine the political leanings of each?
  3. Watch an hour of evening news (any station). What political leanings are apparent?

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