Ryan Lizza considers what the Gore endorsement means. He challenges two myths: that it represents a rebuke of Joe Lieberman and/or that it represents acceptance of Howard Dean by the Democratic establishment.
Gore was very specific about his reasons (despite some punditry to the contrary): According to his statement, Dean opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning.
No matter what his reasons may or may not have been, we can certainly agree that his intention is to influence voters to choose Dean. This is a standard political use of the ethical appeal (ethos)–the appeal to character, i.e. who the endorser is. This is the same appeal that persuades teenagers to buy $200 sneakers because of a certain basketball players’s name.
But there’s an interesting political move happening here that I claim is rhetorical. It’s called heresthetics, and the man who “discovered” it, political scientist Dr. William Riker, defined it as “structuring the world so you can win.” He saw it as a tactical analog to rhetoric. Because nearly all human endeavors require complex language use (for the purpose of persuasion), I prefer to consider heresthetics a newly identified feature of rhetoric in the canon of invention–especially as it concerns kairos.
What does Al Gore want? He wishes to see Dean nominated. What might he wish to effect over the course of the campaign?
Let’s consider Gore’s heresthetical maneuver.
If you scroll through the data on PollingReport.com, you’ll see many polls asking how the Democrats fare against two prominent politicians not in the race: Al Gore and Hillary Clinton. Both of these candidates would take an instant and commanding MoE lead against the field. The reason for this may have far more to do with name recognition than politics.
It quickly becomes apparent that what Gore has to offer are his poll numbers. And the only way to transfer those polls to another candidate is to specifically endorse that candidate. Some voters will be lost in the shuffle. But, the idea is that voters who look to Gore for party leadership will now transfer their support to Dean. That’s the obvious stuff. The rhetorical appeal is ethos.
But what about the timing–kairos? Here we begin to see this endorsement as a heresthetical maneuver. I read one pundit yesterday (sorry, no link) who said Gore should have waited until after the New Hampshire primary because this endorsement somehow robs voters of their choice. Poppycock! Gore is far more the choice of Democratic voters than Dean, but Gore is not running. By endorsing Dean he suggests a choice for a commanding number of voters–a choice that until this week did not exist.
By endorsing now, Gore also ensures that the Mayer model works smoothly, i.e. the leader of the last national Gallup poll before the Iowa caucuses wins the nomination (and I assume that he is aware of it). Further, this maneuver ensures that the press will start circulating a meme of inevitability.
Why this meme? Because it is dramatic. Never mind that it challenges the very nature of horse-race coverage, i.e. elections as unstable processes. Most reporters are far too embedded in the political intrigue to see this irony.
I think it is possible that one of the reasons Gore chose to endorse Dean now is so the contest would appear to be over after the New Hampshire primary. Then, after Super Tuesday, we might expect the field to be cut by a third or even half. I think Gore wants Democrats entering the convention solidly behind one candidate (something he suggested in his endorsement statement). This will have the effect of giving Dean more time to make the difficult tactical/rhetorical adjustments necessary to run a presidential campaign in the political middle where these things are won.
Long-term goal: Buy Dean precious time to make the change.