Pitching Politics to the People: An Analysis Fo the Metaphoric Speech of H. Ross Perot
Livengood, R. Mark, Western Folklore
Pitching Politics for the People: An Analysis of the Metaphoric Speech of H. Ross Perot1
Journalists and voters alike commented on the speech of H. Ross Perot during the 1992 presidential race. Writing of the first debate, Robert Shogan of The Los Angeles Times suggested, "With a seemingly unending stock of folksy one-liners, independent candidate Ross Perot came close to stealing the show" (1992:Al). A pair of reporters from USA 70day characterized Perot's speech as containing "biting aphorisms" (Howlett 1992:3A), "down-home slogans," and "folksy one-liners" (Bendetto and Norman 1992:3A). One voter's comment, "He calls an ace an ace," registered her approval. These examples suggest that part of Perot's appeal was his rhetorical approach which apparently provided a noteworthy antithesis to expected political discourse. These comments are impetus for further investigation.
The task of analyzing the discourse of Perot seems particularly suited to a researcher interested in exploring those linguistic phenomena termed folk speech. Perot's language is spiced with argot, slang, colloquialisms, and proverbs, among others. I have two fundamental purposes is this essay. First, I selectively identify examples in Perot's verbal repertoire which constitute traditional ways of talking. Second, I explore how these examples operate as metaphors which convey Perot's "pitch" that he is the candidate that can effectively lead a government "of, by, and for the people."
Politicians may be compared to pitchmen. The skillful use of language required by pitchmen has not gone unnoticed by folklorists. One investigator suggests that "[t]he use and manipulation of language is [his] stock and trade" (Krell 1980:28). One pair of researchers state that a pitch is designed to help achieve the the practical goal of selling a product...to a large number of customers....Pitchmen and talkers must persuade their audiences to buy an untested product." (Dargan and Zeitlin 1983:34). Perot is a pitchman. But instead of peddling Pontiacs or paring knives, he intends to sell a cogently-presented political ideology: You own this country but you have no voice in it the way it's organized now....The facts are, you now have a government that comes at you and you're supposed to have a government that comes from you.2
Perot's pitch is for his conception of a more representative government; implicit in this passage is Perot's assertion that he is the man who can usher in necessary changes. Perot's metaphorical use of language throughout the debate illuminated and reinforced this pitch.
In contrast to the other two candidates, Perot could not run for the presidency based on any official experience in government. In the debate, Clinton consistently used his twelve-year history as governor as a source of authority. Coupled with precise delivery of examples typically presented in threes,3 Clinton's political record created a considerable presence. Perot, however, could not point to past political accomplishments. Because of Perot's lack of experience, metaphorical language became an important vehicle for communicating his pitch.
Perot's speech represents him as an "insider" with the voting public. Central is his need to distance himself from the powers which control the Washington constituency, thereby making himself one of "the people." By using formulaic expressions, Perot repeatedly emphasizes that he is not a politician. He says, "Now I'm not a politician, but I think I could go to Washington in a week and get everybody holding hands and get this bill [the Urban Aid Bill] signed." The success of such a mission was unlikely, but Perot metaphorically dissassociated himself from all the activities to which the word politician refers. Furthermore, because he must go to Washington, he is spatially and temporally separated from the locus of political control, and thus, by extension, not privy to its influences.
An analogous example begins with a familiar introduction: "Now the thing I love about it-I'm just a businessman. …