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The divisiveness of diversity: President Bush's University of Michigan commencement speech as an example of the linguistic "turnaround."

Diversity, multiculturalism, and women's studies, all under the label of "political correctness" (PC), have become a hot topic on college campuses. Attempts to increase diversity, recognize and integrate multicultural approaches to education and class content, and understand gender subordination are offered to counter non-codified, non-legalistic forms of discrimination on campuses.(1) Productive debate proceeds concerning the specifics of multicultural education, gender studies, speech codes and affirmative action in admission and hiring. However, opponents have grouped all of these approaches under the heading of political correctness (Gross 105, O'Keefe 123), with speech codes labeled as the most heinous assault on higher education (Cockburn 690). Two patterns of argument follow from this collapsing of issues. First, because the "discussion has been framed in a way that allows a broad group of issues to be haphazardly placed on the intellectual table" (Asante 141), debate about specific concerns is diverted and the discussion of "genuinely important issues" is lowered (O'Keefe 125). Second, once the PC label has been affixed, opponents are better able to turn the fight against racism and sexism and for diversity into prime examples of efforts against diversity and hence for racism and sexism. The move to more abstract levels of framing the discussion allows the opposition not only to reject campus speech codes, but also other multiculturally focused attempts at increasing diversity. This strategy is embodied in former President George Bush's 1991 University of Michigan commencement speech in which he executes a linguistic "turnaround," set up by his collapse of PC and speech codes, in order to transform advocates of diversity into the destroyers of diversity.

The "turnaround" is firmly ensconced as an accepted form of argument in academic debate, yet, little work has been done on the use of the argumentative turnaround in political discourse.(2) In academic debate, a link turnaround refers to when one team proves that an act advocated by the opposing team is counterproductive or when one team proves that it prevents, rather than causes, a negative impact. An impact turnaround refers to when one team proves that a presumed negative result of a policy action is actually positive, or that a presumed positive is actually negative. Strategically, the turnaround provides a way to coopt an opponent's position, either by accepting the link arguments as true and reversing the impact or by accepting the impact arguments and reversing the link. Both the time and evidence tradeoff are to the benefit of the team executing the turnaround due to the lessened burden of rejoinder. As a result of the turnaround's prominence in debate, argument scholars have developed standards for its evaluation and use in that forum (e.g. Hollihan, Ulrich). Turnarounds are valid when they, through superior evidence and stronger warrants, link a chain of events together more tightly or present an assessment of effects that is more convincing (Hollihan 50-1).

Although not an explicit analysis of the turnaround, Hirschman's (1991) exploration of the way reactionary rhetoric divides itself in public discourse provides some insight into the parallels between public argument and academic debate. Hirschman finds that reactionary rhetoric falls into three categories, categories that, interestingly, are analogues to the arguments one finds in an academic debate. He divides reactionary rhetoric into three theses: perversity, futility, and jeopardy. These, respectively, parallel academic debate's link turnaround, solvency argument, and disadvantage.

The perversity thesis argues that the debated action "will produce, via a chain of unintended consequences, the exact contrary of the objective being proclaimed and pursued" (11); such an argument is an analogue to academic debate's link turnaround. The futility thesis argues that "any alleged change is, was, or will be largely surface, facade, cosmetic, hence illusory, as the 'deep' structures of society remain wholly untouched" (43); such a position resembles academic debate's solvency arguments. Finally, the jeopardy thesis argues that "the proposed change, though perhaps desirable in itself, involves unacceptable costs or consequences of one sort or another" (81); this argument finds its parallel in debate's disadvantage. One academic debate argument lacking from this analysis is the "impact turnaround", where the presumed negative is actually positive.(3) The reason for this may not be a failure on Hirschman's part, but instead such an argument may simply be absent within the reactionary rhetoric he studies.

In addition to the link turnaround (what Hirschman calls the perversity thesis) and the impact turnaround, another form of turnaround is executed in political discourse. This turnaround is not the evidentiary proof of counterproductivity or the discovery of a non-presumed positive, but instead is a linguistic play. With the linguistic turnaround, the speaker does not coopt half of his or her opponent's argument, but instead coopts the opponent's terms. The existence of such a strategy is supported by Bart and Pfau's (1989) study of a U.S. senatorial race in South Dakota. They argue that political turnarounds often move "the dispute to a higher level of abstraction" in which the candidate attempts to flee to "higher ground when confronted with a strong argument" (22). Accordingly, these instances of turnarounds in political discourse are not arguments where evidentiary superiority establishes the "winner," but instead are linguistic tactics that alter or redefine political terms and that enable the seizure of an opponent's terministic ground, hence contesting symbolic strength.(4)

A president's use of such a device is predictable given the institutional transformation of the office into the "rhetorical presidency" and the concomitant erosion of the deliberative process (Tulis 7, 178). Tulis argues that "the rhetorical presidency enhances the tendency to define issues in terms of the needs of persuasion rather than to develop a discourse suitable for the illumination and exploration of real issues . . ." (179). Accepting Tulis' description as a premise, one could argue that the linguistic turnaround is simply a unique argument form that is an identifiable manifestation of the rhetorical presidency, the study of which increases understanding of the dynamics of the rhetorical presidency (as well as other political discourse) and its process of coopting terminology instead of arguing policy.

In order to explore the use and validity of the linguistic turnaround, this article focuses on George Bush's commencement address to the University of Michigan class of 1991. This focus is justified not only by Bush's predilection for the linguistic turnaround, but also by the consistent use of the linguistic turnaround by the opponents of diversity and multiculturalism policies. Gross (1992) implies that the strategy we label the linguistic turnaround is an important technique in the Bush arsenal, where the political effectiveness of Bush (and Reagan) "seems to derive from their ability to define the terms in their favor. The techniques that stood them in good stead in national politics have also been applied to the struggle to control the nation's culture" (110). In like manner, Gross notes the particular tendency for linguistic exaggeration present in the PC debates:

Boldly asserting a falsehood or shamelessly exaggerating a small truth is not only a tactic familiar inside the Beltway but also the trademark of the highly visible propaganda offensive mounted by the Right against a trio of ivory tower bogies: PC, multiculturalism, and the victims' revolution. Although these labels have been chosen as weapons in a war of images, they refer to actual, if exaggerated, rumblings and skirmishes on the nation's campuses. (105)

Gross believes that the "attacks on PC and multiculturalism represent a conscious effort to reverse the tide of social change that began in the 1960s" (110). The reversal is not only targeted at "tangible outcomes" such as jobs, careers, and control of institutions, but also represents "in many ways . . . a war of words, a struggle for mastery over symbols" (Gross 110). The linguistic turnaround we identify is not merely "false assertion" or "exaggeration" but is, instead, a broader argumentative strategy of redefinition or alteration of the political dialectic.

President George Bush's commencement address to the University of Michigan is an excellent example of the use of the linguistic turnaround, which operates as a corollary to Bart and Pfau's "move to higher ground." Bush turns advocates of diversity, whom he labels the politically correct (PCers), into the enemies of diversity, the creators of prejudice, and the bullies who employ force in the place of ideas. As operationalized by Bush, the linguistic turnaround reconfigures the image and goals of advocates of diversity through dissociation of diversity from its goals and mechanisms. Bush turns battles against racism into acts of racism, not by proving the battles are counterproductive (he offers no evidence, examples or otherwise, of how PC decreases diversity and increases prejudice), but by using language that changes the dynamics of the battle, allowing for the association of those who advocate diversity with those who are racist.


On May 4, 1991, President George Bush delivered a speech at the University of Michigan's Commencement Ceremony in which he attacked the recent moves towards diversity and multiculturalism on university and college campuses. The choice of Michigan as the university at which to deliver this speech was particularly appropriate given that the legal test case for the constitutionality of campus "speech codes" was Doe v. University of Michigan. Hence, this was a scene in which the audience was more likely to complete the enthymematic inference sought by Bush.

In response to a series of racial incidents, the University prohibited in academic buildings any expression that "stigmatizes or victimizes any individual" on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, religion, or other listed characteristics ("First Amendment" 1397). Ideally, this restriction would allow the targeted student to be free from interference with academic and campus-related pursuits. The restriction was challenged by a graduate student in biopsychology who proceeded in court as John Doe ("First Amendment" 1398). Eventually, the Supreme Court struck down the University code on the grounds that it violated free speech rights.

Through a skillful framing of the issues, Bush set the stage for the magnification of the issue of political correctness into a domestic agenda concerning race.(5) Bush did this by locating the freedom to speak one's mind about racial issues within the context of freedom of speech, and then locating freedom of speech within the broader context of the United States' national character. Although the speech discussed many different government actions and celebrated a wide range of American values, the section on which political and cultural critics have focused is Bush's discussion of political correctness.

This speech was recognized as a significant one in Bush's bid for re-election, in many ways representing his position on civil rights. Critics believed that Bush's speech signaled the initial direction of his domestic race agenda for the 1992 campaign. Given the framing of the issue in terms of the United States' national character, it is evident that Bush was willing to magnify the importance of PC beyond the confines of academia. Additionally, the relationship established between multiculturalism and racism implies that Bush was willing to recast multiculturalism advocates as the new demons of racism.(6) Even if this turnaround was not successful, it at least held the potential to sufficiently muddy the debate over Bush's racial agenda to make it a non-issue in the election.

William Neikirk, of the Chicago Tribune, noted that the speech's "sharp ideological tone and rejection of government action to achieve racial harmony present a harder, clearer Bush line that over time could result in contentious challenges to a vast body of civil rights laws, rules and practices etched into American life" (4:1). He reported that, as a result of this speech, critics saw "a new Bush, one who has shed pragmatism in favor of a vision--a vision they find troubling and dangerous" (4:1). Neikirk concluded his article by predicting that the speech is the "kind of political correctness on which presidential campaigns are built" (4:4). Alexander Cockburn of The Nation also predicted that this speech would play a role in Bush's election bid, writing:

Race, the core of all the fuss, is no doubt why George Bush, on the edge of his 1992 campaign, has turned his attention to P.C., with Willie Horton's equivalent in '92 being "extremists" eroding Western values with their multiculturalism and contempt for Great Books . . . (704)

While other issues ultimately played a role in the election, the speech presents an interesting picture of how a president seeking re-election can build a civil rights position out of an apparent attack on diversity in institutions of higher education.


Through a skillful framing of issues, Bush enthymematically was able to construct a turnaround, casting those who sought diversity as the primary attackers of diversity. Bush's use of vague referents enabled audience members to complete the argument in the way they saw most reasonable: Bush could be attacking either advocates of "political correctness" or advocates of racism. However, the paragraphs preceding the turnaround set the stage for the interpretation that advocates of diversity have become the new demons of racial divisiveness. Bush could have argued that the actions to increase diversity fail, or that they are counterproductive, without labeling those who advocate diversity as users of force and as bullying political extremists. However, through his use of the linguistic turnaround, Bush equated those who are fighting to end racial intolerance and violence with those who commit racial violence.

The speech works as a coherent whole in which the traditional notion of liberal democratic individualism is celebrated as the basis of the American freedoms of creation, speech and spirit. Within this idyllic system of freedom, Bush argues, diversity flourishes and "merit conquers circumstance" (563).(7) With this as a backdrop, Bush turns the fighter of racism into the racist enemy of freedom. This transference of blame was achieved by Bush's interpretation of "diversity" and "prejudice" and through an apparently intentionally vague description of who is using the power of force in the place of ideas. This was enabled by Bush's collapsing all of PC into the advocacy of speech codes, ignoring that one could be for multiculturalism and diversity and against codes. Bush, in the face of strong argument, sought to occupy the higher moral and terministic ground. He reacted to overt racism by retreating to the level of abstraction.

The initial moments of the speech identify Bush with Democratic ex-presidents and with earlier politically liberal causes (the Peace Corps and the Great Society), recollecting prior commencement addresses given by John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baynes Johnson (563). Like those who went before him, Bush locates himself at a unique moment in time; the commencement of the student's education coincides with "this nation's commencement into a world freed from cold war conflict" (563). The primary reason for this new time is "most of all, our national character" (563). Here, Bush defines Americans as humanitarian people who always help others in need (563).

The national character, however, is more than simple humanitarianism; it also includes a love of freedom. For this reason, Bush states he will devote this speech to a discussion of "the nature of freedom and how its demands will shape our future as a nation" (563). The first freedom on which Bush focuses is the freedom to create. He then moves to a lengthy discussion of the freedom of speech and concludes with a short analysis of the freedom of spirit. While the three sections of the speech would seem to encompass different aspects of American life, they all support Bush's attack on calls for diversity and multiculturalism in American colleges and universities. And, because the national character is the reason we are free from the cold war, assaults on that character in the guise of diversity appear to be treasonous given their potential to again make us vulnerable to our cold war enemies.

In the section on freedom to create, Bush calls forth images of Americans whose "merit conquers circumstance": Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, and Martin Luther King. The choices are by no means accidental. The people Bush lists were able to "outgrow rough origins and transform the world." He uses these people as proof of the "greatness of our free enterprise system" (563). For example, King, an African American, was able to overcome the bonds of racism, suggesting therefore that all African Americans can, if they have merit, and therefore implying that African Americans do not need or deserve a commitment from the government to actively fight discrimination. In Bush's system of equality, Martin Luther King was a great civil rights leader because America has a free enterprise system. This notion of the economic system enabling personal freedom rings out in Bush's conclusion for this section: "We've become the most egalitarian system in history--and one of the most harmonious--because we let people work freely toward their destinies" (564). For Bush, freedom cannot be improved upon because "When governments try to improve on freedom . . . they fail" (564).

Here one finds the traditional celebration of liberal individualism that identifies freedom and equality as a state of nature, as opposed to a goal toward which we should strive (Zarefsky 170). This interpretation frames our understanding of Bush's discussion of freedom. Bush creates the perception that we all are free, and that those who argue otherwise are trying to limit the freedom that already exists.

Even though Bush's speech notes the importance of the freedom to create, he rests its existence on the freedom to speak (564). In fact, he names the freedom to speak one's mind "the most fundamental and deeply revered of all our liberties" (564). In Bush's discussion of the freedom of speech, he identifies free speech as the creator of diverse ideas, but does not explain how the diversity created by free speech is similar to, or more important than, the cultural diversity and respect called for by those he labels PCers. Bush explains:

Americans to |sic~ debate, to |sic~ say what we think--because, you see, it separates good ideas from bad, it defines and cultivates the diversity upon which our national greatness rests, it tears off the blinders of ignorance and prejudice and lets us move on to greater things. (564)

Bush argues that all speech, even prejudiced speech that attacks diversity, increases diversity and decreases prejudice. The distinction between the diversity of ideas and diversity of cultures is collapsed so that a marketplace of ideas is "diverse" if it contains many ideas; it is not necessary that the ideas represent diverse viewpoints from diverse peoples. This is not an example of mere equivocation, where one confuses the different meanings of a single term or where a term is used in the same context in more than one sense; instead, Bush redefines diversity. With this redefinition, Bush suggests diversity is evaluated with a quantitative, not a qualitative, standard.

After celebrating the value of free speech, Bush names the enemy in the struggle for freedom. The enemy is not the racist or the sexist or the homophobic or the religiously bigoted. The enemy of diversity is political correctness. Bush notes that on the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, "we find free speech under assault throughout the United States, including on some college campuses" (564). Given that Bush equates free speech with diversity, this also means that diversity is under assault. Who is the new enemy of diversity? Bush provides the following answer:

The notion of political correctness has ignited controversy across the land. And although the movement arises from the laudable desire to sweep away the debris of racism and sexism and hatred, it replaces old prejudices with new ones. It declares certain topics off-limits, certain expression off-limits, even certain gestures off-limits. (564)

In this passage it becomes clear that, for Bush, PC and speech codes are inextricably one and the same. Bush casts all of PC, not just speech codes, as censorship. Prejudice is created by attempts to break down prejudice. The fact that the "new" prejudices differ in form and substance is irrelevant to Bush. What principles constitute the new prejudices is also unclear, except that one is left to infer that the speech codes embody the new prejudices.

"Prejudice" is a strategic word choice in that it brings forth the connotations of racism and sexism. Also noteworthy, given Bush's previous discussion of the natural state of freedom, is his choice of words describing racism and sexism. Advocates of diversity are not fighting a full blown system of racism and sexism, but instead are sweeping away debris, perhaps debris left over from a previous dismantling of the system of racism or perhaps debris as small parts of some larger whole. Belittling the struggle against racism and sexism, Bush makes it appear that the struggle being fought is minor, the mere cleaning up of a mess.

The speech's next paragraph firmly locates diversity advocates in the role of enemies of freedom. Bush describes the "crusade for civility" as souring into a "cause of conflict and even censorship" (564). Diversity advocates, as disputants, "treat sheer force--getting their foes punished or expelled, for instance--as a substitute for the power of ideas" (564). However, this description is typically more reminiscent of the actions of southern governors and sheriffs during the civil rights struggle than of the actions of those calling for diversity. In other words, Bush's description of PCers transforms diversity advocates into those who would mirror our historical descriptions of violence prone racists and sexists.

Continuing along with the theme that advocates of diversity are actually anti-diversity, Bush raises the specter of a neo-Orwellian world in which conversation is micro-managed (564). The Orwellianism comes true not in the actions of PCers, but in Bush's description of them when he labels diversity actions as "crusades that demand correct behavior," that "crush diversity in the name of diversity" (564).

Bush then engages in a call to arms, in which "We all should be alarmed at the rise of intolerance in our land and by the growing tendency to use intimidation rather than reason in settling disputes. . . . And political extremists roam the land, abusing the privilege of free speech, setting citizens against one another on the basis of their class or race" (564-5). Given his previous description of diversity advocates as those who use sheer force, the only identified locus of intimidation is the PCer. Given his previous description of PCers as those who are on a "crusade," the only identifiable political extremist is the PCer. Bush never mentions an anti-diversity or prejudiced act other than the ones committed by people who fight racism and sexism. Listening to this speech, the rise of intolerance is located on college and university campuses in the guise of calls for diversity, not in the increase of racist, sexist, and homophobic hate crimes.

Bush concludes his call for free speech, saying:

But, you see, such bullying is outrageous. It's not worthy of a great nation grounded in the values of tolerance and respect. So, let us fight back against the boring politics of division and derision. Let's trust our friends and colleagues to respond to reason. As Americans we must use our persuasive powers to conquer bigotry once and for all. And I must remind myself of this a lot: We must conquer the temptation to assign bad motives to people who disagree with us. (565)

It is clear to whom Bush speaks in this paragraph. It is not to racist bullies, but to people whom he suggests do not trust ideas and persuasion: advocates of diversity. Remember, freedom is a state of nature and merit can overcome circumstance. Thus, reading this speech, the conclusion one comes to is that the only bastion of racism and sexism in the country is found in the actions of racial, ethnic, and gender groups who seek greater diversity. No mention is made of the rise in hate crimes. No mention is made of mock slave-auctions. No mention is made of anti-semitic and anti-gay remarks. The true demon in, and stumbling block to, America's fight for freedom is the advocate of diversity. Bush neatly turns the tables, but not by providing stronger evidence or arguments that have fewer conditions or qualifications. Bush coopts the terminological ground through ambiguous uses of "diversity" and "prejudice" and through the comparison of the tactics of PCers to the actions of racists; these rhetorical moves, in turn, allow him to turn PCers into bullies who use intimidation instead of ideas.

The rest of the speech is devoted to a vague discussion of free spirit, an outgrowth of free speech. In the concluding section, Bush makes it clear that the government cannot teach virtue and, hence, has no place in dealing with how citizens treat one another in response to race, class, and sex differences (565). He exhorts Americans to be good citizens and calls forth the image of his points of light (565). Returning to his theme of American freedom, Bush leaves the following legacy for his audience: "Also, define your missions positively. Don't seek out villains. Don't fall prey to obsessions about 'freedom from' various ills. Focus on freedom's promise, on your promise" (566). Those people who seek to build a world in which people can begin to consider "freedom to," because they have been given "freedom from" racist and sexist oppression, are obsessed.


Linguistic turnarounds as executed in political discourse, rather than using superior evidence or sounder argument to turn an opponent's argument, may instead engage in cooptation of linguistic ground, often through the move to a higher level of abstraction. This is particularly important given the enthymematic nature of the linguistic turnaround; it requires audience participation for completion of the argument where academic debate's link and impact turnarounds do not.(8)

Bush frames his discussion of freedom within the traditional notion of equality and freedom as states of nature. He then is able to cast PCers as opponents of freedom because they seek to alter a system that already provides freedom and equality. Ambiguous use of the terms "prejudice" and "diversity," unclear referents when speaking about intimidation and bullying, and the collapse of PC into speech codes allow Bush implicitly to compare the actions of PCers to the actions of racists and sexists and homophobes. This then allows Bush not only to reject speech codes, but all other attempts at Political Correctness as well. Bush's Michigan commencement address is a paradigmatic case of the linguistic turnaround in political argument.

The linguistic turnaround, like Bart and Pfau's move to higher ground, does not fit within the traditional notions of the link and impact turnaround. Instead, it seems to function, at least in this instance, as a merger of those two forms of argument.(9) Bush tries to establish that attempts to lessen intolerance on college campuses are counter-productive (the link turnaround or perversity thesis) while, at the same time, arguing that lessening intolerant speech is bad given that it also lessens free speech (an impact turnaround).

Part of the utility of linguistic turnarounds is that, in the political realm, they are more powerful than link and impact turnarounds. Linguistic turnarounds gain this power from their underlying enthymematic nature and their ability to foreclose future discussion that does not accept the terminology established by the turnaround.

For example, in the political sphere link turns are blatant and often sound like "whines," and not like a reasoned argumentative response to a counter-position. Bush's 1988 advertisement using Boston Harbor in response to the Dukakis environmental message could be interpreted as equivalent to the adolescent response of "yeah, well, you too." The same could be said of Dukakis' failed response to the Willie Horton ad; Dukakis merely was saying that the federal government had the same problem as Massachusetts, failing to successfully answer the underlying thesis that he was "soft on crime."

Meanwhile, impact turns often are indecipherable for the average American as they involve the intricacies of complex economic and social theories; political and media reliance on sound bites, "ad McNuggets" and highly evocative televisual images further complicates, if not impedes, the deciphering process (Jamieson Dirty Politics 205, 10, 101 & 204). People then may default, for example, to political party to determine whether they find a particular candidate or policy attractive. Instead of analyzing the short-term and long-term benefits of a particular economic plan, voters instead may rely on assessments of simple like and dislike of the politicians, their characters, or their political party.

Linguistic turnarounds provide a third option to politicians because they rely on audience members' individualized enthymematic interpretation of vague terms. This vagueness, in turn, makes a concrete, detailed and evidenced response to the argument more difficult. The link response of "you, too" to a linguistic turnaround is not an option, given that the politician making the initial argument alters the terms of the debate. The question of impact is bracketed by the nature of the argument, as it assumes consonance of values that no longer exists due to the altered state of the terms under discussion. Accordingly, the linguistic turnaround is a powerful argumentative form because of its ability to foreclose further debate not conducted on the symbolic terrain mapped by the turnaround.

The linguistic turnaround's attempts to control symbols also appears to lend itself to subversions of the argumentative process through the use of the fallacies of faulty comparison and equivocation, fallacies that enable the seizure of terministic ground. For example, Bush's speech seems to establish a faulty comparison between PCers and racists, premised on the delimiting of PC as the exclusive advocacy of speech codes. Similarly, Bush's discussion of freedom of speech suggests equivocal usage of that term.

Our position is that in the political realm, the underlying argumentative form of the linguistic turnaround is sound rather than fallacious. Cooptation of linguistic ground is not inherently equivocal or inherently the use of faulty comparison; in fact, we often may wrongly identify the linguistic turnaround as an instance of equivocation or faulty comparison and thus underestimate its argumentative power. Linguistic turnarounds often lead to a reconfiguration of the political dialectic, not merely to an obfuscation of existing relationships. As such, the linguistic turnaround is one among many types of turnarounds and it is an argument that appears only at first glance to rely on faulty comparison and equivocation. In this regard, linguistic turnarounds would be similar to the legitimate character evaluations conducted in political argument, which in most other forums would be examples of ad hominem appeals (see Cragan and Cutbirth 1984).

Accordingly, just as argument scholars have developed tests for the validity of other turnarounds, so, too, must we develop tests to examine the validity of turnarounds based in linguistic, as opposed to evidentiary, comparison. Traditional tests of validity are useless in assessing the validity of a turnaround that does not rely on the comparison of the weight of evidence and the strength of warrants. The differences between academic debate's turnarounds and the linguistic turnaround highlight an area where academic debate theory and argument theory diverge and where argument theory instead may need to look to rhetorical theories to develop rigorous tests.

Kenneth Burke's writings on the "bureaucratic mindset" imply a dramatistic perspective would have utility for examination of the linguistic turnaround. Burke argues that the bureaucratic perspective exhibits three main language strategies, all of which serve to inhibit constructive argument. The "debunking" strategy is purely refutative, denying any validity to alternative perspectives (Burke 166; Rueckert 10). On the other hand, the "polemical" praises the bureaucrat's perspective, refusing to acknowledge the existence of alternatives (Rueckert 10). The third strategy parallels the linguistic turnaround, as "euphemism" intentionally misnames either the advocate's or the opposition's arguments, making the audience feel better but not altering the cause of their problem/s (Rueckert 10; see also the forthcoming special issue of Argumentation and Advocacy on Burke and Argument).

A second area that might prove fruitful in developing standards for linguistic turnarounds resides in Habermas' work on validity tests and their correspondence to particular "worlds." Habermas argues that claims located in different worlds call forth different validity tests. Claims regarding the objective world are tested against truth, claims regarding the subjective world are tested against truthfulness, and claims regarding the intersubjective world are tested against rightness (328). However, Habermas' system would require reformulation in order to function as a rigorous test of the linguistic turnaround in that such a turnaround makes arguments in regard to both the objective and intersubjective worlds. For example, Bush's arguments of counterproductivity make reference to the objective world and his arguments about the primacy of free speech make reference to the intersubjective world. An exploration of how the intersubjective and objective mix in the linguistic turnaround is beyond the confines of this article; all we seek to do is establish the need for such theoretical development.

One clear standard for the assessment of linguistic turnarounds is revealed through an analysis of Bush's text. This standard is consistency: if Bush could consistently apply the substance of his linguistic turnaround throughout the text, he could maintain his position that tolerance of intolerance is actually the only true form of tolerance in American society, thus successfully turning the tables on PCers.

However, Bush's speech fails to enact a consistent use of terminology. The key to the contradiction is Bush's argument that PCers abuse free speech. When Bush distinguishes between acceptable speech and discourse that abuses the freedom of speech, he illustrates a willingness to differentiate between types of speech, to tolerate some and to exhibit intolerance towards others. Hence, in demonizing the advocates of PC, Bush enacts intolerance identical to that which he accuses PCers of exhibiting. This inconsistent application of the linguistic turnaround thus undercuts the success of the Bush strategy because of his violation of his own standard of tolerance.

The Bush speech is a paradigm case of the linguistic turnaround in political argument. By altering the terms of the debate, Bush frames advocates for diversity as the true opponents of diversity. However, the Bush speech also illustrates the necessity for developing standards for the evaluation of this argument form. Without critical attention to the use of the linguistic turnaround, there is always the risk that the strategy could develop into the Orwellian spectre of bureaucratic doublespeak, thus silencing not only prejudiced speech, but all speech.

1 While racism as codified in law has virtually disappeared, racism continues to be socialized and institutionalized. It is these covert forms of racism, that are not identifiable in the law, that advocates for diversity and multiculturalism critique.

2 "Turnaround" is a phrase that is used with regularity in academic debate. However, it is not a term often used to describe argumentative maneuvers in public advocacy. While academic debate's notion of "outweighing" an opponent's argument has been translated into analyses of public argument (see Condit's notion of "overweighing" in Decoding Abortion Rhetoric (1990)), little has been done in the examination of the turnaround in studies of public argument.

A notable exception to this dearth of research on the turnaround in political discourse is Bart and Pfau's (1989) analysis of its use in a South Dakota senatorial campaign. They argue that although debate's notion of the link and impact turnaround "can be stretched to accommodate the political turnaround, they fail to precisely explain the actual concepts operating in the political campaign setting" (22). This failure is a result of the ambiguity between a link and impact turnaround in the political sphere. Bart and Pfau advocate that rather than recognizing the existence of only two forms of the argument, the issues within a campaign should determine the nature of a turnaround.

3 Other arguments not discussed by Hirschman are those that evolve out of academic debate's unique structure; counterplans and topicality arguments are two examples.

4 This is not to say that academic debate's use of the turnaround enjoys an intellectual purity, since, as with the linguistic turnaround, the way debate's turnarounds are used "too often serves to confuse rather than to clarify the issues in contemporary debates" (Hollihan 98). However, the adversarial style of academic debate enables an immediacy of response such that lexical or semantic plays/ploys are not given a chance to calcify. Additionally, turnarounds are explicitly labeled (although also often mislabeled) in debate, whereas in political discourse they may remain buried and framed. We further realize that the use of isolated and extracted pieces of evidence in academic debate may lead to political constructions not intended by the original authors, but the opportunity for checking is built into the process. Finally, scholars have developed tests for academic debate turnarounds while no tests are yet available for linguistic turnarounds.

5 Kelly (1992) notes the tendency for the discussion of race in the presidential campaign to be masked by other issues. She writes that "while race itself is not an issue in the presidential campaign, it asserts itself in areas that are" and hence is "not openly discussed, rather it is couched in coded language" (A1).

6 This position is consistent with the general attack on PC. Gross notes:

The most powerful charge against those identified as PC is that they have introduced a new form of McCarthyism on campuses, suspending First Amendment rights and traditions of academic freedom in favor of a new orthodoxy of politically correct speech. Both in class and elsewhere on campus, it is alleged, students and faculty are intimidated and even punished if they express views or use language frowned upon by the new "thought police." Here too, truth and half-truth and downright misrepresentation are shaken together to yield a heady cocktail of outrage. (108)

7 This rhetoric is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan's discourse on rights. Reagan, in his Equality Day and Women's Equality Day speeches, outlined a vision of American freedom that established it as a state of nature and which inextricably tied all freedoms to economic freedom. This was a departure from the ideas of Lyndon Baynes Johnson, who, with his Howard University speech, was able to convince America that equality was not a state of nature but instead was a goal toward which we should strive (Zarefsky 170). Reagan returned us to a time pre-civil rights, an era in which equality was out there for the taking. Bush, in this speech, echoes Reagan's sentiments on the bases of equality.

8 For an example of enthymematic argument in the critical literature, see Jamieson's discussion of the use of false inference in campaign advertising (Packaging 471; Dirty Politics).

9 In academic debate, when one simultaneously executes both a link and an impact turnaround in response to a particular argument, one loses because the "double turn" establishes that the policy prevents a positive outcome or that it causes a negative one. However, the linguistic turnaround, at least as embodied in Bush's speech, avoids this problem of turning back on itself because it merges the two forms of turnaround.


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Catherine Helen Palczewski is an Assistant Professor of Communication at St. John's University, Collegeville, MN. Arnie Madsen is an Instructer in Communication at the University of Pittsburgh.

An earlier version of this article was presented at the 1992 Central States Communication Association Annual Conference, held in Cleveland, Ohio, April 11-14, 1992.
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Author:Palczewski, Catherine Helen; Madsen, Arnie
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Date:Jun 22, 1993
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