Cooperation, compliments, and contradiction? An analysis of Clinton’s DNC Speech

In both my Argument and Debate, and Interpersonal classes, I establish the foundation of the course by introducing Philosopher, Martin Buber. I was introduced to “Buber” in gradschool by one of my favorite professor’s Shawn Spano. Dr. Spano taught the Interpersonal Communication seminar which focused on training students to design and facilitate a dialogue (applying Buber’s framework) in the context of a community, organization, or business.

Buber’s Three Principles:

  1. Holding your ground
  2. Being open to the other
  3. Remaining in the tension (of 1 & 2)

While watching Bill Clinton’s democratic national convention speech a few weeks ago, the theme of collaboration emerged. In this segment I will note the effective strategy of complimenting Bill uses to engage his audience, share the “Buber-esque” moments of his address, and end with a complex perplexity.

Bill starts by paying the first lady a glowing compliment, praising Obama for having the “good sense” to marry Michelle. A colleague of mine, Randy Fujishin writes about the importance of complimenting others – extending a bridge between people.

Clinton’s second compliment goes to former president Bush. He bolsters George W.’s credibility by commending his work after Katrina, and in Haiti – underscoring that Bush saved millions of lives! He talks of how they were solving problems and seizing opportunities, not fighting all of the time. Clinton compliments Eisenhower who built the interstate, and speaks respectfully about former Pres. Regan.

Bill’s Core Message, “What works in the real world is cooperation” is repeated at least three times throughout his speech. He emphasizes that Obama hired VP Biden after running against him in the previous election, and appointed Hillary in the primary – emphasizing “partnership over partisanship” and commitment to constructive cooperation. Bill firmly states that the philosophy, “all in this together” vs “you’re on your own” is much more productive.

I did notice several instances of what author, Deborah Tannen discusses as the “Argument Culture” (an “us vs. them” mentality). I may be paraphrasing some of these:

  1. Clinton refers to the Republican party as an “alternative universe”
  2. Clinton keeps (the job) score
  3. “they believe compromise is weakness”
  4. “I never learned to hate Republicans as the far right hates Democrats”
  5. “you don’t have to hate the president to disagree with him”

I grapple with statements like these because while it communicates the notion of collaboration, it also seems to perpetuate the “us vs. them” narrative. Maybe I need to look Dr. Spano up on this one.