Monday, October 24, 2011

Rhetorical Analysis

Could American tax policy soon be determined by how on or two people describe their personal tax situations?  Does it make sense to even consider such a possibility?  Warren Buffett seems to think so.  The investments mogul has recently become more outspoken, as tax policies have become more of a focus in deficit and budget resolution talks.  Warren Buffett’s earnings last year were in the ballpark of $46,000,000.  He said that his secretary, who earned approximately $60, 000 pays taxes at a rate (30%) that nearly doubles the rate (17.7%) at which he personally pays taxes.  Furthermore, Mr. Buffett claims that he has done nothing to seek to pay at a lower rate than is required of anyone in his tax bracket.  In "Eleven ways Warren Buffett is lying about Warren Buffett" by Stu Burguire on The Stu Blog, Mr. Burguiere presents an opinion, which discredits Warren Buffett's recent statements about his taxes, and detracts from President Obama's efforts to push new tax legislation through Congress.  He wants his readers to be appalled that the president would even consider basing his fiscal policy off of what Warren Buffett has said.   To do so, he employs logical arguments, including statistics and quotations from expert opinions and official documents, imagery and video that works both for emotional response and increased mental stimulation, and a writing style that attempts to connect with the average reader, while still maintaining a high enough level of sophistication to maintain credibility and to stimulate critical thought on the subject.
The method that Mr. Burguiere uses in his blog post to try to discredit Mr. Buffett is in the title of the entry itself:  “Eleven ways Warren Buffett is lying about Warren Buffett”.  It also serves as a fairly effective hook.  The verbiage not only indicates Mr. Buffett’s dishonesty, but also draws the reader’s attention to the egregiously grand scale of the lies.  It would not be surprising if the majority of the blog readers were already starting to form the basis of their opinions simply after having read such a title.  It would certainly evoke both a negative emotional response, as well as a potentially adverse psychological response in the readers.
Mr. Burguiere continues his assault on Mr. Buffett’s words and credibility with an image of Mr. Buffett and President Obama sitting and looking over paperwork.  As his readers are presumably mostly republican, or at the very least are not democrats, one can reasonably assume that this picture is yet another effective tool to further develop the audience’s distrust of Mr. Buffett.  This is because the readers are likely to be distrustful of most people who are shown to be aligned with the President.  This picture certainly depicts Mr. Buffett as such.
He followed this up by pointing out that “the president is basing a new law off of Warren Buffett.  This means that we are basing US Tax Policy on what is happening to the top 0.0000006% of people.”  He has already begun appealing towards the reader’s emotions by posting this image, before he starts to draw their reasoning ability into the equation.  One can safely assume that the majority of people in the United States is, by this point in time, either strongly supportive of or strongly opposed to our Chief Executive Officer.  It follows, logically, that such an image would, therefore evoke an emotional response, be it positive or negative.
In keeping consistent with his logic-based rebuttal of Warren Buffett’s statements, Mr. Burguiere continues by stating a simple fact: “Now, it’s possible to pay any tax rate if you really want to, by paying more than is required.  You can just send in a check.”  He even includes a link to the Gifts to the United States Government webpage to increase his credibility with the reader.  Perhaps some readers may have assumed he was being ironic; however, when you read through the comments below the blog post, you can see that readers generally agree with him.  “Good work Stu. There are a lot of us that depend on the accuracy of your work and I'm personally impressed with your access and thoroughness,” wrote one reader.   Another wrote, “I'll say again, Mr. Buffet can give his entire fortune to Uncle Sam; he doesn't have the right to give mine.”
The readers are next presented with a basic explanation of how much Mr. Buffett’s secretary actually pays, according to the numbers that their accounting department ran.  Here, again, Mr. Burguiere refers to others’ expert opinions to better support his blog’s credibility with the reader.  One can easily argue with his statement that the secretary would pay 14% if she were single, 7.6% if married, especially if it is unsubstantiated by expert testimony.  Once the data are credited to the accounting department, the readers cannot dismiss it so easily.  To refute that, one would have to do extensive research of accounting laws and practices. 
Loaded words also evoke emotional responses in people.  Mr. Burguiere combined statistics and facts with rhetoric targeting emotions: “Rich people pay far more than the middle class in both total dollars and percentage terms.”  Both “rich” and “middle class” cause some level of emotional response in the reader.  These reactions would, of course vary widely, depending solely upon the individual reader’s life experiences; however, through word association, responses will come.  These terms are qualified later in the paragraph in a quote from the Associated Press: “This year, households making more than $1 million will pay an average of 29.1 percent of their income in federal taxes, including income and payroll taxes . . . Households making between $50,000 and $75,000 will pay 15 percent of their income in federal taxes.”
Irony is another tool that Stu regularly employs in his writing and on his radio shows.  In this particular blog post, he wrote, “Want another scandal?  Warren Buffett pays less in sales tax than his secretary does in income tax.  We better write another law.”  The sarcasm is laid on so thick in this that readers can’t help but notice it.  Mr. Burguiere quite adeptly reinforces his original point that the whole situation of basing a tax law on Warren Buffett is ridiculous by revisiting the issue with a different take on it. 
Towards the close of the blog post, Mr. Burguiere comes back to the use of irony.  Understanding both the more liberal stance of the media, as well as the readers’ awareness of the mainstream media’s position, politically, he further substantiated his assertion that “lowering the capital gains tax brings in more revenue” by bluntly pointing out, “even the media understands this”.  This would certainly catch the readers’ attention, whether they are of a liberal, moderate, or conservative persuasion.  An excerpt from a debate that Charlie Gibson mediated between then Senator Obama and then Senator Clinton supports this claim.  Mr. Gibson pointed out that both President Clinton and President G. W. Bush lowered capital gains tax from 28% to 20% and from 20% to 15%, respectively; and, in both instances, “revenues for the tax increased.”  Conversely, when, during the 1980s, “the tax was increased to 28% revenues went down.  So why raise it at all?  Especially given the fact that 100 million people in this country own stock and would be affected?”  If you increase taxes on over 100 million people, you have at least two affects that are incongruent with the aim of a bill to raise taxes on only the very wealthiest individuals.  First of all, the tax increase would target approximately 32.5% of the people.  Secondly, you would be directly decreasing the spending money of 32.5% of the population.  This would indirectly decrease everyone else’s spending money and further hinder economic recovery and reduce government revenues.  The reader would have to think a little bit to make this connection, but it still comes quickly.
The eventual President, Senator Obama, did not seem to grasp the concept that increasing taxes on a third of the country would be a bad idea.  He is quoted from the aforementioned interview as saying, “Well, Charlie, what I said is that I would look at raising the capital gains tax for purposes of fairness.  Mr. Burguiere added the bold and the underline to draw the readers’ attention directly to this portion of Mr. Obama’s statement.  He wanted to drive home one final point to the reader: The President doesn’t care about what works to improve the economy; he cares about what seems to be “fair” to the people who have less.  Stu’s readers tend to have a different understanding of fairness than most democrats do.  To the majority of Mr. Burguiere’s readers, fairness means getting what you work for, regardless of whether someone around you is working for more or less.  This final association of Mr. Buffett with the President is the finishing touch to a blog post that drives home the point that it is impractical to base tax laws off of one or two men.  The reader’s experience at the conclusion of the article leaves him or her with a bitter taste for what is being done by the President and Mr. Buffett. 
Stu Burguiere successfully conveyed to his audience a convincing argument that Mr. Buffett was lying about himself and his secretary.  Moreover, he adeptly employed multiple rhetorical tools to bolster his credibility, and to assist in convincing his readers to agree with his points.

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