Tuesday, September 30, 2008

An Argument Based on Fear: Where was the rational case for the bailout?

According to Aristotle in his book, Rhetoric, there are three means of persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos is an appeal based on the integrity of the speaker. Logos is an appeal based on reasoning, and Pathos is an appeal based on emotion. Any one of these (usually a combination of them) can be used in a persuasive appeal.

Daniel Larison makes an excellent point about why the financial bailout bill failed in Congress yesterday: because the appeal of bill proponents was to fear. The persuasive appeal was to pathos, not logos. And given the lack of credibility that the Congress, Paulson, and Bernanke have accumulated over the past several weeks, it's no wonder there was no appeal to ethos:
I agree with Ezra Klein that we are seeing, in one sense, the “failure of politics” today, but it is not the failure he means. The failure of politics that culminated in the defeat of the bill was the failure of the proponents of the legislation to make an argument that did not rely very heavily on prophecies of disaster. There was no real attempt at persuasion, and the haste in which everything was done generated far more intense opposition than was necessary. The supporters of the bill wanted to ram it through with as little deliberation and scrutiny as possible. On any other issue, on any other bill, this would be seen as outrageous and you would hear about the wisdom of having a lower chamber that was more responsive to the people. Now opposition to this hasty adoption of a bad plan is derided as irresponsible?
He's got a point.

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