For those politicians who find themselves faced with a question whose answer may be distressing to their audience, there is no substitute for the power of rhetoric
The light-as-air rhetoric politicians tend to give in response to any question regarding national identity is a fine example. Asked what it is to be an American, most politicians will appeal to emotion with reflexes so skilled and precise that a kung-fu master would be hard-pressed to imitate them. Where logic is concerned, the rhetorical replies to this sort of question often begs many others.
The politician will surely answer using words such as “hope”, “values”, “family” and “faith” but are those words even useful as descriptions? Do they speak to the actual experience of being an American or do they speak to some of the notions in which many find great comfort? How much of any politicians answer to this question is ritual and how much actual response? And, most importantly, are those things really characteristic of Americans or are they things Americans like to think about themselves, reality notwithstanding?
Where a reasonable, logical answer to the question of what it means to be American may be pages long and the subject of spirited debate–not to mention heavily influenced by the time in which the question was posed–a rhetorical answer provides an easy dodge that leaves the politician with a faint glow of patriotism, the great persuader who is so often summoned by way of such simple rhetoric.