The Task of Rhetoric (Again)

So, the Washington Supreme Court has ruled that the law making it unlawful to lie about political candidates is itself unconstitutional and thereby has given politicians the freedom to lie about their opponents. And this, of course, is not an uncommon situation; Washington is just one state to rule that truth is not required when talking about politicians. The law allows lying and, in fact, will encourage politicians to develop deceptive strategies as long as they work. The only criterion that would need to be considered is effectiveness. Ethics doesn’t have to enter the equation. Here, then, is just another example of why a useful path (maybe not the only path) for rhetoric would be the focus on deception in public discourse. Someone or some group needs to be there to point out the deceptions such rulings will encourage as well as those deceptions that just seem to have become standard political discourse. No group seems better qualified than our own rhetoricians who already have an arsenal of methods and research strategies to apply to what seems to me to be a pretty important issue. Or should we rewrite our textbooks in public speaking, persuasion, public relations, and advertising to exclude ethics from the equation?

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