There are three main phases of creating an argument and using rhetoric: the discovery of ideas, the arrangement of ideas, and the expression of ideas. This lesson focuses on the expression of ideas—the stylistic choices writers make. Because the range of choices is so broad, the activities in the lesson will focus on getting you DDIST ("dissed") in a positive way that will help you remember the basics of rhetorical analysis.

Using DDIST, you will recognize and analyze some of the ways writers use language to persuade you to their point of view. As Aristotle said, rhetoric is any “available means of persuasion.”

The cartoon below emphasizes that a ruler or leader must master the art of rhetoric, more than any other subject, to be effective. While this idea may seem extreme, everyone, not just future kings and presidents, can benefit from learning how to communicate. Good communication requires persuasiveness and an understanding of how we are susceptible to the way others use language.

Overall, effectively expressed arguments will connect to the audience through appropriate and clear diction, with vivid images, with interesting sentences (syntax), and with a tone suited to that particular audience. Effective arguments show us ways to be more civil with one another, unlike so much of our current public discourse, which is illustrated in this video cartoon by Jim Morin of The Miami Herald.

Source: “Cable Noise,” Jim Morin, YouTube

In this cartoon a king says to his son ‘Don't worry too much about math, science, or history—just make sure you get good marks in rhetoric.’

In this lesson, you will work with only one text, an editorial column by Leonard Pitts Jr. The biography on Pitts’s Web site says that he began writing for The Miami Herald as a critic in 1991 and that he has authored a syndicated column since 1994. Learn more about Pitts by visiting his website.

In his column “We Need a History Lesson About Nazis,” published in August 2009, Pitts clearly connects with his audience as he expresses his concern about the ubiquitous use of the word “Nazi” in today’s society.

First, read the column below to learn what it’s about and whether you think it is an effective argument or not. And then read the commentary immediately following the column.

Photo of Leonard Pitts Jr

Source: Leonard Pitts Jr,
University of Kansas

We Need a History Lesson About Nazis

By Leonard Pitts Jr.

I hope this column makes you sick.

See we’ll be talking about Nazis, something many of us are doing lately. Indeed, just this week a fellow named Joseph e-mailed me about a caller he heard on a radio show. The man, vexed over healthcare reform, likened President Obama to Adolf Hitler. Asked why, he said, “Hitler took over the car companies, then healthcare
and then he killed the Jews.”

Said Joseph: “I almost swerved my vehicle off the road when I heard that.”

But the caller is hardly unique. Google “Obama + Nazis” and you get almost seven million hits. Nor is the phenomenon new. Substitute President Bush’s name and you get nearly 2.8 million.

Even granting that many of those hits are benign, it seems obvious the Nazis have invaded American political rhetoric in a big way. As in Rush Limbaugh declaring healthcare reform “a Hitler-like policy,” swastikas popping up at protest rallies, a poster depicting Obama with Hitler’s moustache and a pamphlet that says: “Act Now To Stop Obama’s Nazi Health Plan!”

It’s important to remember that the Nazis are passing out of living memory; U.S. soldiers of that era are said to be dying at the rate of 1,200 a day. Which makes it too easy, I think, for a nation of notorious historical illiteracy to remake the Nazis as some kind of all-purpose boogeymen for slandering political enemies and scoring cheap rhetorical points.

So I thought it would be good to make you sick, i.e., to spend a few minutes reminding some and teaching others what you invoke when you invoke the Nazi regime.

For the record, then: It was Nazis who shoved sand down a boy’s throat until he died, who tossed candies to Jewish children as they sank to their deaths in a sand pit, who threw babies from a hospital window and competed to see how many of those “little Jews” could be caught on a bayonet, who injected a cement-like fluid into women’s uteruses to see what would happen, who stomped a pregnant woman to death, who once snatched a woman’s baby from her arms and, in the words of an eyewitness, “tore him as one would tear a rag.”

That’s who the Nazis were, ladies and gentlemen—those obscenities plus six million more. They were the triumph of ideology over reason and even over humanity, the demonization of racial, religious and political difference, the objectification of the vulnerable other. And the authors of a mass murder that staggers imagination, still.

You would think, then, that where they are invoked to draw a parallel or make a point, it would be done with a respect for the incalculable evil the Nazis represent. You would think people would tread carefully, not because of the potential insult to a given politician (they are big boys and girls) but because to do otherwise profanes the profound and renders trivial that which ought to be held sacred by anyone who regards himself as a truly human being.

But in modern America, unfortunately, rhetoric often starts over the top and goes up from there. So fine, George W. Bush is “a smirking chimp.” Fine, Barack Obama is “a Chicago thug.” We have a Constitution, after all, and it says we can say whatever we want. It doesn’t say it has to be intelligent.

And yes, you are even protected if you liken Obama or Bush to Hitler. Yet every time I hear that, it makes me cringe for what it says about our collective propensity for historical amnesia and our retarded capacity for reverence. Once upon a lifetime ago, six million people with DNA, names and faces just like you and I, were butchered with gleeful sadism and mechanistic dispatch. Six million people.

You and I may no longer respect one another, but is it asking too much that we still respect them?

Photo portrait of Hitler

Source: Adolph Hitler 1933, Wikimedia, German Federal Archive


Before analyzing Pitts’s expression of ideas, you need to understand the standard elements of his argument.

Headshot of presidents George Bush, Barak Obama and German Dictator Adolf Hitler

Source: George W. Bush/Barack Obama Collage, IPSI