McCain accuses Obama with rhetorical witchcraft

by Peter Watts

President Obama’s actions to defeat terrorism have been making news, and in the process have allowed John McCain, the man he beat for the White House, to use some marvellously cool rhetoric to accuse the President of a marvellous cool PR plot.

Backstory: McCain has accused Obama of leaking defence information deliberately chosen to make him look good as Commander-in-Chief.

Here’s the McCain technique:

“…one could draw the conclusion that this is an attempt to further the President’s ambitions for the sake of his re-election…”

In his accusation, note the form that the Senator has taken:

“One could draw the conclusion….”

This isn’t the Senator coming out with an accusation that he can be called on, but instead couching behind a mythical third party. It’s a rhetorical form called a Paralipsis whereby McCain doesn’t directly say the the President is leaking information but merely suggests that someone could be forgiven if they thought that he was.

The Senator then follows up with a call for the White House to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate such supposed leaks, and suggests that if such a prosecutor is not appointed, the only reason for that hesitation can be guilt!

In other words, if the White House doesn’t confirm there has been a leak by appointing the prosecutor, then they are choosing to confirm the presence of a leak by not confirming it.

It’s a rhetorical ploy for creating a news-story that’s so witchily crafty that it reminds me of the ducking-stools used during the witch trials. Should the accused drown beneath the waters during her ducking, she was innocent. Should she survive however then she was clearly guilty, in which case they burnt her at the stake.

Senator McCain has successfully placed the White House onto a rhetorical ducking stool.

How to respond?

When you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t, then the best defence is often to do nothing at all! At the moment, despite all that billowing smoke, there still isn’t a direct accusation to respond to; that is, unless the White House chooses to see one.

Will they or won’t they?

Senator McCain has conjured the smoke. Now he’s hoping that the White House, should they respond, will conjure the flames.


  1. Well, it looks like they took the bait, and just to prove the old adage about give a mouse a cookie, and he’ll want a glass of milk, click this link to find out what happened next…


  1. […] Here is the line from the speech that came to dominate media attention. It’s a section where Romney demands the White House investigate accusations of classified information being leaked. He is picking up on a theme introduced by Senator John McCain several weeks ago. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: