The Gusto of Dale Peterson.

by SC

[If you are interested in reading another political orientated rhetorical piece with a similar format and style on Obama’s Yes We Can Speech, then click here]


One of America’s foundations is its democratic political system, a system where supposedly every American citizen will have equal say in their government. These unalienable rights were guaranteed in the American constitution and thus politics is heavily intertwined with the American conscious. Dale Peterson, a Republican born in the state of Georgia, is an individual who wants to run for the mayor of Georgia and is using social media to gain supporters of his cause. Whilst his video is geared towards Republican viewers and in particular southern voters, overall it is a moderately effective piece of propaganda. There some questionable choices within this video which hurt Peterson’s ethos and strained his emotional connection with the audience. Like most other short political advertisements, the main focus is on establishing a positive ethos whilst using pathos to vilify opposing parties. The small amounts of logos found within this video is both a strength and a flaw and most likely a result of the time constraints since the advertisement is approximately a minute long. Whilst watching Peterson’s video, one must remember that his message is specifically aimed towards a certain demographic. Whilst I may not connect with his context or his beliefs, this should not impact my judgment of the advertisement’s effectiveness.

Fostering a positive ethos is an essential part in creating rapport between the orator and the audience; it disarms any suspicions or concerns which they might have originally held. It is obvious that Peterson derives a large portion of his identity from his sense of American patriotism, a trait that he uses to establish a common connection between him and his primary demographic; southern Republicans. In order to build up ‘good will’ with the audience, Peterson appears in a cowboy outfit thus subtly reflecting southern values through his style of dress. He presents himself as someone who is socially adjusted to the cultural values of his target audience instead of an intruder who is ignorant about the local traditions. Further attempts to reinforce his invented ethos are reflected in the non-diegetic music playing through the advertisement, it is triumphant and heroic and it is clear that Peterson is trying to attach these qualities to his persona. Part of creating a positive ethos is understanding that one’s actions or context will be linked to one’s persona or characteristics, otherwise known as the ‘fundamental attribution error’. By starting the video with a photo of the Declaration of Independence; Peterson is building a metaphorical bridge between himself and one of the most influential documents ever, a symbol of justice, freedom and liberty. This patriotic connection to the foundation of American society portrays Peterson as a strong minded individual capable who is also heavily invested in the idealism of the American nation.

On the other hand, there are many flaws in Peterson’s propaganda video and its polarizing nature means that it basically ‘preaches to the choir’ and only appeals to a selected audience. Whilst his outfit and his southern colloquialism may create a sense of familiarity to voters with a similar context, it may repel voters who cannot connect with his invented ‘redneck’ and ‘country’ ethos. Likewise at the end of the advertisement, Peterson refers to himself in third person, “Dale Peterson says click here to check out our website” which shows an extreme level of narcissism. Personally, this was the point when his ‘confidence and charisma’ became less endearing and more annoying. The presence of Peterson’s inflated ego damages his ethos as audiences become suspicious of his motives; is political power his ultimate goal or does he sincerely wish to serve the community? Aristotle commented humans are self-interested creatures and thus audiences tend to gravitate towards people or parties where mutual trust and benefit underlines the relationship. Peterson’s condescending tone caused me to question his leadership skills and his integrity.

Part of being a skilled orator involves the manipulation of pathos in order to get the audience to emotionally invest into their message. A lot of political campaigns and advertisements choose to use pathos instead of logos since I believe that with time constraints, logos is the hardest aspect to effectively incorporate into a text. This is because ethos and pathos can be conveyed through something as simple and subtle as dress and music. Logos, however, is most effective when it is supplemented by verified facts and statistics, which can be very time consuming. Thus to some extent I understand Peterson’s inclusion of unsupported premises and cheap insults towards his political opponent; Roy ‘King’ Barnes. Statements like saying Barnes associates with “thugs and criminals” and “you know why they call him King Roy? Because he thinks he’s better than everyone!” are a quick way to smear one’s character. However most viewers will notice that Peterson’s campaign is built upon his personality and that the total lack of inartistic logos removes a lot of the creditability behind his message. Peterson also tries to create mistrust between the American public and Barnes in the statement “send King Roy back to home to his castle where he can’t do Georgia anymore harm.” Personally I think this sentence is more effective than the previously insults because it is a pun on Barnes’ nickname. Also, this sentence alludes to Barnes’ commitment to aristocracy and monarchy rule, a system which is foreign to America political culture. Personally whenever I analyse Peterson’s invented ethos in the advertisement, I see the connections between him and the ‘Walt Whitman’ archetype. There is an attempt to present himself as rugged and intelligent, grounded yet active within the larger community, all values and traits held in high regard by American society.

Rhetoric and the art of persuasion were first developed over two thousand years ago but it still remains important and relevant in today’s society. Dale Peterson understands the basics of rhetoric yet lacks the subtlety of an experienced rhetorician. Peterson’s biggest flaw was catering only towards a small and specialized demographic; southern Republicans, in particular those who associated with the ‘cowboy’ persona. This may result in a large majority of the American public rejecting his message purely because of his invented ethos. Another issue within the video was the complete lack of logos and the cheap unfounded insults on Barnes’ character, giving audiences the impression that Peterson is both childish and immature. However I understand that in some cases logos is not as effective as playing upon emotions like fear, respect and prejudice, especially in a scare campaign. However an aspect that Peterson effectively exploits is the overwhelming sense of patriotism within the video, by embellishing and almost flaunting his nationalism, he is trying to build a link between himself and the American people. Unfortunately the strengths within this piece of rhetoric couldn’t undo the flaws and Peterson is no longer an active political candidate in Georgia. Also these advertisements have been transformed into viral internet jokes because of his overly obnoxious character and his over indulgence into conveying American stereotypes.