Lincoln and Bush Jr.: what’s in common?

In one word: dubitatio. It is a rhetorical device in which the person starts with the impression of being helpless, not being able to speak well or articulate their points of interest.

Lincoln used it brilliantly in his Cooper Union speech that made him an instant political star. He was politically a nobody when he gave that speech, and he started with “The facts with which I shall deal this evening are mainly old and familiar; nor is there anything new in the general use I shall make of them.” He started by lowering expectations and making the contents of his speech sound like something anyone could have come up with. It couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it is argued that this speech was responsible for his nomination and eventual victory in the presidential race.

George W. Bush was a master of dubitatio. He started off many of his public engagements as a knucklehead and sparking the meme “bushism“. But no one can argue the success of this rhetorical move because it make him ‘likable’, ‘relatable’, or in rhetorical terms virtuous, to his audience. Once he had his audience seeing him favourably, and trusting him to lead like they would have liked to, he (by definition) became an effective leader. Now, whether the leadership was merited, or  how this leadership was utilized, is an entirely different matter.

The fact remains, both were masters of dubitatio, and they used it well.

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