Before we get to the good stuff, let me make one thing clear: I am not agreeing nor disagreeing with what the author below says, and my act of discussing the following email is not meant to promote nor contradict what it says.
All I want to do is reveal what is going in here through language. Both sides (dare I say “all people”?) use strategies such as the ones I’m discussing, so here we go. First the email, then my commentary.
Now it’s time for some commentary. I’m going to talk about what the author(s?) are going to do to their audience through language. Let’s look at the first bit:
This week, we got some big news about the immigration reform bill. It’s a little wonky, but it’s so great that I couldn’t wait to share it with you.
First of all, the logo at the top gives the email an official and professional feel, yet the casual opening—with the brief and friendly “Hi,” “all,” and perhaps especially the exclamation point—invites the audience to feel at ease and get excited about what will follow. Excitement is contagious, as long as it’s not over the top, and I assume here that by expressing excitement the authors want readers to feel excitement. The authors seem sincere in that they really believe what follows, and who wouldn’t be excited after finding out the facts that follow? This excitement is all over the email and is manifest at the end of the first paragraph with, “it’s so great that I couldn’t wait to share it with you.”
“a little wonky”
Honestly, I had to look the word wonky, but the word does add to the casual feel of the email. As citizens, we like things to be on our level, and politics is often so highly technical that we don’t understand it. By using casual speech and word choice to speak on the same level as readers, authors help readers make the assumption that authors and readers really are on the same level socially, intellectually, etc.
Also, “a little wonky” helps address concerns that audience members might already have about the issue. The phrase “a little wonky” is saying, when read in the context of the entire email, “Sure, the bill isn’t perfect—nothing is—but its merits outweigh its defects.”
Now let’s check out the next paragraph:
The nonpartisan experts who estimate the financial impact of legislation for Congress concluded that because undocumented immigrants will start paying more in taxes for things like education and Social Security, the immigration proposal in the Senate will make the economy fairer for middle class families while cutting the U.S. deficit by almost $1,000,000,000,000 over the next two decades.
These are not just “experts,” but “nonpartisan experts.” This is a carefully chosen phrase. We like things to be nonpartisan because we like things to be unbiased. We are more likely to trust the authors when they tell us that they are using “nonpartisan” (read “unbiased”) sources. Is “nonpartisan” equivalent with unbiased, however? I don’t know. I don’t think we have enough information here to answer that question. But it’s easy to think they mean the same thing in this context.
Note the careful word choice here, too: these are not “illegal” but “undocumented” immigrants. “Illegal” is a negative term, and the authors of this email want to stay positive.
“for things like”
Here we have some simple yet somewhat vague language: “things like” tells us that things are being simplified into terms that we can understand, but there are also things that are unlisted. There is more going on here than we know, but it’s also being translated. If we trust the authors we trust their translation, and if we like the casual and optimistic tone, we may not even question word choices such as this one.
Spelling out the trillion is strategic: to see that many zeros on a page is impressive. It’s not every day that we see a number that big. “1,000,000,000,000” is physically longer (it takes more space on the page) than “a trillion.” Spelling the word out makes the concept seem bigger than if we just had “one trillion.” According to The White House’s Google+ page, the number is closer 897,000,000,000.
Finally, let’s take a minute to check out the last two paragraphs:
With every passing day, it’s becoming clear that we can’t afford not to act. Now we know exactly how much is at stake, and it’s the kind of news that can help to change the policy conversation in Washington.
So we’ve put together a graphic that explains exactly how this works, and we need your help to share it. If more people get the facts, it’ll be easier to build a nationwide, bipartisan consensus to get this done.
“we know exactly”
This “we” is especially nuanced. Since above we’re told “almost $1,000,000,000,000,” and since we’re also given simplified examples such as “things like,” as discussed above, can “we” really say that “we know exactly how much is at stake”? This particular “we” does not seem to include readers of the email but only the authors of the email, the “nonpartisan experts”–unless, of course, the readers of the document already trust and have sided with the authors. Then “we” really do “know exactly how much is at stake.” Trust, as Aristotle once said, is the strongest rhetorical appeal. We believe those we trust. Trust is always an issue. Cf. Kenneth Burke’s “Responsibilities of National Greatness” for more commentary and discussions about the identifications concerning the word we.
An ultimate term. See this and also this. The assumption here is that the things which the authors have shown readers in this email are the facts.
Also an ultimate term. Most of us are sick of the fighting between parties. We want a “bipartisan consensus,” which is the political ideal. We do strive for agreement, and nothing gets done without it. The assumption here is that if we accept, agree with, and share the information contained in this email, we will begin to be less frustrated with partisan politics.
Thanks for reading. Again, I’m not arguing for or arguing against the content of this email. I’m just discussing what the authors leave implicit.