The Art of Political Rhetoric

Dr. John M. Murphy
Associate Professor
Joined the department in 2008

Dr. John Murphy is an expert in political rhetoric: He evaluates public speeches and how they influence the American people. He investigates how the wording and structure of speeches can influence the public in positive or negative ways. At the University of Illinois, he teaches a course titled Strategies of Persuasion that examines the persuasiveness of public address. He also teaches a course named The Rhetorical Presidency, which focuses on how presidents’ rhetorical choices shape their image. Keep reading to learn more about Dr. Murphy’s work.

1. How did you become interested in the topic of presidents and their public speeches?
I competed in speech and debate in high school and college. It seemed a natural short step from giving speeches about presidents to studying the speeches of presidents.

2. In your Communication 321 course, you focus on the rhetoric of politicians. What strategies are particularly successful in political speeches? What strategies can backfire?
There are a lot of answers to this question, but ethos, or appeals based on one’s character, is one reply to both. If a person's character seems remarkable, we’re much more likely to accept their policies and ideas, but the sense of betrayal can be powerful and devastating if people discover a person is not what s/he appears to be.

3. Have you had any hands-on experience with political rhetoric? If so, what have you learned from it?
I’ve helped congressional candidates with speeches and debates a bit, but honestly, not a great deal. Those in the flow of events often are the worst critics (in the neutral sense of the term) of their efforts. It’s a rare actor who can critique and understand his/her own films, as Inside the Actor’s Studio often reveals.

4.What is one thing you would want undergraduates to know about your research, findings, or about political rhetoric?
Undergraduates should know enough about political rhetoric to make good judgments and evaluations. You learn about your iPhone so that you can use it properly. Learn about political discourse so that you can use it and evaluate it properly.