I see quite often the expression 'Red meat rhetoric’ these days in journals, for example

Obama’s red meat rhetoric –CNN Conservative Media July 7.

Mitt Romney delivers red meat rhetoric to CPAC Crowd. - National Journal Feb. 11.

Tim Pawlenty needed red meat rhetoric – I forgot the source.

I checked the definition of this expression on both Cambridge Dictionary online and Merriam-Webster com. Neither of them registers it. I checked Google Ngram. It shows growing rise of the usage of ‘Red meat,’ notably coming into 1980s, but no ‘Red meat rhetoric' registration.

I found two posts defining the word in Word Reference Com. Language Forum, which say;

  • This is rather like the contrast between an aggressively carnivorous creature, an eater of red meat - perhaps a hyena; and a more gentle and judicious creature, a muncher of leaves and fruit - perhaps an orangutan

  • Red meat" rhetoric is rhetoric that you can "chew on". "Chew on" = "think about". As opposed to rhetoric that you can "swallow whole," predigested.

I don’t know either the above definitions are right or not, but they feel very loose. Can you provide me with a more concise and exact meaning of Red meat rhetoric?


5 Answers 5


From "Looking for Red Meat Political Terms That Won't Bring a Hail of Dead Cats" (June 12, 2008):

WILLIAM SAFIRE: I was looking for some criticism of people who were defeatist, who thought that we could never win in Vietnam. And so I came up with the nattering nabobs of negativism. That is known as red meat rhetoric. When you talk about 'there is no red meat in this speech,' that means there is no ammunition you can feed your supporters to use or throw into the cage of a lion that was hungry.

So basically he says 'red meat rhetoric' is about making substantial, "nutritious" statements, not beating about the bush or hand-waving with general terms. So it involves a bit of both of your definitions. It can also dip into a populist speech.

  • @Hackworth. Thank you for your quick answer. Actually the asker in the Word Reference Com. Language Forum started his question by asking “Does ‘Red meat rhetric’ mean populist rhetric?” Aug 18, 2011 at 22:01
  • I understand the 'populist' part as only one aspect what red meat rhetoric can mean, but doesn't have to. The borders between bold rhetoric, populist rhetoric, polemic rhetoric, etc. are hard to distinguish for the layman, but aer all covered by 'red meat rhetoric'. Then again, I heard of that term 30 minutes ago, so take it as you will :)
    – Hackworth
    Aug 18, 2011 at 22:14

The old MSN Encarta defined this term, referring to:

communication forceful and to the point: pithy, forceful, aggressively delivered, and focusing sharply on contentious issues ( informal )

So if Obama (or any politician) is referred to giving red meat rhetoric, then they are delivering forceful and powerful speeches to their audience. This could be analogized to feeding red meat to a bunch of tigers--you're feeding the crowd, getting them riled up.


The term "red meat speech" refers, yes, to "something to chew on;" but the expression may have come from feeding time at the zoo, specifically at the lion cage, where the keepers toss large chunks of fresh red meat to the hungry carnivores while an eager audience of visitors goes into their own feeding frenzy, cheering and screaming as the ferocious cats tear, chew, and digest their favorite meal.

Here's my favorite example of a red meat speech featuring former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm's speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. She worked the house beautifully, delivering the message with lots of memorable take-away value, all the while whipping the crowd into a frothy frenzy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5mw_6s5vh8


At one point, "red meat" (that is, beef, as opposed to pork or poultry) was believed to promote aggression. Speeches whose subject matter or style was chosen to bolster the enthusiasm of your own side are called "red meat". A politician might give a red-meat speech about reducing taxes (if he's a conservative) or about increasing taxes of people other than you (if he's a liberal) or about abortion (one way or the other), knowing that his base will be energized and hoping the swing voters won't hear about it.

The phrase "red-meat rhetoric" is somewhat redundant. Red meat, in this context, is always rhetoric.

  • Please remove your political spindoctoring.
    – tchrist
    Jul 10, 2012 at 18:50
  • @tchrist - I might, if you explain what you're talking about. Jul 10, 2012 at 22:02
  • All your reference to conservative and "liberal" should be stricken.
    – tchrist
    Jul 10, 2012 at 23:02
  • "A politician might give a red-meat speech about reducing taxes (if he's a stricken) or about increasing taxes of people other than you (if he's a stricken)"? Jul 10, 2012 at 23:08
  • It is one of the right-wingers’ lies that progressives wish to tax people, let alone people other than themselves. Progressives are not so hypocritical. The heart of the progressive movement is to help people. The heart of the opposition is to let people suffer. Take your political claptrap elsewhere.
    – tchrist
    Jul 11, 2012 at 0:02

It sounds a bit like 'purple prose' - lurid language.

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