Further to my question about the usage of ‘Blood libels’ I posted yesterday, I found the following lead-copy of an article referring to Sara Palin’s rhetoric in today’s Washington Post. It seems the article is hinting a problem of her presidential quality in terms of choice of words. However, I don’t understand why on the earth , God appears in a file of Founding Fathers, the Constitution and Ronald Reagan, even though it may be a rhetoric gimmick. It looks to me an odd combination (or comparison). Do you understand my question? Can somebody clarify?

‘Sarah Palin's effort to defuse controversy backfires with 'blood libel' comment: The presidential-quality stagecraft was there: an American flag over Sarah Palin's left shoulder and another over her heart. So was the rhetorical polish, with its invocations of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, God and Ronald Reagan.’

  • Daniel, when you edit a question, it ends up on the front page. Do such old questions really need to be edited? If so, maybe wait until one of them is off the first page before you do another...
    – GEdgar
    Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 22:58

2 Answers 2


Actually, I believe this is a question about rhetoric, not American culture. The reason the statement backfires is that it is unintentionally hilarious. Rhetorically speaking, in enumerating a list it is good practice to go from the least important item to the most important. That is called, colloquially, a "build". In the Declaration of Independence, there are these words:

And for the support of this Declaration with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

The build is from lives, which Jefferson considered the least important item (probably out of a desire to demonstrate bravery), to fortunes (in both senses: monetary and fate), and our sacred honor (above which there was nothing of more importance that he could imagine).

Sarah Palin's list (if that is the actual order), puts the Founding Fathers and the Constitution first (least important). God comes in second. Who comes in third, as most important? Why, Ronald Reagan. He's apparently more important than God and our Constitution in her mind.

That's what's funny about it.

  • Robusto.The Founding Fathers, the Constitution, God and Ronald Reagan quoted in the above excerpt are originarilly cited in Sarah Palin’s list of ‘authentically American’ – that I didn’t know. Now I understood why God is included in the mix of different elements, people, writen statement and God, that doesn’t occur to a non-American like me. -Yoichi Commented Jan 14, 2011 at 8:19

(This is more a question about American culture than about English, but here goes.)

The reason those items are listed together is because they are common objects of reverence in American civic culture. Linking one's cause to {the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, God, Ronald Reagan} is a way to establish yourself as authentically American and associate yourself with things that are positively regarded by many or most Americans.

  • 3
    @Yoichi, with the exception of a few people with very strong party or ideological preferences, probably not. American popular mythology has canonized a number of presidents and made them universally admired, regardless of their actual party affiliation and the opposition they engendered during their presidency. Kennedy and Roosevelt are definitely on that list. Reagan probably will be, but he isn't quite there yet, as there are still too many living people who remember hating him. Commented Jan 14, 2011 at 1:50
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    @Cerberus, at present Republicans are more likely to invoke Reagan than Democrats, since Reagan was a Republican. However, I've also heard him invoked by Democrats who want to appear magnaminous, which is the first step towards making him a bipartisan figure of admiration. Commented Jan 14, 2011 at 4:49
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    Hmmm… I'm apparently living in a different US than some of y'all. I see the left still hating Reagan for (among other things) his voodoo economic policies, and the right still hating FDR for (among other things) his big gov't expansionist policies. You won't hear MSNBC anchors praising Reagan, nor will you hear Fox anchors praising FDR.
    – Dori
    Commented Jan 14, 2011 at 9:14
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    I don't get it: do republicans think "God" is "American authentic"? Really?
    – o0'.
    Commented Jan 14, 2011 at 15:10
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    @Dori: rotflmao, thanks. "God has granted America a special role in human history" <--- this is enough for me, my bullshit detector came in and prevented me from reading any further :O
    – o0'.
    Commented Jan 16, 2011 at 13:10

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