In Rhetorical Refusals, John Schilb discusses how some rhetors have refused to meet audience expectations about the norms of discourse or genre; usually, this refusal is deliberate, and rhetors draw upon higher principles to justify their refusal. Often, in rhetorical refusals, the rhetor is attempting to persuade their audience to make a judgment about another audience. His primary example: a review of a performance in which the reviewer hadn’t seen the performance (definitely breaking the norms of the review essay). This review attempts to convince its readers to make judgments about those who enjoy the performance.
Barney Frank’s most recent rhetorical refusal is a great case in point. This video is everywhere online now, partially because I think everyone who can think critically is quite annoyed with the assertions that Obama is like Hitler and expanding health care is Nazism or Socialism. And Frank, rather than engaging and defending his support of health care reform, refuses the norms of question and answer sessions. In effect, he is asking his audience (others in the room, viewers of the YouTube video) to make a judgment about another audience: those who believe the radical misrepresentation of health care reform promoted by certain right wing pundits. Rather than trying to engage these folks, as many of us desire to do, we should judge them as the type of person with whom civil dialogue and persuasion on the topic are impossible.