Thursday, December 27, 2012

Looking at Political Rhetoric Ahead with the Aid of a Look Back at Decider Era Language

By Gary Berg-Cross

There are quite a few decisions ahead we face as a nation, but the end of the year is also a time to look back.  Well, at first blush we see in the rear view mirror a very political, ideological and shallow belief driven year.  Looking ahead at some of looming, large conversations it seems that there is plenty to anticipate. But  as a nation we have gone from a 2 year campaign to a permanent campaign mode that makes compromise and balanced decisions difficult.  With ideological belief ridding harshly on pragmatic approaches we are likely to slink into that finger-pointing style for some time. 

That seems a poor environment for decisions so perhaps a look back provides some perspective on what might get when we auto pilot on  politics, ideology and God-given beliefs.  We don’t have to go back too far.  We can look at George W. Bush’s (ghost team written) presidential autobiography Decision Points for some idea of what emerges from such an atmosphere.

When it came out Decision Points  was described by a NYTs review as:

 a book that is part spin, part mea culpa, part family scrapbook, part self-conscious effort to (re)shape his political legacy…. Certainly it’s the most casual of presidential memoirs: how many works in the genre start as a sort of evangelical, 12-step confession (‘Could I continue to grow closer to the Almighty or was alcohol becoming my god?’),”

Eliot Weinberger’s writing in the London Review of Books pointed out how the book blurred distinction between fiction and non-fiction.

That is to say, the parts that are not outright lies – particularly the accounts of Hurricane Katrina and the lead-up to the Iraq War – are the sunnier halves of half-truths.

Obama is certainly not George W. and likely more thought and data for decisions, but he is dealing in part with neo-con and rigid belief factions that advised us into “problems.”  It is sobering to think about how many Bush legacies, discussed in that book as if Bush was heroically dealing with each one, still have to be dealt with by Obama. The list includes:

  • Recession and debt following the financial crisis of 2008
  • Terrorist attacks,
  • Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and controlling the military,
  • Middle East conflicts, emerging democracies & aid,
  • drones,
  • Various domestic issues (including Medical reform, Social Security reform, Education and Immigration reform),
  • Federal response to disaster (Sandy etc.) and
  • Political strategy

What ever book Obama writes it will probably provide more insight into these and reflect a different backward glance than W’s last days in office (from Wikipedia):

"I reflected on everything we were facing. Over the past few weeks we had seen the failure of America's two largest mortgage entities, the bankruptcy of a major investment bank, the sale of another, the nationalization of the world's largest insurance company, and now the most drastic intervention in the free market since the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. At the same time, Russia had invaded and occupied Georgia, Hurricane Ike had hit Texas, and America was fighting a two-front war in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was one ugly way to end the presidency."

Ugly yes, but as Eliot Weinberger wrote in the London Review of Books:

“Bush is the lone hero of every page of Decision PointsWe hear very little substantial thinking but are offered instead some detached voice sounding forceful, in command, and often peeved at “the inadequacies of his subordinates”. 

Now with a permanent campaign abroad in the land we don’t have to wait for a book to hear spin, combined with mea culpas and self-conscious effort to (shape political legacies (think John Boehner).   So perhaps we can be fore-warned and not have to wait for a future Obama book.  Instead someone else is likely to spin the next few years events to their purpose in a George W decision making style voice:

‘What the hell is happening?’ I asked during an NSC meeting in late April. ‘Why isn’t anybody stopping these looters?’
‘By the time Colin gets to the White House for the meeting, this had better be fixed.’
‘We need to find out what he knows,’ I directed the team. ‘What are our options?’
‘Damn right,’ I said.
‘Where the hell is Ashcroft?’ I asked.
‘Go,’ I said. ‘This is the right thing to do.’
‘We’re going to stay confident and patient, cool and steady,’ I said.
‘Damn it, we can do more than one thing at a time,’ I told the national security team.
As I told my advisers, ‘I didn’t take this job to play small ball.’
‘This is a good start, but it’s not enough,’ I told him. ‘Go back to the drawing board and think even bigger.’
‘We don’t have 24 hours,’ I snapped. ‘We’ve waited too long already.’
‘What the hell is going on?’ I asked Hank. ‘I thought we were going to get a deal.’
‘That’s it?’ I snapped.

It’s complaint and bravado without substance and you can substitute freely to imagine the events that will be reported around the fiscal curb, for example. (“we don’t have 2 hours and what the hell is going on?”)  It’s the new normal and I’m already afraid we’ll be hearing this empty leadership style language in the 2014 campaign. In Texas, noted the NY Times, the 2014 Campaigns  Have Already Begun – “The Campaigns Are Dead, Long Live the Campaigns”. .And the rhetoric has plenty of fodder to throw at us. 

‘That’s it?’ I’ve snapped just thinking about what our political-interest-media hybrid system has become.

Image Credits

George P. Bush:

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