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Wednesday, January 21, 2004
By Paul Ford
I get drunk on politics, but it's an empty drunk with an eternal, nagging hangover. What I hear, and have heard, is a set of tangents off a broad, deep sphere: the sphere is what we need to know, and the tangents are what we want to hear. Sound bites and press clippings are the crumbling marble from which a politican carves itself, perpetually lawyering.
The State of the Union set me off on another binge, cursing the T.V. John Edwards is on in the background, hitting his talking points. “I worked driving a truck one summer during college,” he said. Health care, yes, Iraq, yes, economic opportunity, yes, a time for change, yes.
Rhetoric is supposed to be a system whereby you compel, layering tropes across a line of reasoning, stopping to pick up members of the hitchhiking audience until you all arrive together. But, sound-bitten, we have hollowed out the tropes. Politics is now drawn on graph paper with lines between the boxes.
Today I read that Howard Dean's advisors are going to mellow him out, make him less scary, steady him, press in from all sides. His ideological planets must align perfectly, and the sun at the center cannot burn too hot or too cold; it can't flare. A president must be a mechanical star around which the worlds rotate, in perfect orbit: the only everyman for the job.
There's a branding exercise. For demographic A, product B is value proposition C because benefit D. For America, Howard Dean is the best president because he stopped yelling. For America, George Bush is the best president because he is presidential. I keep playing it over in my head, changing the A,B,C, and D according to the speech, but the formula is unchanging. Marketing is safely ensconsed in politics.
From “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control” , from Newt Gingrich's office.
“Use the list below to help define your campaign and your vision of public service. These words can help give extra power to your message. In addition, these words help develop the positive side of the contrast you should create with your opponent, giving your community something to vote for!”
The list includes “Optimistic Positive Governing Words” (selected)
- common sense
- eliminate good-time in prison
- pro- (issue): flag, children, environment, reform
and “Contrasting Words”, for the democrats (selected):
- abuse of power
- criminal rights
What a total whore they make of language. Language, symbols, are all we have to draw a line between the dead and the living, and the not-yet-born. These hectoring men, and those who write for them, have the entire dictionary to choose from, and the opportunity to narrate an entire country. Instead of a broad current of debate we get a trickle, a thread, a machine-readable text where you and I are the machine: PowerPoint Politics, and PlayStation wars.