Saturday, November 29, 2003

I've read Orwell's essay twice now, and I think it will (or should) be a regular habit. Phrases like supporting our troops, defending freedom, liberal media, and compassionate conservatism, float through our public discourse like litter through the windy streets (would George approve of that last one?). Ease of parody, I think, measures inversely depth of thought. Who is easier to impersonate than a politician? Journalists are the only class of professional easier to imitate in satire. Politics and editorials are reduced to slogans and appropriating phrases. Conservative editorials fling Unamerican at anyone who criticizes the president. Think how unnatural it would seem to hear a liberal call a conservative Unamerican. If anything, it would seem like an intentional irony. "Look at me, the liberal, calling a conservative unamerican, how decidedly unliberal of me." What about conservative and liberal? Can you be a liberal republican? How about a conservative democrat? Of course, my commentary here is clearly unamerican. How could I be accusing the commander in chief of double talk, when everyone from the Crawford Coffee Shop to the Beltway agrees he is a straight talker? I remember when Bush was running in 2000, and all the republicans were still trying to defend W's reputation for being, well, not exactly Rhode Scholar material. (Aside: is it just me or has Rhode Scholar taken on a connotation similar to White House Intern?). The republican boosters all said the same thing: "He's a great manager. He'll put together a great team. He knows how to take advice". Well those are admirable qualities. They are even necessary traits for a President. But they should be refining compliments to leadership. Presidents need beliefs, guiding principles, and good advisors. But above all they need intellectual horsepower. Can GW press Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz on the finer points of their global strategy and ideology? Can GW articulate to Powell that hopes for global coalition building were dashed by the growing impact of terrorism? How can he be expected to decide between competing and compelling arguments from each? At the same time, the democrats seem incapable of connecting with anyone. Look at Kerry's stance on the war. Can anyone summarize it? Could there possibly be a slogan for it? I suppose that is Dean's appeal. He is clearly defined as the anti-Bush candidate. Then there is Dick "no-comment" Gephardt. How could a candidate for the presidency try to get away with saying nothing about the most stirring symbolic act the president has made since visiting ground zero in 2001? At least Gephardt is literally saying nothing.

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