Tactics and Substance in the 2004 Elections GoogleNews: Howard Dean

April 14, 2004

by V

"Resolve" is not a Plan: The Soap Opera President strikes again

I wasn't near a TV or radio during the press conference last night, so I'm relying on the reports of others who watched it. (Reading live bloggings of it [Pandagon, K.Drum, Atrios...] gave me some of the flavor.) Ezra Klein's summation post gets at something that's bugged me all along about Bush's words:

Pandagon: Bush's Cave
Tonight was a shell game... where Bush told us his answers were real responses and his statements of intent an actual discussion. But they weren't. They were crap. They were words free of content dressed up to sound like a plan of action, phrased to seem like a substantive report. But there was nothing in them, no honest whole able to emerge from the sum total of his remarks.

...he spoke of his feelings, his intentions. He took questions on specific actions and pieces of evidence and turned them into denunciations of terrorists and paeans to freedom ... He told us of his commitment. He told us of his resolve. He told us of his values and concern and sympathy. But he never told us anything about our government.
This reminds me of the days when I actually followed a soap opera, and everything followed the script antipattern "tell, don't show". Everyone was constantly describing their love - "Oh Kayla, our love is unstoppable" ... "They'll never defeat our love" ... "I can't tell you how much our love means to me!" - but never really doing anything besides talk about it.

Bush's talk of 'freedom' and 'resolve' is so constant (and his successes so few) that I can't help but picture him on a daytime soap, spewing his repetitive, meaningless, empty words and pretending they're oh so dramatic and true.
[Jon] Stewart likes to say that Bush isn't stupid, we are. He couldn't talk like this to us if we weren't. That's exactly right. Bush stood up there for an hour and ran for President the same way he did 4 years ago; as if he wasn't the President. The advantage of being the challenger is you get to talk about visions and ideals and intent and desire. When you're President, you have to defend a record. That apparently isn't so with George W. Bush. He stood there for an hour answering questions as if no policy he put into place required an honest defense, no consequences from his actions merited note. Rather, he casually threw aside whatever the situation was, expressing sympathy for the suffering contained therein and reiterating how much he loved freedom and how the bad guys don't.

...He was asked to explain his actions but he instead explained his feelings. He pretended to talk about America and instead spoke about himself. His rhetoric was lofty, his convictions on display, but tonight he was no President. A President equates himself with America, he explains his actions in terms of their effects, mindful that what he does while in office is about us, not him. Tonight, George W Bush turned that on its head. He equated America with himself, he explained his actions in terms of how he felt about them, clearly preferring to make this office about him and not us. It was a disgusting performance for one so determined to promote democracy.
Josh Marshall also did some fine distilling:
But, even setting aside the awkward moments where the president couldn't think of any mistake he'd ever made on foreign policy since 9/11, what I saw was a man with a quiver of cliches and a few simple stock arguments. Whatever the question, he grabbed a handful of those and tossed them back.

It's become a bit impolitic in Washington to question whether the president really knows what he's doing or whether he has any sort of a detailed handle on what's going on on his watch. But I didn't see much sign of either. I just saw a lot of push harder, freedom, we're changing the world, ditching my policies means the terrorists win, etc. When it wasn't that, the president expressed his willingness to go head to head with all those people who thought Saddam was doing a good job running Iraq and should be back in power. He's also willing to go on the record disagreeing with all those critics of his policies who say that neither Muslims or "brown-skinned" people can create democracies.

I saw a man on autopilot, and a pretty crude autopilot at that.
Sorry I missed it.

P.S. the new word for the day is: HYPNO-TIE!
Posted by V at April 14, 2004 10:45 AM

Recommended Reading:

The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity: A Diplomat's Memoir
The Politics of Truth... A Diplomat's Memoir

Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush
Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush

Against All Enemies by Richard Clarke
Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror

LIES by Al Franken
Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right

The Great Unraveling
The Great Unraveling

The Great Big Book of Tomorrow
The Great Big Book of Tomorrow

Clinton Wars
The Clinton Wars

Blinded by the Right
Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative

Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat

Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture

Living History

The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton

John Adams

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace

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