Tactics and Substance in the 2004 Elections GoogleNews: Howard Dean

May 19, 2004

by J


Well, it was inevitable -- Saletan at Slate has come out with Kerryisms: the Senator's caveats and curlicues, and they're being pretty clever about it. It's not that Kerry says things that demonstrate completely vacuity, lack of any sense of intellectual rigor, and utter incuriousness like Dubya. Instead, it's that he's overly cautious, too qualified, and nuanced. So, they post his quotes, strip out the qualifiers and "embellishments" and then claim you can see what he said separate from the Senatorese. A couple of commenters are annoyed. One said:
I avidly read Saletan's political journalism but he's gone off on a pointless tangent here in an apparent effort to devote equal time to candidates' intellectual foibles. Bushisms is a funny and often insightful recitation of GW's long-distance affair with English; this Kerryisms column already appears contrived and a failure. The words and phrases redacted in order to "plain-English-ize" Kerry's speech were neither superfluous nor obvious political-hedges, but rather appeared to be well-considered sentiments or emphases which effectively return political expression to it's once-celebrated role as the highest form of rhetoric.

Regardless Slate already devotes substantial effort to counter-balancing the gravity of Bushims. So long as Mickey Kaus keeps writing for Slate, no one else need feel obligated to "cast an equally cold eye" on anything...
We do seem to have succumbed to a soundbite culture to such an extent that anyone who speaks in paragraphs is immediately suspect. Another artifact of rampant anti-intellectualism. This isn't to say that I don't find Kerry annoying, just that attempting to draw a parallel between demonstrated incompetence and demonstrated (perhaps overly much) thoughtfulness is little more than cheap punditry.
Posted by J at May 19, 2004 01:34 PM

I actually find the Kerryisms posted so far to be pretty amusing and helpful. We can decry the "soundbite culture" all we want. But the truth is that conciseness and clarity are useful skills in any culture that depends on communication (i.e., politics). Bush's problem is not that his being concise in his statements are bad. It's that the SUBSTANCE of his statements are wrong. The fact that some people take the concise manner in which he says the wrong thing as some sign that he might be right is an indictment of the listener, not the speaker.

Posted by: Chris Andersen at May 19, 2004 02:25 PM

I actually quite enjoyed the Kerryisms, being a Dean man. Kerry just can't spit out what he really means. Did you read Dean's book, _Winning_Back_America_? I really loved the way he had short, declarative sentences that were easy to understand -- exactly the opposite of a Kerry sentence whereby you get so bored by the middle of the sentence that you can't make yourself pay attention until the end.

Posted by: Shooter in AZ at May 19, 2004 02:26 PM

Shooter, I think you're hitting on a key issue there. I've heard it said that Kerry's surge in the primaries started when he had nothing at all to lose and shed the Senatoreze. Once he started winning he gradually picked up the Senatoreze again. By that time he had a head of steam and the rest is history. But, he and his campaign staff would be smart to remember the cause and effect between his use of Senatoreze and his ability to persuade voters to vote for him.

Posted by: Kevin at May 19, 2004 06:01 PM

I'm gonna ditto Kevin here. (eeek...I'm a dittohead now)

I think Kerry is best when he has to be a scrapper. If he gets put into a corner by Bush...he'll come out swinging.

Although Kev and I saw heard him Monday night and I thought he was pretty great in person.

Posted by: Carla at May 19, 2004 08:01 PM

From The Talent Show: "Personally I think having a President that doesn't understand the most basic aspects of English grammar is much funnier (and scarier) than one that talks too much. ... Or, to put this in "Must See TV" terms, we've got a choice between making Frasier or Joey our next president."


Posted by: V at May 20, 2004 10:18 AM

Soundbites may be "concise" but often serve more to obfuscate and inappropriately mask complexity than to serve the cause of clarity. Moreover, throwing up our hands in a "that's just the way media likes it" surrender seems counterproductive.

Probably a good time to link to the Gettysburg Address in Powerpoint.

I did read Winning Back America. I actually thought it could have been better written (but most campaign books could.) In terms of understanding Dean, I found the Citizen's Guide pulled together by reporters who'd covered him to be much more interesting.

In general, I guess I am more troubled by the anti-intellectualism exemplified by all the mocking of Kerry than I am by his hedging. I understand where the hedging comes from (the Senate -- and that's the way that body was designed to be.) The problems we face are not simple and I think we've had just about enough "moral" clarity for awhile.

Now, I recognize that a campaign is different from governing and that he needs to sharpen his rhetoric a bit. Nevertheless, I think some tolerance for ambiguity and an ability to cope with it will be a good thing in the Executive Branch. (And Dean had this too, although he was able to speak more effectively even so.)

Posted by: J at May 20, 2004 03:59 PM

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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