Some Democrats and pundits accused the Bush administration of playing politics with 9/11 for offering a photo taken that day as a promotion for political contributions. Some Republicans and pundits accused some Democrats of playing politics by calling for Senate hearings into what Bush knew and when he knew it regarding “warnings” of 9/11. And some of those not involved in these mud fights are standing by the wayside hollering “politics” at both sides.
What does it mean to “play politics”? This is not a simple question with a common sense answer because so much of what it means to play politics is grounded in the points of view of the political actors involved. Further, there are those, like me, who do not believe that human interaction can ever escape rhetoric or politics because nearly everything is rhetorical and political. That’s a fancy way of saying nearly everything it up for negotiation, which requires rhetoric and politics.
Here’s a simple axiom of politics in a republican context: You must win to lead. If you lose, you must wait until your next opportunity to win.
In such a political context, how is it possible not to play politics? That’s a simple question with a simple answer: It’s impossible not to play politics. But, one may certainly play the game with style and grace. While offering a rather mundane photo of a man talking on a telephone seems harmless enough, if the man is the president and the situation is a tense moment on 9/11, grace requires that you think twice about offering it as a promotion for contributions. As for the “Bush Knew” “scandal,” just plug the particulars into the grammar of the preceding sentence.
There is no way not to play politics regarding these situations. So let’s pay particular attention to how and why politics is played (and what language is used to play it). In an election year the goal of winning is always foremost, but it is particularly so this year because the margin in the Senate is so tight. Add to this the fact that presidential campaigns no longer have beginnings and endings; the campaign is ongoing. For Democrats and Republicans alike, these situations hint at presidential vulnerability–hence, the playing of politics.