September 30, 2002

Bush and Gore on Iraq…

My analyses of the Bush UN speech and the Gore response are now available on Presidential Campaign Rhetoric 2004. I created a new section for side-by-side comparisons.

September 30, 2002

West Wing loves Democrats…

Chris Matthews points out the cozy relationship ($$$) between some cast members of West Wing and the Democrats. Does this matter? I suppose it matters to the extent that a West Wing portraying a Republican administration in a positive light, with cast members donating to Republicans, would more than likely be welcomed by the GOP. It seems we accept it as normal behavior that citizens react politically in some way to the fiction of television–even if that reaction is only “good liberal sentiment.” If such is the case, then Republicans are right to be concerned.

September 30, 2002

Politics without politics is not politics…

This story in the Chicago Tribune demonstrates the structural biases of journalism. It is a conflict story. The central plot of the narrative is that the characters–Democrats and President Bush–disagree about, among other things, the conduct of the mid-term campaign. The plot includes accusations and retorts. The theme involves questioning what issues should be above politics. The climax is still in doubt. Let’s examine this portion of the article:

When Bush asserted in a fundraising speech in New Jersey on Sept. 23 that the Democrat-controlled Senate “is more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people,” Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) shot back that Bush was using the war to distract attention from domestic problems.

“It is despicable that any president would attempt to use the serious matter of war as a tool in a campaign year,” Byrd said on the Senate floor last week, as Bush’s campaign activity and the backlash it generated reached a fever pitch.

Bush’s unbridled desire to regain control of the Senate, the White House’s advice to GOP candidates to make the war a central theme of their campaigns, and tensions within the Democratic Party over how, and whether, to challenge a popular president on the conduct of a war collided last week.

The eruption highlighted just how much of the president’s time is occupied not by governing, but by bare-knuckles political campaigning.

While I believe Bush’s “not interested” remark (quoted out of context by the Tribune) was ill-considered, I find this fragment of Byrd’s response more interesting. Since when hasn’t a president used the serious matters of the republic as a campaign tool? Byrd employs a standard tactic against a political zinger: huff and puff about how it’s just playing politics. Sometimes this tactic works because many Americans seem to assume that the affairs of state can be handled without partisan wrangling–a terribly naive assumption. That’s why Bush’s “I’m a uniter, not a divider” rhetoric worked so well. Never mind that this assumption is a complete fantasy. Or, more accurately, it is a political myth.

The reporter, Bob Kemper, furthers this silly myth by describing as “unbridled” Bush’s desire to win the Senate for the Republicans. Apparently this reporter has never heard of game theory or the democratic bargain. You can’t lead if you don’t win.

And, finally, we see the ravages of perpetual campaign caused by the 24/7 news cycle. Kemper seems unaware that this has been the rule of presidential politics since at least 1976. This phenomenon is one of the major causes of the constant political wrangling over political wrangling that has come to define most of politics and its coverage by the news media.

Oh, and one last thing–“bare-knuckles political campaigning”? The reason this is a cliche is that there isn’t any other kind campaigning. The adjective is essentially meaningless except that, like some of Kenper’s other choices, it keeps readers focused on the wrong thing.

September 30, 2002


Spinsanity has been taking a hard look at the snit between Bush and Daschle regarding the “not interested” quote. This is not a trivial issue. I’m not talking about whether the Washington Times reported Daschle’s motive honestly or if the Bush remark was objectively outrageous. What’s at stake here are several important definitions: security, patriotism, and Iraq. And how we define these–what they mean politically–may have a profound impact on the mid-term elections and our long-term security (not to mention the lives of American soldiers and Iraqi citizens).

September 30, 2002

Google news…

Howard Kurtz takes a look at the new Google news page and makes a big deal of its no-human-editors technology. I like the Google news site, and I use it often. I can’t see it replacing other sites. It may, however, attract news surfers away from the opening/portal pages of some news sites.

September 27, 2002

Bush photo a fake…

It’s a fake. While the ease of manipulating digital photos makes for some good chuckles, pictures such as this one are more disturbing. What next?

September 27, 2002

Nunberg on media bias…

A student just dropped by my office a few minutes ago looking for information about Geoffrey Nunberg, the linguist and NPR commentator. We’re reading his book, The Way We Talk Now, in class. In an effort to help, I typed his name into the Google search engine and found what the student was looking for. I also found this commentary about media bias from March 2002. I find it interesting but certainly not conclusive. I continue to maintain that political bias of all sorts may be “proven” depending on what data is used. Nunberg’s data might suggest a conservative bias.

September 27, 2002

The dramatic eye…

Howard Kurtz this morning takes a look at partisan wrangling. The situation he describes is nothing new. Such fussing, name-calling, and accusing is as old as the republic. The difference today is that journalism broadcasts all of this political jousting instantly to the people. Among the media that make this possible is one particular form (television) with a structural bias favoring drama, images, and controversy above rational discourse. Kurtz says:

“And the media, which love a good fight, are cheering them on. Bush, Cheney, Daschle, Gore–every utterance is presumed to be motivated by the desire for partisan advantage in ’02 and ’04, not necessarily what’s good for the country. The press doesn’t always come out and say that, but it’s there in the body language.

The result is a sad spectacle that almost mocks the solemn rhetoric of this month’s Sept. 11 anniversary. The pols are constantly outraged that someone else would say something to either exploit the situation/impugn their integrity/tilt the election/endanger the American people. And on and on.

Is this what political discourse has come to? It’s bad enough when we see this kind of posturing on budget and health care bills. But we’re on the verge of launching a shooting war in which many Americans, not to mention many Iraqis, could lose their lives. And yet the partisan positioning has, if anything, intensified.”

Partisan positioning is part of the political process. There’s no getting away from it. In fact, why would we want politicians to get away from it? America’s political factions represent very real differences in world view and approaches to governing. They present very different routes to what Aristotle called “the good life.” A republican form of government such as ours posits a theory of interaction, cooperation, and balance based on the democratic principle of the value of a public political process. The fighting helps us discover/create the good life by, ideally, allowing the consideration of a wide range of views and options. That’s the theory, at least.

Now, enter television and a journalistic establishment that takes its cues from the structure of this medium. A medium structures discourse–what can be said, how it can be said, and how it can be heard. TV feeds on images and drama. What does the normal rough-and-tumble of politics become when seen through such an eye?

September 27, 2002

A-bomb attack…

Spinsanity covers the attack of the “A” bomb. While I think Ben Fritz gets the historical connotation of “appeasement” just right, I don’t think all of the pundits using it understand exactly what transgression they’re committing. William Safire, however, has no such excuse.

September 26, 2002

Rumsfeld and press inferences…

The first definition of the transitive verb “infer” is: To conclude from evidence or premises. The political/rhetorical problem with the grammar here is that a transitive verb takes a direct object, i.e. Someone infers something. Donald Rumsfeld wants reporters to refrain from inferring anything about anything he might or might not say about connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The problem with this is, of course, that as language-using, rational animals we humans must infer. To suspend inference is to give up willingly one of evolution’s most potent human defense mechanisms. It also happens to be politically convenient for a defense secretary to suggest reporters do this unnatural (and unethical) thing.

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