Monday, May 15, 2006

George W. Calls Out the Cavalry!

Extended PressThink Comment:

Andrew,
I'm generally persuaded by your refinement of the thesis, "they're still experimenting." My reservation is that when I hear Bush give a public speech (for as long as I can stand it, usually about 60-90 seconds at a time, which means I generally have to read a transcript for the sake of my sanity), I still don't hear persuasion. I hear many things: clanging, incoherent stereotypes, geographically and historically impossible fantasies, etc.

Above all, I hear the sound of a vacuum. They hate us for our freedom? I just feel insulted. I hear plenty of bully and I hear plenty of pulpit, but I have yet to hear the barest hint of rational persuasion. Tomorrow's announcement of a "plan" will ultimately be the lead-in to a several hundered mile long photo-op designed to avoid having to resolve the glaring contradiction between his corporate-friendly guest-worker proposal and the militant anti-brown, lock-down fantasies of about a third of those who voted for him in the last electio--in favor of the image of the latter and simple stall tactics on the substance of the former. Of course, in the meantime he has refused to fully fund the border patrol! But this is a photo-op most essentially designed to distract from the likely indictment of his political godfather, Karl Rove, and the excrement hitting the fan over the discovery that the name of "Big Brother" is in fact, George W. Bush.

Ultimately, I'm forced to modify the opposition Jay seems to have drawn between Theodore Roosevelt and Bush. It's true Roosevelt was a pioneer in mass media persuasion, but I think we need to recall his contribution as the founding of a cult of presidential personality in many cases precisely at the expense of the art of rational, democratic persuasion. TR certainly could do the latter when he was so inclined. But he pioneered an approach with which he didn't necessarily have to.

Beyond media strategy, T. R. was a pioneer of jingoistic unilateral US imperialism. Conservative luminaries such as Max Boot hold up the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine as a fine upstanding precedent for the Bush Doctrine of preventive war. Rove aspires to be Mark Hanna to George W's T.R.. Before they gave up on him, PNAC conservatives like Bill Kristol dreamed that the Bush administration would take up the notion of a civilizing mission in the TR mold, raising up the natives and making the world safe for capitalism by moving from a Thomas Friedmann style "globalization as fate" to a Paul Wolfowitz-style "imperial globalization."

T.R. was the man who could say it loud and say it proud. Imperialism is our friend, he would say. US imperialism is a good deed. Why? Because white Americans are a master race destined to rule the world and the expansion of our power is an act of benevolence. In many ways, George W. Bush is that man and yet that is precisely why even a speech from him is anything but rational persuasion.

I see Jay's point: TR was a PR genius, an author, and a charismatic, very complex man (after all, he busted trusts as well as busting heads in the Philippines (about 400,000 of them to the death at last count. When was the last time W busted a trust?)).

My point is that when TR took to the bully-pulpit, he was talking politics. When Bush takes to the bully-pulpit, he makes threats with a messianic zeal instead of talking politics.

In other words, I'm ultimately saying that even when the Bush team tries to do exactly what you and Jay understand them to be trying to do, experimenting with both rollback and persuasion, for me, even the Bushco idea of persuasion is still ultimately another version of rollback. They just can't afford to talk about the real world.

Even the bully pulpit becomes rollback when George W. steps into it, whether that was the intention or not.

What odds will any of you give that President Bush's speech tomorrow will address the fundamental political and logical contradiction between his guest worker plan, his right wing supporters' ethnic cleansing proclivities, and the "temporary" fix he has conjured up to beg the question with images that imply the ethnic cleansing route? As policy, this form of begging the question from the bully pulpit even further undermines the already beleaguered National Guard, thus solving an imaginary problem by creating yet another real world problem. Whither rational persuasion?
(Of course, I haven't read his speech yet. We'll see just how far off I am.)