Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Read My Lips, Don't Stay the Course (The Hidden MoDo)

Here's a follow-up to my last post on the battle of semantics going on inside BushCo LLC from Maureen Dowd's Running Against Themselves (fully available to Times Select subscribers):
It was a wacky moment for Tony Snow, who renounced the slogan while sticking to the policy. “It left the wrong impression about what was going on,” the press secretary said, “and it allowed critics to say, ‘Well, here’s an administration that’s just embarked upon a policy and not looking at what the situation is,’ when, in fact, it’s just the opposite.”

The important thing was that the cliché sounded good to Republicans, strong and virile, for a while. But pollsters for the White House seemed to be the last to learn that even many of the party faithful had soured on the phrase, deeming it inflexible and stupid. Has Karl Rove, who urged G.O.P. candidates to keep the Democrats on the defensive on national security, lost his magic?

In a White House with a Fox News all-spin sensibility, officials don’t think they need to change the strategy as much as they need to change their slogan.

The overworked Bush phrase suggested “burying your head in the sand,” Steve Hinkson, political director at Luntz Research Companies, a G.O.P. public opinion firm, told The Washington Post’s Peter Baker. “The problem is that as the number of people who agree with remaining resolute dwindles, that sort of language doesn’t strike a chord as much as it once did.”

Unwilling to admit mistakes or face the urgent need to go past semantic changes in a protectorate that has fallen into a vicious civil war, in which Americans are merely referees and targets, the White House is falling back on marketing. Just as Andy Card rolled out the war as a marketing event, the Bush team now thinks that all it needs to do is come up with a catchy and chesty new advertising pitch.

[...]

It’s a hilarious spectacle of a whole party re-enacting the classic scene in Mel Brooks’s “Blazing Saddles,” in which the sheriff holds the gun to his own head to take himself hostage.

The Bushes don’t connect words with action. Action is something that’s secretly plotted with the inner circle behind closed doors. The public should stay out of it. The Bushes just connect words with salesmanship. Poppy Bush never meant it when he said “Read my lips: no new taxes” at the 1988 convention. It was just a Clint Eastwood-sounding line in a Peggy Noonan speech, meant to pump up his flighty image.

Just so, his son never paid any mind to his campaign promise not to nation-build, and he didn’t come through on his bullhorn pledge to catch the perpetrators of 9/11 or his tough-guy vow to bring in Osama dead or alive.

To W., the words he says to Americans don’t matter as much as the words Dick Cheney says to him. He just has to hope that daddy’s friend, James Baker, the smooth fixer who is co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group and who has already suggested moving past the meaningless partisan jargon of “cut and run” and “stay the course,” comes up with a plan to rescue Junior from a fine mess one more time.


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