January 20, 2004
George W. Bush, with the help of his advisor, Karl Rove has mastered the art of portraying himself as a man of great principle, integrity, honesty, caring, compassion, and character. Some morning just tune in to C-Span's Washington Journal and listen to the callers sing his praises. The question becomes what do they find so inspiring and how have they come to their conclusion about Bush when most of the evidence does not back it up?
A very informative article regarding the use of language by conservatives provides some helpful insight.(1) The article's premise, based upon the studies of George Lakoff, a UC Berkeley professor of linguistics and cognitive science, is that conservatives have mastered the art of "framing" the issues. Conservatives have spent decades defining their ideas, carefully choosing the language with which to present them, and building an infrastructure to communicate them through think tanks. They have put a huge amount of money into creating the language for their worldview and getting it out there, while progressives have done nothing similar. Professor Lakoff states, "It's one thing to analyze language and thought, it's another thing to create it."
From the article:
The result? From the article:
An example from the article:
How are Democrats doing? From the article:
Conservatives use "framing" tactics to convince the public that all the policies they advocate are good for "the people" when in reality they are not. The Bush administration is quite adept at this. They apply a wholesome name to a policy and the public is somehow convinced that Bush is taking actions in their best interest.
The "No Child Left Behind Act" sounds glorious, but many believe it is flawed. Bush administration budgets do not even fully fund the program, forcing states to raise college tuitions and local taxes, which hit the lower and middle classes far more than the wealthy.
The "Clear Skies Initiative" is anything but. First, the global warming measures are voluntary. But there are deeper problems: close inspection reveals a dangerous bait-and-switch in the fine print. Though the Bush proposal includes cuts in the pollution that causes smog, soot, and mercury poisoning, these cuts actually aren't as deep as the pollution reductions that would result from enforcing the law already on the books - and they take up to a decade longer.
Notice the fantastic rhetoric of the new Bush space initiative. Sounds great, doesn't it? Never mind the fact that it is estimated to cost $400 to $500 billion at a time when deficit spending is skyrocketing out of control. Never mind that it may be just another expansion of the military industrial complex as outlined by the PNAC on page twelve of their report on rebuilding America's defenses.(2) And never mind that Halliburton is already being mentioned in connection with the plan.(3)
Recently Kevin Phillips, former Republican strategist, appeared on
C-Span's Book TV to discuss his new book, American Dynasty:
Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush.(4) During
his opening statements he spoke of political tactics as shaped by Machiavelli,
the first great political philosopher of the Renaissance or more specifically
from his work entitled The Prince. Phillips stated that Karl Rove,
George W. Bush's political strategist, and the late Lee Atwater, George
H. W. Bush's political strategist, followed the teachings of Machiavelli.
The present administrationís Machiavellianism is cunning in that it takes some investigating to understand their true motivations. They are quite adept at masking their real intentions with moral imperatives.
For example, on Bush's recent proposal for changing the status of illegal immigrants, White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said this: "We're addressing an important economic need (and) we're being compassionate to those undocumented workers who are here now ... many of (whom) are probably being abused and exploited,... part of this policy will help make America more secure because we'll know who's here."
Wow, that sounds nice. But what is really behind it? Votes! Presidential advisers believe that Hispanic voters, one of the targets for Bush's reelection campaign, will give him credit for pushing for the changes even if nothing is enacted before the election.
Remember that Bush has held only eleven solo press conferences. Why? Because Bush and Rove have little respect for the press. Rove stated, "He [Bush] has a cagey respect for them -- the press...He understands that their job is to do a job. And thatís not necessarily to report the news. Itís to get a headline or get a story that will make people pay more attention to their magazine, newspaper, or television more."
How does the media respond to this shortage of exposure to the current administration? They bend over backwards to be obliging in the belief that it will gain them more access. Wrong. That is not their job. The Bush administration has the press right where they want them. That is evidenced by the shortage of in-depth investigative reporting. In his appearance on C-Span, Kevin Phillips expressed dismay that the media does not report on the Bush administration more thoroughly.
The Columbia Journalism Review published an interesting article on how politicians are media trained not to give straight answers to questions.(5)
From the article:
Now, combine the skills of "framing" the issues in ways that always keep the opposing political party on the defensive with the philosophies advocated by Machiavelli and throw in secrecy and a distaste for the media. One begins to see a pattern that fits the current administration.
The Bush administration is quite Nixonian when faced with challenges to their credibility. The bogus security investigation over Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty, like the outing of Valerie Plame, shows the lengths they're willing to go to in intimidating their critics.
Seventy-four days passed between the Novak column on Plame that pointed to someone outing a member of the CIA and the announcement of an official investigation. Only one day passed between Paul O'Neill's appearance on 60 Minutes and the announcement of an official investigation into documents O'Neill gave to Suskind. Has anyone noticed that no one has denied the claims made by O'Neill in the Suskind book? No? That is how their Machiavellianism works for them! They have shifted the focus from Bush by accusing O'Neill of doing something wrong! Never mind that they gave Bob Woodward National Security Documents for his flattering book on Bush.
No, they can't have Bush's public persona questioned because his popularity rests upon it. They have built an image of Bush being a masterful commander in chief who happens to be a nice man and no one must get away with tarnishing that image. The public has bought into it! That is why Bush approval ratings remain consistent.
These tactics have led to American citizens growing accustomed to being lied to and/or misled about gravely serious matters. How will they respond in the upcoming presidential election in which massive amounts of money will be spent to give a generally false view of the state of our union? Half of the electorate doesn't even bother to vote. Will the other half tune in or tune out?
Americans deserve to be told the truth on matters of public policy by every President and every candidate. That is a principle that no candidate should violate, regardless of party affiliation. Will the upcoming election be a chance to reclaim the truth? It must be! Now as never before, American voters must educate themselves about realities versus Machiavellian rhetoric!
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Rebecca Knight is a native Tennessean, who grew up in Nashville, and currently resides in a small town near Nashville. Ms. Knight's political awareness evolved through the civil rights movement, the Vietnam era, the Watergate era, and the cold war. The debacle of the 2000 election increased her sense of responsibility for political activism. You may contact Rebecca Knight via e-mail at email@example.com. © 2003 by Rebecca Knight
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