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Monday, September 13, 2004

More re 9/11 and the Global War on Terror from the Educated Angry Left in Lake Woebegon

In the September 13th issue of The New Yorker — which, in an irony that will shortly become apparent, arrived in my mailbox two days ago, on September 11th — Philip Gourevitch has written an entertaining article entitled "BushSpeak: The President’s vernacular style."  Like most of what The New Yorker publishes, it's well written, erudite,  sometimes wryly funny, and hopelessly clueless on a very deep — and in this case, a very obvious — level.  In my blogger pajamas™, I'll hazard a response:

I see, Mr. Gourevitch, that when you followed Dubya to a number of campaign rallies, in spite of yourself, you ended up being impressed with the President's ability to connect to his audiences, especially in comparison with his opponent:

[Bush's] speeches are composed of short, declarative sentences packed with substance.  While John Kerry can speak rousingly for whole paragraphs without saying anything precise or concrete, Bush rarely puts ten words together in a major address without taking a position, passing a judgment, or proclaiming a purpose. He is less concise when unscripted, or — as on the stump — only loosely tethered to a text, but when he’s ad-libbing he makes up for whatever tightness he lacks with an emotional appeal, seeking and generally finding a level of connection to his supporters that eludes his rival entirely.

You apparently can't resist the impulse to over-analyze, however, Mr. Gourevitch:

To watch Bush work a room, however cheesy his salesmanship and however canned his hucksterism, is to behold a master of the American vernacular, that form of expression which eschews slickness and makes a virtue of the speaker’s limitations — an artfulness that depends on artlessness, an eloquence that depends on inflection and emphasis.

"Artfulness that depends on artlessness"?  I'm not quite sure what you mean by that, Mr. Gourevitch; perhaps it's too nuanced for me to understand, like Sen. Kerry claiming credit for voting for the Iraq appropriations bill before he voted against it.  Bush doesn't have to try extra hard, or with extra cleverness, to come across to his audiences as real, Mr. Gourevitch — because he is real.

You, though, Mr. Gourevitch, unfortunately are also unwittingly real.  I say that because without your intending that it do so, your article perfectly illustrates the mindset of the Educated Angry Left — The New Yorker's core constituency, and an important part of Sen. Kerry's.  In a guileless moment, you can write a passage like this one (boldface mine):

It is not apparent that most Americans think of themselves as living in a nation at war, or that a sense of being engaged in a struggle to the death with an unseen but all-threatening enemy is the defining political experience of our time.  But that has been the premise of the Bush presidency since the day when, as he insists on putting it, “everything changed,” and that was the dominant theme of the Bush Convention. Indeed, the pageant at the Garden was as much a tribute to September 11th as it was to Bush himself — and the commemoration of that date had a lugubrious, cultish quality.

Kudos to you, Mr. Gourevitch, for saying plainly what you really feel!  Jeers, however, for choosing to live in Lake Woebegon with your political soulmate Garrison Keillor — a mutually exclusive alternative version of reality in which 9/11 was just "an event, a lapse of security."  Those of us who believe the world changed on that day are, to you, like members of a "cult" — something like the Wikkans, perhaps, but with Apache attack helicopters, Green Berets, and precision airborne munitions at our disposal.

But Mr. Gourevitch, even your preferred candidate knows better than to speak what he really feels so plainly.  As politically stumble-footed as John Kerry has repeatedly proved himself to be, he nevertheless knows that to have any chance of securing the necessary American votes he needs from outside the Angry Left (and its subset of which you're a part, the Educated Angry Left), Sen. Kerry has to at least mouth the words, to claim that he knows that our country is at war.

Did it occur to you, Mr. Gourevitch, that the reason Sen. Kerry strikes so many Americans as being profoundly phony is that they can sense that Sen. Kerry doesn't believe his own words when he claims to recognize that we're in a genuine war, a struggle for survival of civilization?  Does it surprise you that so many Americans have difficulty reconciling the John Kerry who, when speaking to the VFW, refers to "winning the war on terror [through] a team effort," with the John Kerry who at other times characterizes the conflict we're in as "not primarily a military operation[, but] an intelligence-gathering, law-enforcement, public-diplomacy effort"?

You write, Mr. Gourevitch, that "[i]t is not apparent that most Americans think of themselves as living in a nation at war."  Okay.  I believe you, when you describe what is "not apparent" to you.  Reality, however, appears rather different to me and, I think, to a majority of American voters.  It's a smaller majority than I'd wish, I'll grant you — but I think it is a majority notwithstanding the wishful dreams of those like you and Mr. Keillor, or of your less lyrical allies whose politically inspired prose runs mainly to frothing chants of "No war for oil!" and "Bush lied, people died!" 

If I'm right, sir, then that will explain why you'll be surprised and disappointed after the polls close on November 2nd.  In either event, however, it seems clear to me that you and I are living in two mutually exclusive versions of reality, and one of us must be deluded.


Update (Tues Sep 14 @ 6:20am):  Contrast Mr. Gourevitch with someone whom I'd call a representative of the Educated Less-Angry Left (italics in original):

Our main problem isn't that this year's campaign has ignored the issues, our main problem is that the #1 issue in this campaign is national defense, and on that issue — like it or not — the majority of Americans favor the Republican position. If John Kerry wants to win, he should focus on the issues, but he has to focus on the issues that matter most in this campaign cycle.

It's all about 9/11, Iraq, terrorism, and national security, baby. This election is going to be won on that issue, and Kerry needs to convince the country that he can handle it better than Bush. And really, considering the botch Bush has made of national security, that shouldn't be all that hard.

Bottom line: Republicans aren't avoiding the issues. It's just that their signature issue happens to be the one people care most about this year. Democrats had better figure that out pronto.

I disagree with Kevin Drum more often than I agree with him, but at least he and I live in the same version of reality.

Posted by Beldar at 11:37 PM in Global War on Terror, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to More re 9/11 and the Global War on Terror from the Educated Angry Left in Lake Woebegon and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» Paradox from Who Can Really Say?

Tracked on Sep 15, 2004 8:37:08 PM


(1) Al made the following comment | Sep 14, 2004 12:11:13 AM | Permalink

I'm from Seattle, and, well, there's a _LOT_ of Angry Educated Leftists here. What you've posted about is THE fundamental disingenuousness. Osama (and Saddam) both declared war in both word and deed.

You can't apply post-modern deconstructionalism to 'Die America! Die!'. There is no one sane to placate with platitudes. There won't be a formal declaration of war sent on parchment, with wax, a seal, and a nice ribbon. We've had all the 'warning' we're going to get.

You can't reverse the effects of opening Pandora's Box by screaming 'Close the box! Close the Box!'. Nor by laying blame for the state of the Box. Nor via the fingers-in-the-ears 'nyah-nyah-nyah' method.

Angry Educated Leftists have discovered that they _do_ Fear Fear itself.

(2) M. Simon made the following comment | Sep 14, 2004 1:24:10 AM | Permalink

Kerry's problems are with his base

Socialism is dead

(3) Steel Turman made the following comment | Sep 14, 2004 1:52:07 AM | Permalink

I gotta add my two cents here.

Bush says what he means. And he means what he

Pretty simple huh?

I have heard some folks say that his drawl
ain't real and I have heard some folks say
he ain't TOO bright.

Well, I'd just tell those folks ... try
readin' some Will Rogers.

Most folks thought he was a yokel too.

Fact is, he was the most acidic, on point
voice of his time. With Mencken.

'Short declarative sentences' ... well now
THAT is pure refreshment to ears of simple
folk. Fact is, most regular folks spend a
whole bunch of time just workin' hard and
gettin' by and ain't much fer long-winded

Fact is, when those folks out in flyover
states hear a guy take more than two breaths
to git the words out ... well then they ain't
payin' attention anymore 'cause they KNOW
what is gonna come next ... bullshit.

Now Kerry, well now he's fine speaker. He's
a man of words. My, how he can go on. And on
and on, and never say a damned thing.

Most regular folks pay about as much attention
to what he has say as they give to traffic
noise or the barking of yer next door neighbor's dog.

And that is about how much he DOES say. It
just don't amount to much.

And all them 'educated folks' can go on and
on 'bout this. But it don't make no difference.

W speaks his heart. Kerry just talks.

And THAT is why ALL them folks are gonna
vote for Bush. And you can take that to the


(4) chris made the following comment | Sep 14, 2004 9:10:23 AM | Permalink

Beldar, it's quite amusing when your own commenters bolster the claims of the person you are attacking, as Steel just did. While it's obvious that you and Steel are both buying what Bush is selling, it's not clear that you can handle criticism of your purchase.

I'm not sure why you take the New Yorker; perhaps you should consider cancelling your subscription. You know, you can get your Goings on About the Town online. Then you won't get all worked up when someone writes about Bush's dumbed-down politics, and we won't have to yawn so much when you can't quite articulate why you think they're wrong, and instead have to transfer all your energy into griping about a passage in which he disagrees with you politically on how best to approach the war on terror (which, by the way, you plainly misinterpret). But kudos to you for indicting Gourevitch because he happens to live in the same place as Kellior. Real ... slick. The only thing we're missing is an election prediction. Oh wait! There it is, at the end. How could I have missed it?

Also, you take the opportunity to claim Drum as a brother in reason, but he is speaking in terms of strategy for winning the election, not in terms of how he really feels. If he were, it might sound not too dissimilar from the NYer piece. But that's neither here nor there.

You must have been dull when you approached the bolded portion: "It is not apparent that most Americans think of themselves as living in a nation at war, or that a sense of being engaged in a struggle to the death with an unseen but all-threatening enemy is the defining political experience of our time."

Gourevitch is addressing the gap between the urgency felt by many Americans regarding the war on terror, on a daily basis, and how they react to a politician who uses it as an emotional touchstone. When Bush speaks, he does not often incorporate his own specific strategies, especially on the subject on national and global security; mostly, he speaks in talking points designed to make emotional sense, on their face, to most Americans. However, while you, personally, may associate them directly with the policies of George W. Bush, many do not; instead, they simply associate them with George W. Bush, without even a full understanding of what his policies are.

The fact that you assume your position on Bush's *policies* is shared by most Americans exhibits your complete misunderstanding of the article and of the nature of the politics of this election.

(5) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 14, 2004 10:16:07 AM | Permalink

Ummm ... Chris ... there is no Lake Woebegon. Not a real one. People only "live there" in their minds; my point was that some people live there in their minds all the time. It's a place where all the children are above-average, and radical Islamic terrorists don't behead kidnapped civilians from Des Moines or Phoenix or Milan on a twice-weekly basis.

I think we are "living in a nation at war, [and that is] engaged in a struggle to the death with an unseen but all-threatening enemy[, and that this] is the defining political experience of our time." I hope that is indeed apparent to a majority of the American voting public. But we have elections to figure that stuff out.

But as always, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

(6) Chris made the following comment | Sep 14, 2004 12:37:50 PM | Permalink

Oh, right, Keillor's novel. Smack. My point, anyway, is that Gourevitch isn't so much arguing that he believes the war on terror is a law enforcement matter (though he most assuredly does) as he is saying that the majority of Americans don't think that it is a military one--that, in their support of George W. Bush, they haven't really weighed his policies against its effects, but instead only consider the fluff of his speeches against their own emotional barometer.

(7) Al made the following comment | Sep 14, 2004 2:53:19 PM | Permalink

Even Bush doesn't think the War is purely military. Forensic accountants, diplomats to non-French places, Special Forces, and CIA types... don't tend to make the news for some reason.

The media _plays_ Bush as 'All war, all the time', but if you actually listen to his full speeches, all of the other fronts are generally mentioned.

Deconstructing media anaylsis of Bush to get Bush's views is like asking a handwriting expert about the authenticity of the text on a copied document.

Navel. Gazing.

(8) Al made the following comment | Sep 14, 2004 3:05:50 PM | Permalink

I'd grant that _Rumsfeld_ comes pretty close to all-war-all-the-time. Anyone upset that there was a 'plan to invade Iraq' prior to Bush even entering office would probably have an entire field of cows over the list of countries that Rumsfeld has _probably_ done a solid 'plan' or three about.

(9) chris made the following comment | Sep 14, 2004 4:12:29 PM | Permalink

Al, I'd grant that you didn't read the article and are making assumptions about the nature of the article's analysis. If you had, you'd realize that it really isn't "deconstructing media anaylsis of Bush to get Bush's views."

(10) Al made the following comment | Sep 14, 2004 4:43:40 PM | Permalink

I wasn't alleging that Gourevitch was basing his conclusions on media analysis.

(11) Wallace-Midland, Texas made the following comment | Sep 14, 2004 10:22:06 PM | Permalink

a master of the American vernacular, that form of expression which eschews slickness and makes a virtue of the speaker’s limitations — an artfulness that depends on artlessness, an eloquence that depends on inflection and emphasis.

We've known Dubya for nearly 30 years and my wife was his secretary for 4 of those. What the more erudite people of the media do not understand, is that he is what he is.....largely a product of West Texas and that is how we express ourselves, simply and directly. It's our character and people with limited character have a hard time identifying with that without describing it as artless.

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