Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Thursday, October 30, 2003  

Another thought on that "Mission Accomplished" business. It's a great example of the tone this President sets with regard to communicating the truth to Americans. Although the mythology of this President is that he's a "plainspoken" man, a no-frills, unadorned truth-teller, nothing could be further from the truth. The administration dwells in a neverland of falsity, and the plainspoken President is a careful component of the message.

Let's take a look at the "Mission Accomplished" episode. On the one hand, there were the words of the President: "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed." Everything about the affair bespoke victory. Even the webpage has a hagiographic, exaultant feel to it. Go look, and see if you don't agree (there's George, in flyboy fetish wear, there's one of our sleek, lethal jets: ah, the cleanness of victory). Bush continues, in language fit for my Friday Satire piece:

The character of our military through history -- the daring of Normandy, the fierce courage of Iwo Jima, the decency and idealism that turned enemies into allies -- is fully present in this generation. When Iraqi civilians looked into the faces of our servicemen and women, they saw strength and kindness and goodwill. When I look at the members of the United States military, I see the best of our country, and I'm honored to be your Commander-in-Chief....

Those we lost were last seen on duty. Their final act on this Earth was to fight a great evil and bring liberty to others. All of you -- all in this generation of our military -- have taken up the highest calling of history. You're defending your country, and protecting the innocent from harm. And wherever you go, you carry a message of hope -- a message that is ancient and ever new. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, "To the captives, 'come out,' -- and to those in darkness, 'be free.'"

But the prophet Isaiah, nor Normandy nor Iwo Jima, were evoked in the President's press conference on Tuesday. Rather, a disarming joke ("it was attributed some how to some ingenious advance man from my staff -- they weren't that ingenious, by the way"), then a statement that may not have been lie, but neither was it the truth: "But my statement was a clear statement, basically recognizing that this phase of the war for Iraq was over and there was a lot of dangerous work."

Well, no. The speech was basically one of the most overripe displays of vainglory ever uttered by a president. As to recognizing the dangerous work ahead, there was but a single qualifier in the whole thing: "We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We're bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous."

This is exactly the pattern of the President's communication strategy since he arrived in Washington. Dwell in the nebulous by giving impressions. Use backdrops with slogans, dress the part, speak in a broken, befuddled (and seemingly authentic) voice, use the language of populism, and always say things in vague, nonspecific terms. If a thing is implied, it can be disavowed. If a message is sent through production values, not declarative sentences, it can be denied. If an impression can be created in the absence of the truth to which you might be accountable, create the impression. After all, as this episode demonstrates, it's easier to deny that apologize.

posted by Jeff | 8:47 AM |
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