Monday, April 2, 2007

Speech, Speech

This afternoon I received an e-mail* containing, allegedly, someone's concept of their ideal President Bush speech to the rest of the world. It's a vitriolic screed, in which the President promises payback to most of the rest of the world for not being properly supportive of the War on Terror, and grateful for all of the supposedly selfless sacrifices that the United States has made on behalf of the rest of the world for "nearly a century." It also takes aim at any American who is ungracious enough to be supportive of stereotypical conservative policy. I say "stereotypical" because the policy positions taken come off as something that you'd expect an uneducated layperson, rather than an actual conservative policy architect, to support.

It's one of those annoyingly breathless "Forward this to everyone whose e-mail address you can remember!" notes, and I seem to recall having seen it before. It's nothing new (it still references Vicente Fox, who left office last November, as the President of Mexico).

It's a laughable script, and one that seems calculated to portray President Bush (and by extention, Conservative voters) as petty, mean-spirited, childish and vindictive, and promoting "strong" foreign policy positions that exhibit those same traits. And in case that wasn't enough, the footnote to the script, seems to toss "illiterate" onto the pile, for good measure. Given this, I suspect that it's not at all someone's Conservative dream scenario, but actually a semi-satirical piece of political mockery, penned by someone who thinks they've got the chops to be a writer for "The Colbert Report."

But perhaps most interesting, it reveals how a number of Americans (still the minority, I hope) look at their politically opposite numbers. Both Liberals and Conservatives alike have cultivated a tendency to see the other camp as intentionally supporting government policies that are poorly conceived, farcical and/or clearly broken on their faces, normally by taking some possibly real policy position or politician's comment to it's illogical extreme. (But more often, the quoted policy positions and/or comments are either completely imaginary, or taken wildly out of context.) They then construct elaborate horror stories around the consequences of said policies. While it can be said that the American electorate has occasionally made some lackluster, or even poor, choices for President, the kind of collective idiocy that it would require to put a man in office who could nearly single-handedly (after all, he'd need help from Congress) bring down the entire nation over the course of a single four-year term would be pretty unprecedented.

Each camp also cultivates an opinion of the other as being completely divorced from the facts, both historical and current, commonly mounting portrayals in which the loyal opposition is either accidentally or intentionally ignorant of facts that everyone more or less understands to be true - especially those people who have the sort of historical perspective and savvy needed to be credible as policymakers. You find yourself marvelling at the imagination that goes into some of this stuff. J. R. R. Tolkien didn't manage to create a world as fantastic as the one that some lay partisans insist that we must be living in, if you take their worldviews at face value.

Both of these practices are aimed at a common goal - promoting fear. The zero-sum thinking that permeates so much of American politics seems to preclude the idea of a win-win, or even a win-neutral outcome. And so partisans on both sides of the debate resort to painting pictures of the horrific disasters that will result if their candidate loses. "Vote for us," the message goes - "or YOU LOSE." Sometimes it will be a personal loss, sometimes, it's presented as a shared loss. Since the dawn of American political advertising, negative ads have been ubiquitous. But how many of the nightmare scenarios that losing campaigns have ever postulated have actually come to pass?

But the fear mongering continues apace. Fortunately, it's only a little more than a year and a half until the next election cycle wraps up. I'll be so glad when it does.

* I decided not to post the actual text for you here - it's neither entertaining nor informative.

No comments: