Tuesday, October 19, 2004

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The Burning Bush: Intimations on Elocution and the Third Presidential Debate of 2004

When it comes to analyzing these debates, I do not understand how Kerry can be placed in the same class as George W. Bush. John Kerry is, by most accounts, the greatest presidential candidate the Democrats have put forward in the past 20 years. Kerry has maintained clear arguments, a statesman's poise, a firm grasp of the issues facing the United States, and quality answers that empathize with the vast American populace. On the other hand, George Bush has demonstrated to the public that he has been largely absent from national scene for the better part of two years. Where has he been? Hiding out behind scripted press conferences, scripted photo opts, buried deep in the conservative message. And that message is a powerful one. But for all of Bush’s experience in office and his training on the campaign trail, he cannot to stand on his own against John Kerry. Was the conspiratorial bulge in the back of Bush’s coat really Cheney’s hand pushing through? God only knows.

Throughout the third Presidential debate of 2004, you could almost read Bush’s thoughts, "must stand-up straight, maintain partial grin, knowingly nod at moderator/audience, and DO NOT SCOWL!" Apropos to the circumstances, his dedication to an oddly crafted public façade made his answers incomprehensible, ignorant, and completely lacking in a broad understanding of the issues. It’s the kind of difference that actors understand between learning the gestures of a feeling and understanding the emotion itself. When Bush speaks he does not show any signs of having internalized the subject matter; like a 7th grader cramming for a social studies test, he partially knows the answers by rote and expects the American public to respond accordingly—that response being to put a smiley face right next to his stunning grade of Adequate. Apparently for Bush trying to keep his answers straight, while maintaining a pleasant exterior was too much to handle--Bush looked like a stroke victim on national television. This is to say nothing of the fact that his answers were abbreviated versions of clear arguments from the Republicans--their message machine is direct and to the point, while still arguing on the presumption of facts and logical thought.

A perfect example of this dichotomy between the president and the Republican message machine was the Vice Presidential debate. Personal politics aside, Dick Cheney portrayed himself as thoughtful, coherent, and understanding of the history involved in his viewpoint. Cheney was capable of articulating how these views will affect our future. Excellent, he gets two smiley faces next to his grade. Excuse me for thinking this, but isn’t that what the President should be doing? At the end of the day, if you take away all the problems with the war, all the economic inequality, the blatant disregard for civil liberties, the backdoor draft, the economy, if all this were taken away from our expectations and consideration of the President, don’t we deserve someone who is capable of effective and persuasive rhetoric? The US has paid and enormous price for the past 4 years of presidential leadership. Can’t Bush at least do us all the courtesy of not making those difficult years seem like such a complete waste of time? Sure, he loves his wife and kids, he prays, he goes to work, but I expect a little more from my President. I want someone who is intelligent, someone who will speak to me, someone who has the capacity for abstract thought.

If you analyze the day to day tasks of the president, you will no doubt see that he is focusing his time on meeting with advisors, speaking out on issues, and talking to various supporters. Like CEO’s of corporations, the Presidents role is to motivate his staff, set directives, and suggest action plans that other people will implement. He speaks and others act. The president does not set his own schedule. He rarely writes his own speeches. He does not write policy. So when the job is boiled down to its essence, he is speaking and listening all day long: speaking and listening, that’s really it. Ideally, there is thought between the two activities but not always. For those voters who claim to be undecided—and if you fall within this category may I suggest that its time to take some classes on decision making—please consider my point about the core activities of the presidency, because we can see from the debates that President Bush does not listen, and he cannot speak before a crowd or even to other nations. At a core level of communication this man is fundamentally inadequate to serve.

Instead of thinking about this quality, Bush is applauded for tough talk; he is praised for decisive international opinions. When Kerry even attempts to suggest that the attacks on his record are more complex-- “he voted against the no child left behind act, he voted against partial birth abortion ban,”—he is thought to be weak, too intellectual, and soft. The U.S. has given George Bush endless concessions because he has the title of President; we have allowed him to continue because he was lucky enough to preside over this country during some of the darkest days of the past 30 years. Just because he was on the job, does not mean he did his job correctly. Comedian David Cross said it best, “Nader would have bombed Afghanistan!” So true. God help us all if we have to endure another 4 years of George W. Bush.