Monday, August 22, 2005
  Rhetoric

Listening to Bush's speech to VFW this morning. By the standards of the aphasic Bush family, it's not bad. But it's not good, either.

Basic fact of human nature: we sense change, not repetition. When a stimulus, be it temperature, color, or words, is repeated often enough, we stop attending to it. We notice a suddenly cool day, a suddenly dark room. We can be awakened when the 2:45 train fails to pass our house. Good teachers and good speakers understand this. You do need to repeat the concepts, but you need to approach them from new angles each day if you want your listeners to stay with you.

Bush repeats the same ideas in the same words with no fresh information, so the only thing I hear in each speech is "mlmlmlmml A strong mlmlmlmlm mlmlmlml THEE strong mlmlmlml A broadermiddleast uuuuuuuuhhhhh THEE gooderservice mlmlmlmlm ...."

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Compare with FDR's fireside chats during WWII.

Some excerpts from Chat 27, Christmas 1943. Note the personal detail mixed with actual military news; note that FDR mentions specific things that have been accomplished, specific things that are about to be accomplished, and links them to create a sense of progress. Note also that he doesn't promise democracy or women's rights in the reformed Germany and Japan; only that they should become "respectable" nations.

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But -- on Christmas Eve this year -- I can say to you that at last we may look forward into the future with real , substantial confidence that, however great the cost, "peace on earth, good will toward men" can be and will be realized and ensured. This year I can say that. Last year I could not do more than express a hope. Today I express -- a certainty though the cost may be high and the time may be long.

...

At Cairo and Teheran we devoted ourselves not only to military matters, we devoted ourselves also to consideration of the future -- to plans for the kind of world which alone can justify all the sacrifices of this war. Of course, as you all know, Mr. Churchill and I have happily met many times before, and we know and understand each other very well.

...

The Cairo and Teheran conferences, however, gave me my first opportunity to meet the Generalissimo, Chiang Kai-shek, and Marshal Stalin -- and to sit down at the table with these unconquerable men and talk with them face to face. We had planned to talk to each other across the table at Cairo and Teheran; but we soon found that we were all on the same side of the table. We came to the conferences with faith in each other. But we needed the personal contact. And now we have supplemented faith with definite knowledge.

...

Essential to all peace and security in the Pacific and in the rest of the world is the permanent elimination of the Empire of Japan as a potential force of aggression. Never again must our soldiers and sailors and marines -- and other soldiers, sailors and marines -- be compelled to fight from island to island as they are fighting so gallantly and so successfully today. Increasingly powerful forces are now hammering at the Japanese at many points over an enormous arc which curves down through the Pacific from the Aleutians to the Jungles of Burma. Our own Army and Navy, our Air Forces, the Australians and New Zealanders, the Dutch, and the British land, air and sea forces are all forming a band of steel which is slowly but surely closing in on Japan.

...

After the Cairo conference, Mr. Churchill and I went by airplane to Teheran. There we met with Marshal Stalin. We talked with complete frankness on every conceivable subject connected with the winning of the war and the establishment of a durable peace after the war. Within three days of intense and consistently amicable discussions, we agreed on every point concerned with the launching of a gigantic attack upon Germany. The Russian army will continue its stern offensives on Germany's Eastern front, the allied armies in Italy and Africa will bring relentless pressure on Germany from the south, and now the encirclement will be complete as great American and British forces attack from other points of the compass.

...

The United Nations have no intention to enslave the German people. We wish them to have a normal chance to develop, in peace, as useful and respectable members of the European family. But we most certainly emphasize that word "respectable" -- for we intend to rid them once and for all of Nazism and Prussian militarism and the fantastic and disastrous notion that they constitute the "Master Race."


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Addendum: Some of the solid content and clear explanation in the fireside chat is wildly false in hindsight (especially all the stuff about dear Uncle Joe); and some of it was known to be false at the time. I don't have any problem with that.

Untruth -- or at least omitting the truth -- is sometimes critically necessary to maintain morale and get the job done. Bush's problem is that he doesn't seem to know which truths to skip and which to emphasize. In today's speech, he gave loyal Americans no positive news to "hang our hats on"; he only gave the exact casualty count, for no discernible purpose. Authors like Richard Miniter and Victor Mordechai give us positive info about the successes of Homeland Security, while the administration tells us nothing ... leaving the field wide-open for Comrade Sheehan, Comrade Kerry, and, yes, Comrade Shep Smith to spread their vicious virus. If Miniter can give this information without being arrested, presumably it's not top secret. So why not tout it officially?
 


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