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Archive for March, 2011

A few thoughts here on POLITICO on how the right is (successfully) framing the debate on “school vouchers.”  A “voucher” is a chit, a thing you show at the store when you’re owed a refund. Rhetorically, it plays up a completely different concept from the public school, which is by nature a shared, communal venture.

If your public school is failing, do something about it; get involved with the PTA, the School Board, the local member of Congress. It can be done. My mother did it in Falls Church, Virginia, at J.E.B. Stuart High School, which under her leadership as P.T.A. President went from being the lowest performing school in Fairfax County to a success story that generated, among other things, a National Geographic Magazine cover story on how diversity works to boost educational results. If conservatives want to withdraw from community and home school, they are welcome to do so — just don’t ask for a “voucher” on the way out. We are all in this together.

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Here’s an excerpt from my interview last night with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, discussing Donald Trump and his recent joining-up with the birthers.

Donald Trump throws his lot in with ‘Birthers’ – ABC Radio Australia (audio)

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In the latest news from birther-land, a new spokesman has arrived: The Donald. The man is a salesman of the Atlantic City boardwalk variety (same place where the late Billy Mays got his start) and he sees that casting aspersions on the president’s legitimacy as “one of us” is what sells right now, at least with the know-nothing tea party conservative base. So he’s out there hawking.

It’s a story I’ve been writing for several years now mostly in the pages of POLITICO, a story about how the current leadership of the conservative movement cannot or will not shut down this racially laden pandering. Trump is the latest case in point. My editor at POLITICO posed the question in terms of whether or not the media should cut Trump off because of his birtherism; my counter was that it’s really the duty of the leaders of the conservative movement to do this — the media’s job is to report, and as long as the right keeps spewing this nonsense, it deserves to be covered. This was my response to Brad Smith, a bona fide conservative intellectual of the Federalist Society mold, who has tried to blame the media and the left for “keeping the story alive.” The birther story is kept alive because of people like Huckabee and now Trump, and the failure of responsible conservatives to shut them down.

Read my full article, published in POLITICO on March 29, 2011.

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I posted on POLITICO tonight on Obama’s Libya speech, which in general I found an improvement but still very problematic in terms of his ongoing rhetorical deflections; namely his use of the “false choice” tactic as a way to distract from the need to justify his own choice.

Read my full article here, published at POLITICO on March 28, 2011.

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I posted today on POLITICO, where the conversation is about what the President should say this evening in his speech on Libya.  out of the policy debate and sticking to matters rhetorical. I went a bit further today in examining the Reagan messaging on Libya, and am going to have a copy of his 1986 Oval Office address in front of me while watching tonight. And yes, my editors advise me we’ll be post-gaming on POLITICO as soon as it’s over.

Read my full article, published in POLITICO on March 28, 2011.

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Periodically, Jon Stewart and I agree — most recently in his biting criticism of the Obama administration’s refusal to treat the action in Libya with the appropriate rhetorical significance. Clearly, he wants to avoid discussion of the war we are now deeply engaged in. Aside from Constitutional issues being raised by critics on the left and the right, the President and his spokespeople are dodging the important questions with linguistic formulations verging from technical obfuscation to silliness.

Among the gems, highlighted by Stewart is Jay Carney’s reply that we are not at “war,” we are engaged in a “time-limited,” “scope-limited military action.”

Shades of an earlier president and his spokesman, Ron Ziegler’s obfuscation and Richard Nixon’s Cambodian “incursion.” But even Nixon addressed the nation directly to make his case.

President Reagan addressed the nation from the Oval Office after firing a few missiles at Qaddafi in 1986, an action miniscule in comparison to what is now underway. Obama’s refusal to do the same is inexcusable.

As Jon Stewart commented, all we are hearing from the administration is the “what” of the situation — how many missiles have been fired, by whom, and at what targets.

What we are not hearing much about is the “why.”

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I was not sure what to think when I read of Sister Sarah’s latest ham-fisted attempt at rhetorical re-framing. While in Israel, Palin took up the subject of that nation’s “settlers” who are permitted to forcibly occupy Palestinian territory by the conservative Netanyahu government, trying to cast it as a bureaucratic question of “zoning.”

Palin said this was a matter of “local zoning” and neither the United States nor anyone else should have a say about it.

Never mind the whole peace process that the U.S. government has been supporting through mediation — Democrat and Republican administrations alike — for decades, trying to help solve a humanitarian, political, and social conflict with global implications.

In POLITICO today I mused about whether Palin would also have considered our nation’s engagement in the Irish conflict to have been interfering in a local zoning issue, namely whether Catholics and Protestants could live (or march) on the same streets of Northern Ireland. I’d like to know her thoughts on the Good Friday Accords, which, with active U.S. involvement, helped draw this conflict to a close.

And furthermore, on the topic of meddling in local zoning issues, was the U.S. federal government and Department of Justice interfering in “local zoning issues” in this country during the Civil Rights era, including the elimination of segregated schools and racially restrictive covenants on private property?

On second thought, we might want to reserve that question for Rand Paul or Haley Barbour.

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I was puzzling over the name for our Libyan adventure, and found this thorough and rhetorically interesting explanation at The Washington Post. Pentagon regulations aside, I don’t understand why we don’t call it “Operation Libyan Freedom.” Or maybe something with meaning to the population we are purportedly freeing. Or maybe “Operation Oust Gaddafi.”

But that would mean we’d have to agree on how to spell the name of the particular Colonel whose nation we are attacking. Sure, it’s tricky in that involves transliteration from Arabic معمر القذافي; but by contrast we didn’t have this rhetorical mishmash with the cyrillic Gorbachev (Горбачёв) or Milosevic (Милошевић).

Instead we have an amusing panoply of monikers for the King of Tripoli; this madcap dictator has as many outfits as he does spellings of his name.

The Washington Post, the government of Britain, Al Jazeera, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine start us off with Gaddafi. The Spaniards at ABC drop a ‘d’, choosing Gadafi. CNN, NBC, and ABC switch out a ‘d’ for an ‘h’ and arrive at Gadhafi. The right wing press has its own variety, with Fox and National Review going with the ‘Q’, Qaddafi. The U.S. Government splits the difference (showing the President’s even-handedness, perhaps): Qadhafi. In France, we encounter a further permutation with Le Monde’s Kadhafi. This is closer to the favored variety of the last President to attack Libya, Ronald Reagan, who according to my copy of The Reagan Diaries, went with Khadaffi.

The man himself, on his personal website, rejects all of the above and spells himself Gathafi.

Ultimately, we all know who we’re talking about.

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Emperor Akihito has become the first Japanese monarch to address his nation on television, responding to the rhetorical vacuum created by the bumbling and inconsistent response by the elected government. Akihito’s appearance recalls the climactic line from the recent film “The King’s Speech,” when Colin Firth, portraying the symbolic ruler of another island nation, says of his role: “The nation thinks that when I speak, I speak for them.” As I’ve blogged in my full review of the film, this concept is key to all political rhetoric.

The Japanese Emperor has stepped forward in a very similar way to George VI in wartime Britain. Rather than a recitation of facts both nations needed something less tangible: resolve. Some particular highlights from Akihito’s address, illustrating direct and personal appeals to the nation, and on behlf of the nation:

“I hope from the bottom of my heart that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times.”

“I think it is important for all of us, in various ways and however small, to share the burden of the difficult period that the victims now face.”

As the New York Times reported today, Japan’s postwar governance has never been particularly robust, and the current crisis is exposing its weakness as never before. The failures are not only logistical but rhetorical. And as I wrote in POLITICO today, it is unfortunate that our own President thinks it fitting to be speaking about NCAA brackets while the Japanese crisis unfolds on one side of the globe and a burgeoning series of revolutions continues on the other.

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An interesting op-ed here from former Ambassador John Hamilton, a personal friend and peer whose international and political experience is of the highest order. John makes an interesting case: That the tea party’s populist anger could and should be directed toward the vastly increased income disparity in our country.

As POLITICO explained today, some tea-party critics such as Charles Krauthammer have written in their analysis of Sarah Palin and her ilk that there is “good populism and bad populism.”

What John is talking about would be populism of the good variety.

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