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The Tentacle


February 25, 2008

Words, Just Words

Steven R. Berryman

A presidential primary campaign is upon us now, much earlier in impact than in years past. The issues that are forced “off the table” are, in some cases, the ones that should be the defining ones. Shame on us for not forcing them back into the light of day for our proper examination.

How does the process work? Each candidate tosses out “words” for us to hear through the media. Some their own, and some plagiarized, or at least borrowed without attribution. The expert political consultants of each campaign then have the results polled and focus-grouped to determine whether they are winning words or not.

Then adjustments are made accordingly to stump speeches and sound bytes and the process repeats after the rebuttals come out.

But what if our candidates determined via these results that the electorate is very satisfied with a platitudinous diatribe devoid of substance and rich in hyperbole? What if this found opportunity also afforded them the added bonus of staying off the record on the issues that may nail them down in the national election?

It’s happening now. We are feeling good about all of the promises of change, hope, future, and yes we can…so candidates are being told. It is truly amazing how much time one can fill up with empty rhetoric.

This “zero-sum game” pushes out real issues that are also words. We are at the affect of both the limited attention span of the average citizen, overwhelmed by too much information at all times, and the 24/7/360 news cycle, as well as by the time allowed by the structure of big media for sound bites.

As a consequence of the squeezing out process, we miss important words and issues that cry out for real in-depth evaluation and consideration. Some of these words carry a physical charge, much like a sub-atomic particle:

“Surge” is a word. Semantics dictate to us that it is new to the conversation because it is different than “more troops with guns on the ground is what we need.” The latter version died early on in the Iraq conflict as not necessary. Notice that this word escapes discussion currently by our candidates. Squeezed off the table by “we can do it.”

“The Draft” is a word. Ugly! But with the economy in failure mode, how long can we maintain financial incentives for volunteer enlistment of $20,000-$40,000 per recruit to gain but a new division of combat strength? Our current path may force this issue or consideration of compulsory service. Squeezed off the table by “hope.”

“Career politicians” is really an issue off the table. Legislative stagnation is caused in part by the never-ending campaigning of those looking for a job for life, rather than an opportunity to serve the people. Term limits could be revisited, but here we have yet another third rail surely squeezed out of the conversation.

By hyper-focusing only on their own salient issues of choice, the candidates and their willing accomplices – the media, We The People (not my words) are robbed of the opportunity to probe other real and consequential issues. We can’t test the veracity of those who seek to act on our behalf.

In the case of Barack Obama, his answer to tossing out inconsequential marshmallow words as treats is that he has a 10-point plan on his web site for every issue. Maybe so, but is his plan his plan, or a creation by an advisor? Could we not get a sense of his personal buy-in on said plan if he spoke to it personally in public and answered to it himself?

In the case of Hillary Clinton, she likes the “yes we can.” However, she owns “Healthcare Reform” as a real issue. This is a good exception to my premise, but for her, this is a “one note samba;” and didn’t she already have a run at this while First Lady? Fears of a step towards socialism here may be evidence that salient issues should be avoided.

Here are a couple of more issues that got bumped out of view:

The consequences on education of “No Child Left Behind,” and the complicating factor of a rising immigrant population in the schools. Are we lowering standards to make goals? Is this dumbing down of America? Come on, who wants to take this one?

English as a national language. Does any candidate want to take action to begin to protect our eroding sense of the value of being Americans? This one could go to John McCain. But could there be opposition by the Latino community that may cost votes?

McCain can’t say he was tied-up at the time on that last one.

And how about: American jobs lost and saving the auto industry? Any emergency ramp-up to wartime production is now in peril.

Alternative Energy Policy that transcends the superficial is missing. The true impact of bio-fuels on energy independence is not a campaign discussion. All three candidates are probably saving this one for a State of the Union address!

I forgot Mike Huckabee, sorry. Well, he just wants enough delegates to be able to say he beat out Mitt Romney for second place anyway.

Let us not allow our attention span burnout to keep us from pushing to get to the issues that count between now and November. Politics as usual will not do.

For all of our sakes, I hope that this is only a 24-hour apathy.



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