Saturday, September 13, 2003

Bush's masterful -- yes, masterful -- rhetoric and its consequences

George Bush has rarely been allowed by his handlers to speak extemporaneously because, when he does, the results are usually disastrous. It is thus no accident that when Bush engages the public, it is almost always with highly choreographed speeches.

This reliance on controlled forums to communicate ideas took on added significance in the wake of 9/11. It allowed the Bush administration to script specific messages and carefully chose words that would have a lasting effect and play on the public's desire to feel secure again. With speeches filled with Manichaean references and brimming with apocalyptic overtones, listeners were encouraged to seek refuge by adopting the administration's worldview. "You're either with us, or against us" was the mantra. What this really meant was: "join us, and we shall protect you; repudiate us (our policies) and you shall be thrown to the wolves."

By utilizing these rhetorical techniques, Bush was able to turn the fears and anxieties of the post 9/11 era into political capital. It turned out to be a "winning formula that allowed him to mesmerize the nation after Sept. 11, making himself politically invulnerable, while turning his political enemies into enemies of the state," according to Olivia Ward of the Toronto Star.

Renana Brooks, author of the forthcoming The Virtue Myth: American Culture's Obsession with Abuse and Intimidation, elaborates: "Bush describes the nation as being in a perpetual state of crisis and then attempts to convince the electorate that it is powerless and that he is the only one with the strength to deal with it. He attempts to persuade people they must transfer power to him, thus crushing the power of the citizen, the Congress, the Democratic Party, even constitutional liberties, to concentrate all power in the imperial presidency and the Republican Party."

Hail to the Chief, indeed.