Notes on Political Venality, Pomposity and Associated Stupidity.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

My Pollster Told Me To Say....

President Bush clings, as all modern politicians do, to polling numbers. They are the box scores of this particular game, and pols pour over them like rabid baseball fans parse a team's statistics. They are, in my opinion, the defining characteristic of today's politics. Where once research was done one-on-one, "How are they taking this down in the 7th Ward, Frank?" today an entire industry seeks to find out what people are thinking.

But it's not that simple, for the pollsters are an integral part of all political campaigns and the idea isn't simple to "find out" what's up, but to take that information and craft "the message" to match it. This takes me back to Bush.

Anything he says, any word or phrase he utters (or stutters) has been thoroughly tested and vetted before it leaves his mouth. And these days, he is clinging to the one simple thing that, apparently, still tests well; "We will defeat the terrorists." This line, with its heavy, scary baggage of 9/11 and now London, is a stupid, pointless statement; as any reasonable person knows there is no way to defeat these people. Ever.

And yet, it tests well. Presumably because people want to hear it. People want to believe it. People want Daddy to make it okay. People want to be safe.

So we will go on hearing this. Even if and when a terror attack again strikes our shores, this phrase will never be far from the President's snarling lips. He'll cling to it, not because it's true or accurate, but simply because -- it tests well.

Another phrase that must be high in the GOP gamebook is "liberal activist." Last election cycle it began to enter the lexicon when applied to judges of all sorts. "Liberal activist judges" became a rallying cry of every conservative politician. I'm guessing that "activist" is seen as code for "nasty people who want their own way," and is perceived as a holdover from the 60's. But now the term has been coopted by others; Kenneth Tomlinson, the conservative head of the CPB yesterday applied the term to broadcasters, calling Bill Moyers a "liberal activist."

If you weren't sure the guy was a political hack before this (hard to believe) you now have proof that his public speech has been fully vetted and run through the GOP thinkspeak gauntlet. He's drunk the cool aid. He's on board. He knows the polls.

What is missing from the other side of the aisle is any attempt to diffuse these idiotic statements. And it would be easy. Simple turn them on their heads. Tom Delay is a "right wing activist." Rick Santorum is an "anti-school activist." It's easy and fun; go make a few of your own! Or better yet, grab a weak-kneed Democrat by the collar and tell them it's time they spoke up. After all, isn't that what activists do?