The perils of punch-line politics

Instead of scolding candidates for depraved tactics, they’ve been endorsed with applause.

The great orator Cicero of ancient Rome once remarked that political rhetoric was fundamental in providing a “window to the mind and soul” of each politician. Oratory defined an individual’s intellect and acted as a medium to provide unity and not division among the masses. If Cicero was correct in this analysis, this rhetorical window is revealing ugly pictures of today’s politicians.

In one of the infamous YouTube debates, presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton was asked what she has to say to people who are concerned the same two families will be in the White House for as much as 28 years if she is elected. To this honest question Sen. Clinton replied, “I agree with them, I think it is terrible George W. Bush was elected.” For such a craftily dodged response, Clinton was met not by an unsatisfied audience, but instead by cheers and applause. So seems to be the way of political campaigns in modern United States, the electable candidates are those who speak the most and say the least.

A common platform held by Democrats and Republicans is that both parties must run on the assumption that they are running for office in the United States of Amnesia, rather than America. Senator Barack Obama continually flaunts that he never voted to intervene in Iraq, much unlike both his opponents Hillary Clinton and John McCain. What apparently everyone at his rallies, who hurrah for this immaculate record, have forgotten is Obama was never in a position to vote for or against the war in the first place (Obama began his Senate tenure in January 2005, nearly two years after the Shock and Awe Campaign was launched).

His demagoguery continues by painting such a bleak description of mainstream American society. Certainly, he favors oratory that starts with stories of the single mother who works two jobs to make sure her family has food, and follows by claiming, “We can do better,” all the while presuming that contempt of this situation is exclusive to his campaign, and that his adversaries must be pro-single mom.

The Republican ticket as well is far from immune to such critique. If Senator John McCain ran on a single word, it would most likely be “experience.” However, in response to Barack’s shot about al-Qaida not existing in Iraq before McCain helped start a war there, the best response McCain could muster was, “that was the past and we must focus on the present.” Perhaps he never thought anyone would notice such a rhetorical inconsistency. This could be why everyone holds their breath when McCain continually reminds us in nearly every speech that we are his friends (whether he is trying to convince conservatives or himself seems uncertain). Furthermore, he attempts to force many of his statements to read as newspaper headlines by preceding them with, “I’ve got news for you Ö”

In spite of the shortcomings of McCain and Obama, the trophy for “Most Fallacy in a Politician’s Rhetoric” remains in the Clinton household (Bill created the trophy by questioning the definition of the word “is”). Hillary’s opinion seems to parallel the popular ideas of any given week. Just before the Iowa caucuses her campaign cohort’s megaphone (also known as Bill) made sure the American public knew that he was against the War in Iraq from the start. This ploy acted as some distraction from the fact that Hillary supported the intervention.

On “Meet the Press,” Sen. Clinton attempted to justify her vote by stating, “It was a vote to use the threat of force against Saddam Hussein,” but not a vote for war. Essentially, Clinton claims she supported a proposal that was a fib to use force. How befitting. In fact, Clinton supported the White House proposal that clearly gave the ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, “this is your last chance – disarm or be disarmed.” But maybe it is unfair of your correspondent to call Sen. Clinton a charlatanistic unethical actress; after all if we do not give her the media attention she desires she may start crying again.

In the interest of contextualization, Ballot Bowl 2008 is not the first time that one-liners have aided the road to the White House. In 2000, George W. Bush campaigned on slogans such as, “no nation-building” and “no interventions.” Who could blame him? “Read my lips, no new taxes” seemed to work well for dear old dad.

If substance is what you crave, it is time that quick-witted and empty responses meet politicians with contempt from onlookers. It is our duty as citizens of a democracy to be educated about the candidates we elect, and part of this task is making certain our candidates educate us.

Politicians have not set high standards of intellectualism for the citizens they hope to preside over to mimic. No wonder the best political retaliation that many staunch Republicans can bolster is, “Did you hear Barack’s middle name is Hussein?” Or a Democrat touting their new favorite quote, “John McCain wants the war in Iraq to last 100 years!” The presidential prerequisite of marketability has eclipsed any other qualification, or perhaps all other qualifications combined. Instead of scolding candidates for such tactics, the American public has endorsed them with roaring applause. If the American public wants to engage in these Hollywood politics, fine. But anyone who does certainly has no right to complain about the current state of affairs in their next breath.

Those at St. James’ Street welcome comments at [email protected]