Monday, February 09, 2004


Peggy Makes Excuses

Here is Peggy Noonan's justification for Bush's lackluster performance in Sunday's Meet The Press interview:

Democrats have minds that do it through talking points, and Republicans have minds that do speeches. (Mr. Bush has given a dozen memorable speeches already; only one of his Democratic challengers has, and that was "I Have a Scream.") And the reason--perhaps--is that Democratic candidates tend to love the game of politics, and Republican candidates often don't. Democrats, because they admire government and seek to be part of it, are inclined to think the truth of life is in policy. How could they not then be engaged by policy talk, and its talking points?

Republicans think politics is something you have to do and that policy is something you have to have to move things forward in line with a philosophy. They like philosophy. But they are bored by policy and hate having to memorize talking points.

Speeches are the vehicle for philosophy. Interviews are the vehicle of policy. Mr. Kerry does talking points and can't give an interesting speech. Mr. Bush can't do talking points and gives speeches full of thought and assertion.

Philosophy takes time. If you connect your answers in an interview to philosophy, or go to philosophy first, you can look as if you're dodging the question. You can forget the question. You can look a little gaga. But policy doesn't take time. Policy is a machine gun--bip bip bip. Education policy, bip bip bip. Next.

There are so many things wrong with this that it is hard to know where to start. Republicans hate political gamesmanship and Democrats love it? Has she ever met Tom Delay and Newt Gingrich? Or Karl Rove or George W. Bush himself for that matter? I'll concede that (some) Democrats (like Clinton, for example) like good public policy, but can she really be serious in claiming that Republicans are by nature philosophers? Has any one ever accused George W. Bush of a great love of philosophy? Perhaps she means that Republicans are a social movement party driven largely by ideology and therefore don't care about the details of making good public policy as long as their ideological preferences are satisfied. She may be right about that, but it doesn't speak well for putting them in charge of the government.

Finally, the idea that speeches read from a teleprompter are inherently vehicles of philosophy while talking points memorized and spat out in press interviews are vehicles of policy is absurd. Speeches are used for policy announcements all the time; conversely, talking points are often designed to describe a candidate's larger philosophy without getting into specifics. (Here Peggy Noonan is trying to do a clever McLuhanesque spin but I suggest she go back and read her McLuhan again.). The reason why Bush does better in speeches than in interviews is because he has great speechwriters and he's not very quick on his feet.

I will agree with Peggy on one thing-- the President has absolutely no interest in public policy. But that's not because he's a philosopher. It's because he's primarily interested in holding onto power. See the following posts here and here for more details.

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