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Lady Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.


Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Jonathan Alter - An Appreciation
posted by Tom

The Dear Abby of pro-Democrat media has another column advising KerryEdwards on how to defeat George Bush. In The Art of the Closing Argument, Jonathan Alter counsels the Kerry half of Newsweek's liberal Dream Team ("If you have no intellect, you must elect") to adopt trial lawyer Edwards' jury-manipulating rhetorical skills on the campaign trail and overcome the perception that his speeches are the equivalent of watching a moth fly around a bare light bulb.

Alter doesn't put it this way, of course. Heaven forefend he should insult Kerry and jeopardize any chance of fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a presidential press secretary (to one with the initials JFK no less). Instead, Alter engages in his usual brown nosing advisor-speak, explaining that even though Edwards' perpetual shit eating grin has rubbed off a little on Kerry, it's time that JFK II got down to the serious business of fooling the voting public with liberalspeak. According to Alter, the initial chemistry between Kerry and Edwards worked "a little too well, with jokes popping up about how much John and John touched each other in public. What John Kerry can learn from John Edwards is not just how to grin but how to talk - how to frame a message that penetrates."

Ignore the Freudian implications of Edwards teaching Kerry to "penetrate" after the past few weeks of groping each other in public. Alter's next observation is one of those "Maybe someday it will show up in Bartlett's" lines that he has a knack for coming up with. The only problem is, their success depends on a reader not thinking about them too much. If you're a Newsweek subscriber, he has nothing to worry about. If you're one of those dilettantes who follows the Drudge links to learn what the dimwits in the so-called mainstream press are trying to pass off as political commentary on any given day, he's in trouble.

"Language," Alter instructs us, "is the most underappreciated force in politics."

Now, not counting other Jonathan Alter columns, where else can you find anything that vapid?

First, are we to assume Alter has discovered after much thought that there are many underappreciated forces in politics, language being the most underappreciated? How many, and what are they? Knowing Jonathan Alter, he probably thinks money is an underappreciated force in politics. And media. And a hundred other commonplaces that every pseudo-intellectual columnist has examined to death. Rest assured, however, that after staying up late one night straining to open the perpetually stuck valve that controls the flow of his ideas, Alter will tap out a critique of the power and influence money and media exert on our political system, then subsequently discuss it with Brian Williams or one of the other dull tools in the MSNBC shed.

But not this week. This week Jonathan Alter has devoted every fiber of his being to a study of language, the most underappreciated force in politics. Notwithstanding the fact politicians (and birdbrained political columnists) ceaselessly employ rhetoric to persuade the electorate - words being the tools of the trade, as they say - and for the most part people react to the political messages, even if it is to throw up their hands and change the channel or flip to the sports pages, let's give Alter the benefit of the doubt and assume that he's not the pretentious bore he appears to be in his columns and on television.

Just what the hell does he mean that language as a force in politics is "underappreciated" at all, let alone to such an extreme that he feels compelled to lecture us on the subject?

I know what appreciate means:

Appreciate (verb): 1. Feel gratitude. 2. Value something or somebody highly. 3. Understand fully the importance or meaning of something. 4. Gain in value, especially over time.
If in Alterspeak language is an underappreciated force in politics, I have four possible interpretations to choose from:

1. I'm not grateful enough that language is a force in politics.
2. I undervalue language as a force in politics.
3. I have an insufficient understanding, indeed do not fully grasp the meaning or importance of, language as a force in politics.
4. Language as a force in politics has not increased in value over time and I therefore (based on Alter's recommendation) should not invest in it.
Despite the fact we're dealing with Jonathan Alter here, eliminate 1 and 4 as they make absolutely no sense in the context of this latest sheet of used toilet tissue he calls a column. Selections 2 and 3, I think, fulfill his intentions.

Note, however, that language as a force in politics is not totally unappreciated. Alter is telling us that while language's value and importance as a force in politics is grasped by the great unwashed, and presumably by politicians, they don't, you know, have a really tight grip on its value and importance. They appreciate it, sure; they just don't really appreciate it. Think of Willy Loman's comment to his sons Biff and Happy in Death Of A Salesman - written, apropos enough, by another liberal gas bag of Hindenburg proportions, Arthur Miller - that their friend Bernard is "liked, but not well liked."

At least Miller, for all his own knee-jerkism, has a sense of irony.

If you disagree with Alter - No, if you don't believe him when he says that language is the most underappreciated force in politics (and anyone outside Alter's immediate family who does at this point requires therapy), he instructs you to ask yourself: "Why does the rest of the world so dislike President Bush?"

Ignoring yet another of Alter's unproved - and unprovable - assumptions, that the entire world beyond the red states here in the US dislikes Bush, and indulging what I'll politely call his mental eccentricities, one might suggest to him it's because after eight years of Bill Clinton bombing camels in response to attacks on Americans, apologizing to some foreign nation or another for America's alleged sins, and using his position not to defend the interests of the country but to pick up chicks (which endeared him to the French), the "rest of the world" now has to contend with George W. Bush, a president who doesn't check the calendar to determine whether it is our enemies' "holy month" before retaliating against them, who in fact decides to retaliate against enemies not because he's about to be impeached, but because it's a strategic and moral necessity, and who is not in the habit of first asking for Camaroon's permission in the UN to defend the homeland.

But alas, no. According to Alter,

It's the cowboy language that Bush uses: "Axis of Evil." "Either you're with us, or you are with the terrorists." "Bring it on"... the words don't disappear in the ether, they bounce off satellites for years. For all the fuss over "Fahrenheit 9/11," the more farsighted recent documentary is "Control Room," which takes viewers behind the scenes of Al-Jazeera. The folks who work at the Arab network don't hate us for who we are, as one admits he'd even work for Fox News if he could. They hate us more specifically, our government for what we say. "With words, we govern," as Benjamin Disraeli put it.
First, you gotta love his observation that the rest of the world dislikes Bush's "cowboy" language, particularly when he phrases it as an answer to a rhetorical question asked by a high school instructor in Current Events class. Nobody ever drew a negative parallel between Texan Bush and cowboys until Professor Alter studied the issue.

I can't say that everyone underappreciates language as a force in politics, but I'll bet no one appreciates cliches as a force in hack writing more than Jonathan Alter.

But this is one of his more hilarious, and telling, pseudo-observations in another respect. Note the Disraeli quote in the context of world opinion vis a vis Bush's penchant for direct, forceful, and, yes, confrontational language aimed at those countries and groups out to annihilate the US. An American president is obligated to the rest of Alter's world. He is not only responsible for the United States and answerable to its electorate, but to the global community. World opinion is equally as important as the American electorate's interests, and those interests are valid so long as they are amenable to the rest of the world. Our decision in November should be made accordingly. President Bush, in Jonathan Alter's cockamamie universe, should think twice before saying something that might offend the folks who work at an Arab network, even if it is intended to reassure the American people that he will not coddle those hellbent on murdering them.

Bush's language, when you come right down it, reflects a strength that revolts pantywaists like Alter. They call it "arrogance" and thus blind themselves to the fact that what the rest of the world may like about KerryEdwards, particularly that part of the world eagerly anticipating another attack on American soil, is what makes them look so pathetic to Americans who aren't columnists. More importantly, though, Alter misses the fact the words Bush uses are backed up by action and it is the action that alienates the rest of the world. I doubt even an idiot like Alter would deny that had Bush uttered all of the same phrases and never dropped a bomb on Afghanistan or Iraq, or merely blown up a few tents in the grand martial tradition of his predecessor, the rest of the world (i.e., France and Germany since we're dealing with Alter, after all) wouldn't have blinked an eye. Even President Hummer did some verbal saber rattling against Saddam Hussein when he needed to divert attention from his perpetually open fly. The rest of the world still wore kneepads for him.

Funnier still in Alter's column is his concession that "Bush understands (language's) importance, and manages, with the help of his first-rate speechwriter, Mike Gerson, to speak in ways that have worked at home politically even as they alienate the world."

Come again? I thought language is the most underappreciated force in politics. According to Alter, though, Bush appreciates the force of language in politics and has used it effectively at home, which means his domestic audience appreciates the force of his language and has reacted positively to it. But his language has alienated the rest of the world, which obviously appreciates the force of it or else the population of, say, East Timor wouldn't have such a strong negative reaction to it.

I'm sure Jonathan Alter will forgive me if I ask him just who the freakin' hell is underappreciating language as a force in politics? It isn't Bush, it isn't Americans, and it isn't the rest of the world. Kerry and Edwards are the only two left. Actually, Kerry stands in the dark alone, since Alter has already established he should take lessons from Edwards.

If anyone among all the liberal columnists out there surpasses Alter in triteness, let me know.

Far be it from anyone with an IQ above that of the average Newsweek reader to point out to Alter the affirmation and reaffirmation of citizens' and politicians' deep appreciation of language as a force in politics throughout history. From Hitler's stirring rendition of "Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles!" to Clinton's lip quivering reassurance that "I feel your pain", citizens have been suckers for the political speak that knocks 'em dead - literally in the case of Germans and Hitler. Granted, pols like Hitler and Clinton hoodwink their audiences, but in falling for the BS, people reflect how much they appreciate language - i.e., value and understand its importance - as a force in politics in that they not only know what they want their candidates and office holders to say, but more importantly how the words should be said if they are to be won over. That the BS artists themselves appreciate language as a force that inspires the citizenry, for good or ill - or in the case of Clinton, lulls them into a state of mindless complacency for eight years - goes without saying.

Speaking of Clinton, who among the idiots that elected him twice - Alter is definitely included in that group - would claim that the Zipper telling them what they wanted to hear wasn't the overriding consideration in making their choice? He convinced them "It's the economy, stupid", he knew the price of a gallon of milk, he revealed the color of his underwear, and, in playing the saxophone on late night TV, used music, the universal language, to woo every liberal in the country, from soccer moms to hairy female undergraduates in literature to shit writers at news weeklies. They not only appreciated the "force" of his language in the sense of valuing it and understanding its importance to them, they also appreciated it in the sense of gratitude that at last a presidential candidate had stooped to their level of moronic self-absorption. And there isn't a liberal Democrat running for office that doesn't deeply appreciate language as a potent force in hypnotizing the Birkenstock crowd. They need only repeat ad nauseam the correct words and phrases -"diversity", "tolerance", "tax breaks for working families", "health care", "jobs", "education," "affirmative action", "gay rights" - in any order, irrespective of the issue under discussion or debate, and their followers cream their jeans.

Case in point: Alter advises Edwards

When pressed about trial lawyers, for instance, he explains with great conviction how he has fought "all my life" for poor and middle-class people against powerful corporate interests like HMOs and insurance companies. It works, and will boomerang on Dick Cheney in a debate if Cheney brings up the trial-lawyer business.
Get it? Edwards is to shut down any attempt, perceived as illegitimate by the loony left, on Cheney's part to make Edwards' millionaire trial lawyer past an issue so that it doesn't interfere with Edwards attacking Cheney's millionaire past with Haliburton, which is a legitimate issue. It's de classe to confront Edwards on the issue of trial lawyers amassing great fortunes from frivolous lawsuits, how as a group they have become a "powerful interest" opposed to any meaningful legal reform that will cut into their fees, how they negatively impact business and the lives of working people (when they bankrupt companies using junk science and stacking juries with lowlifes who dream of hitting the civil suit lottery themselves, who suffers?). Should anyone behave so tastelessly, Edwards need only use the language of Marxist class warfare favored by the Democrats' entitlement crowd to correct him. He need only remind the Democrats' flock "with great conviction" in his voice that they are victims of corporate bogeymen on whose behalf he has fought all his life. He's felt their pain, you could say. According to Alter, the electorate will buy it. And he's right, of course, but Alter advising KerryEdwards to engage in this cheap rhetoric when they are already doing it on an hourly basis reflects a brain stuck for something better to do with its time. As if these two bozos are contemplating dropping their strategy when they get to the debates and Alter is counseling them against it.

All that said, the crux of his article is this:

Bush is disliked by the rest of the world and those Americans (including Alter) who long for the days when the country reflected the guilt, weakness, and malaise of the post-Viet Nam, post-Watergate 1970s, because Bush is committed to putting America first, drawing clear lines between its allies and those who seek its demise, and taking the fight to its enemies rather than waiting for attacks that liberal Democrats (including Alter) consider our just comeuppance. For instance, had President Clinton been in office on 9-11, he no doubt would have apologized to al-Quaeda for Americans causing that fourth hijacked airliner to crash in Pennsylvania before reaching its intended target, and Jonathan Alter would have written a column praising his statesmanship. Alter concludes that Americans should vote for KerryEdwards, lawyers trained to obfuscate and kow-tow in an effort to win people over, because they will tell the rest of the world what it wants to hear, specifically that America is only as strong as the United Nations says it is.

The thought never crosses what passes for Alter's mind that Americans might prefer a blunt talker like Bush who emphasizes America's strength over smarmy attorneys whose melodramatic rhetoric appeals to the weak and resentful. But why should he consider what qualities Americans outside of Hollywood and liberal cocktail parties in DC and Manhattan seek in their president? Sure, Americans will be voting in November for the man who will lead their country, but every sophisticate with a college degree, particularly a JD, knows they must first check in with the citizens of France, Germany, Bangladesh, and the Canary Islands before making their decision.

One could make a career out of picking apart this DNC PR lackey's drivel. Alter need only say, "Those red state-Christian-rube Bush supporters simply don't appreciate the fact Bush's language makes America look arrogant and alienates the rest of the world. For this reason (and because I might get shortlisted as a President Kerry mouthpiece), I've made it my mission to get Kerry elected."

Everyone would be a lot happier, especially Alter himself. Because it must be stressful struggling week after week to make your pro-KerryEdwards-bumper sticker opinions look like serious political commentary. It must be even more stressful realizing that, even after all the time and effort, you've failed miserably.

"With words, we govern," Disraeli said.

Yes. And with words, Jonathan Alter comes across as a smacked ass.

posted by Tom | 7/21/2004 10:32:00 AM
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Blogger ~Jen~ said...

I left you a comment on my site, and popped over to investigate yours. Holy stromboli. I grovel at your feet! There's so much to look at on your site that I wasn't sure where to start!

I love that you read lucianne.com. That is one of my regular haunts. I rarely comment, but when I do I am TexasJen. I'm really more of a lurker. In fact, now that I think about, I probably haven't posted in a year there...but I do read it everyday...like at least five times. I read probably 75% of all your links already, and I look forward to checking out the other 25%.

I figured out links tonight (I was so proud of myself) and I added yours successfully...well...at least I THINK it was successfully. hehehee Thank you for linking me on your site.

I'll come back tomorrow and investigate some more. :)

10:00 PM, July 21, 2004  
Blogger ~Jen~ said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:00 PM, July 21, 2004  
Blogger ~Jen~ said...

Sorry about the double post. Now I am REALLY showing my divine newbie-ness. :)

10:04 PM, July 21, 2004  
Blogger Bathus said...

Jen,

Thanks for nice comments. Having Tom and lostingotham as blogmates makes it a lot easier to keep fresh content on this blog. When you're in the mood for a laugh, if you haven't read it already, you should check out Tom's spoof on Clinton's book.

Glad I found your blog, which I will be visiting regularly.

Happy Blogging.

12:01 PM, July 22, 2004  
Blogger ~Jen~ said...

Tom, thanks again for contributing to my blog. Though I can't really admit it over there without getting in to yet another shouting match....I think "Birkenstock Mafia" is positively brilliant!!!!!

11:58 AM, July 28, 2004  

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