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If It’s Not Working, Keep Talking

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The Tiger Woods recent televised confessional contained a revelation for me. There was nothing intriguing about the props, aside from the fact that his wife wasn't there. The content wasn't especially novel. The method of delivery wasn't anything new either. Mere days later, President Obama used the same format in his weekly internet address to flog his increasingly stale health care revamp. Now Obama didn't have an audience of potted plants like Woods, but perhaps he could have used Michelle to give him a big smoochie teary kiss, like Woods got from Mom. One might think, gosh, somebody loves this guy, so his health care plan can't be so bad. That, at least, would have spiced up yet another plodding dull Marxist/Leninist Health Care 101 lecture.

The thing that struck me is how the set piece speech is now almost worthless as a communication device on great issues. The heavy scripting has so reduced the information value, that it's no wonder most Americans have little interest or time to waste on these artifacts of the past. In a world on twitter, we only want the most important fact and it must be conveyed in the shortest possible form. Lies, dodges and evasions seem ever more blatant. Even a day later Obama could put no price tag on his increasingly costly boondoggle. A trillion? two trillion? The CBO cannot even venture a guess at the final cost of Obamacare.

With these speeches, airy generalities and verbose phrases begin to seem not dull, but offensive, as if someone is committing a crime. Interruption becomes a necessity. Joe Wilson may be pioneer in this sense. Some would say this exposes an obvious loss of civility and this probably is true, but should one be willing to be silent for such drivel? I guess the tactful path would be not even to bother showing up. If someone is going to, at best use you as a prop or at worst lie with your seeming approval, then absence is probably warranted.

The Republicans now face such a choice with the Obama Tax Increase Commission and the Health care negotiations. If they want to join Obama in the land of vague babble and lies, they can and may gain something from it, though what I cannot fathom. Whatever they decide, the obvious manipulated nature of these events means that like the set piece speech, the script has already been written. A beginning, middle and end has been drafted and the Republicans simply have to show up. Does anyone think the Republicans get the role of the good guys in this production?

The opposition party has a duty only to oppose, nothing more. Plans are laid out, so that America has an idea of an alternative path, but the job of passing the agenda lies in the majority. The fetish of bipartisanship as a goal in itself embraces only imbecility. If one side simply caves to the other, that's not America. That's Hitler's Germany, Chavez' Venezuela or Castro's Cuba. As Lloyd Cutler used to say, "America was founded by dissidents and smugglers." Why should we lose our independence and our probing minds for something of undefined effect and with untold cost?

At the bottom line, America has thrived on substance. Yes, we've had lots of pretty words along the way, but all words that meant something had a direct substantive effect. In other words, they were almost mathematical in their precision and scope. The "Gettyburg Address", FDR's Pearl Harbor speech, JFK's "Why Not the Moon" speech and Reagan's "Tear Down this Wall" speech. All described the state of affairs, a plain goal and a way to reach it. The goals may have been extremely hard to reach, but the stakes were acknowledged and the speeches lent solemnity to decisions that almost all felt must be made. The humanity of these individuals shines through in those speeches because the purpose rang true. How was this so? Those were all set piece speeches and yet any one of them has the sense, the feel of an intimate almost extemporaneous conversation. Tiger Woods and President Obama give speeches drenched in artifice, pretense and simulation. The speeches of Lincoln, Kennedy, Reagan and FDR had no need or time for pretense. The enormous issues of their day were duly understood and confronted with speeches that were not only well made, but direly needed.

Perhaps I mourn for the loss of such speeches. Almost three decades ago Walter Ong noted the rise of secondary orality, speech based only on written words. Long before "talking points" became household words, Ong noted this shift and something else. There was still a desire or perhaps need for primary orality or speech alone with no props or printed words or reminders. Obama himself decries talking points in speeches and yet that negative attitude about the medium is now a talking point. This is why the speeches of our ancestors have vanished. We have speeches exclusively about speeches. This serves only as cover or concealment for an agenda most people don't want.

When we see reversion to the primary oral form, the truth can be revealed quickly in resonant fashion. Think of two examples from the 2008 campaign. Obama's "share the wealth" comment revealed a decided Marxist/Leninist bent, now proudly displayed. The possessors (i.e whoever is the target that day) should tithe, donate, invest, etc . . . to the disposed. The dictatorship of the Politically Correct decides how resources of the society are to be allotted, not the individual or the merits of his ability. Therefore, central control is best for all.

While John McCain had many more revealing unscripted moments, his snap decision to suspend his campaign revealed that his primary orality actually seemed to dictate his decisions. The stream of conscious oral formulation gave McCain an appeal, but showed a mind heavily influenced by intuition. In the chaotic environment of the fall of 2008, this characteristic reflected poorly on him and he subsequently began a drop in the polls from which he never recovered.

For Obama, talk is the goal in itself, until someone else caves or something else happens. This almost mimics a pick up artist at party. He works the room until a willing accomplice is found or prospects dry up and he goes to another party. Above all for Obama, if it's not working, keep talking. The Narrative (I predict this word will eventually be as loathsome as "mission statement") must be continually pushed to dominate the national discourse and to stiffen the spine of an increasingly wobbly Democratic Party, that perhaps is not sold on the idea of Obama running for re-election in 2012. Unfortunately, dullness has set in. President Obama has become one long boring ineffectual scold. In the age of Twitter, this President is digging his own political grave, unless Republicans decide to help dig him out. They would be better served to let him keep talking.

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About Mr Dock Ellis

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Yet another conservative finding something, anything to use to declare the impending doom of Obama and or liberals in general.


    FYI, he gave the Republicans an ultimatum today – come up with something that will cover all Americans (and not just the three million extra (out of 40M+ uninsured)) or we’re going to do what we’re going to do…

    …which, ironically enough, is precisely what the Republicans proposed in opposition to Hillarycare 15 years ago.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    And one more thing, Dock –

    IIRC, the bill’s not going to take effect until 2014…that is, the entirety of the bill won’t take effect until then. But if the bill is passed by reconciliation two months from now – which seems to be the not-so-veiled threat President Obama gave in his closing remarks – the ban on denial of care due to pre-existing conditions takes effect almost immediately…

    …just in time for election season! AND best of all, my oldest son can get health insurance that he can’t get now!

    Yeah, I’m getting a little optimistic…!

  • You can’t get better care in the Phillipines, Glenn? You may not want to hang around too long in a bankrupt nation….

  • Well this looks great. You can really see which way we lean.

    Good job ,Doc.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Ruvy –

    No, my wife and I (and my youngest son until he turns 18) can definitely get better care here in America – because I’m retired Navy and I have access to the socialist single-payer health care called the VA health care system – AND because I’m retired Navy, I have access to Tricare-approved doctors in most countries allied with America…including the Philippines.

    We’re going to the Philippines for precisely the same reasons why you won’t take your sons back to New York: I want my son to find a girl in the Church, and the culture he’ll be in there contains better influences than the one here.

    But back to health care, I get so angry at the utter hypocrisy of the right-wingers among my fellow retired military who gladly use the same socialist single-payer health-care system I do…and in the same breath complain about how Obama’s leading us all down to socialist tyranny in some kind of Orwellian state.

    IMO, that seems to be one difference between conservatives and liberals – conservatives seem to have no problem whatsoever with political hypocrisy as long as it turns out in their favor.

  • Baronius

    You made some really good points in this article, Dock. So many of our political events (conventions, debates, State of the Union addresses, and my least favorite, the State of the Union Response) are designed to communicate no facts. It’s like sitting on a chair made of Lemon Pledge. The stuff is supposed to be used to polish something of substance, but we’ve perfected the polish and forgotten about the substance.

    I put network news in the same category. They’ve found people who know how to punch a news story, but they don’t understand the subject.

  • Glenn,

    I understand you POV. At least it is not shot through with hypocrisy, like some individuals whom I will not mention here; but my point to you is that in a bankrupt country, you will get no care whatever. As for Dock Ellis, he is painfully on point. The set speech, like much of news broadcasting, is a thing of the past, and worth little to nothing except as a propaganda vehicle.

  • Speeches, especially good speeches, are supposed to inspire, Ruvy. You can’t just relegate them to the realm of propaganda or rhetoric.

    In fact, one way of interpreting the pronouncements of the Hebrew prophets, major or minor, would be to say that they embodied call to action, call to repent and change people’s ways, even in light of the improbable odds.

    Or in spite or because of improbable odds, one might say.

    I’m afraid that your venom against America stands here against your better judgment.

  • Roger,

    The appropriate way to view the words of the Hebrew prophets is that they were words of prophecy. Some of the prophecy has come true – some has not.

    Speeches are supposed to inspire. When they fail to inspire, they lose their value. Your sitting president has been shitting beautiful words since his inauguration – and it hasn’t meant a damned thing. When he was supposed to open his trap in outrage on your behalf, he has been silent, and he has stained you honor in front of the world countless times since 20 January 2009. His words are now worthless, devalued by their being too many of them – accompanied by no intelligent action on your behalf as an executive. For you this fool has been nothing but a disaster. His Harvard diplomas might as well be toilet paper, considering the pathetic way he has led you all – with his set speeches.

    Let’s be clear here. This has nothing to do with an animus against America. Netanyahu, by contrast to Obama, has just crapped words without them even being beautiful. And he inspires nobody because he does not act to defend the nation he has sworn to defend. Netanyahu is a disaster for us – because he bows to the trash in the oval office. But at least we know he is garbage. You Americans can’t accept that Obama is just prettier sounding garbage, and nothing more.

  • mrdockellis

    Glenn, I have to say you’re consistent in advocating for your piece of the pie, but when it involves taking from others to support your health, you can only justify that by saying health care is a right. This is patently false. There is no amendment to the Bill of Rights stating such.

    On a side note, you state the culture of the philipines has “better influences” than the U.S. This seems extremely shortsighted. You may like or prefer one over the other, but ditch the “better” part. Also the U.S. culture for better or worse influences almost all cultures in widespread fashion. I doubt you’ll escape its’ “influences” anywhere, unless you become a hermit on a hill.

    Ruvy: Obama is not “trash.” What he says may be, but there is a difference between the man and his rhetoric. By classifying him as garbage, you underestimate him. He is most certainly not wise, but he is clever and can daunt, dissuade and deceive those whose mental abilities are undeveloped or stunted.

  • Clavos

    Dock, you are a breath of fresh air in these parts…

  • you state the culture of the philipines has “better influences” than the U.S. This seems extremely shortsighted. You may like or prefer one over the other, but ditch the “better” part. Also the U.S. culture for better or worse influences almost all cultures in widespread fashion. I doubt you’ll escape its’ “influences” anywhere, unless you become a hermit on a hill.

    Having seen the truth of this statement in Israel, I am forced to agree.

    Dock, Obama is trash. White élite trash, the garbage spit out by Harvard’s “educational” system. He daunts, dissuades and deceives many, indeed including many who comment here. But he doesn’t daunt, dissuade or deceive you or me or even Sarah Palin. All of us are smarter than Obama is or than he thinks he is. Having power does not make you smart. It just makes you dangerous.

  • Clavos,

    Yes, the air is very refreshing when it’s something that we want to hear.
    Unfortunately, it’s not so invigorating when we disagree with each other.
    I’m not sure you read the comment that I made giving credit to you for my punctuation and sentence structure,so I’m saying to you now, “Thank You, Clavos.”

    My writing may not be perfect, but I’m trying.

  • Dock, “by his appointees shall ye know him”. Look at the idiots Obama has picked to ru(i)n your country. I wouldn’t let these scum – any of them – take out my garbage, let alone run departments of state!

  • Arch Conservative

    “FYI, he gave the Republicans an ultimatum today – come up with something that will cover all Americans (and not just the three million extra (out of 40M+ uninsured)) or we’re going to do what we’re going to do…”

    The 40+ million figure is an outright lie and the Dems “doing what they’re going to do” will cost them dearly come November. They know this. That’s why they have not done it yet.

  • “I want my son to find a girl in the Church, and the culture he’ll be in the[ Philippines] contains better influences than the one here.”

    Really? At Easter some Filipino church goers have themselves crucified on a cross. That’s a better influence than what exactly?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    El B –

    We’re not Catholic. We’re Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), and we would never do something like that.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Dock –

    On a side note, you state the culture of the philipines has “better influences” than the U.S. This seems extremely shortsighted. You may like or prefer one over the other, but ditch the “better” part.

    This all depends on what you’re looking for, doesn’t it?

    Have you been to an American high school class lately? How’s the discipline compare to when you were young? Maybe your experience is difference, but from what I can see, schools have little discipline in the classroom now.

    How would your 16 year-old child react if you told him or her that you (or your friends) would be chaperoning his or her dates – on their third, or their fifth, or even their tenth dates?

    How much respect do the elderly really receive in America anymore, especially from teenagers? And how many American families keep their elderly at home instead of sentencing them to nursing homes?

    Are you able to gather together two-dozen-plus family members together on a few hours’ notice on any given day? Maybe…but you’d be one of the very, very few in America who could. In fact, you’d be one of the constantly-decreasing number of Americans who even know what it’s like to have a big family, and what it’s like to have them live close by instead of spread out all across the country.

    There’s a bit more to the issue than you think, Mr. Ellis. My decision has nothing to do with technology and middle-class life in America. It has everything to do with religious values and family values. It’s just like I’ve been saying till I’m blue in the face – instead of letting your beliefs determine the facts, let the facts determine your beliefs…

    …but most conservatives don’t see it that way….

  • “it involves taking from others to support your health, you can only justify that by saying health care is a right. This is patently false. There is no amendment to the Bill of Rights stating such.” (#10)

    That’s a nonsense argument, along with concurrence as expressed in #11.

    The Bill of Rights is not preemptive by any stretch. The best spin one could put on it – it reflected the consciousness of the times.

    Slavery and voting rights were not part of the original Bill of Rights, and neither were Civil Rights or the rights of physically impaired, nor was the right to the same education facilities, or the right of choice, or the right to interracial marriage, It took in some cases over two hundred years before these rights were recognized and put in the books.

    Same with healthcare.

    It’s a lame argument, and it’s the best one can say for it.

  • Arch Conservative

    That door swings both ways Roger….

    Neither was polygamy, beastiality or necrophilia.

    The problem I have with claiming health care is a right is that it assumes that you have the right to the services that someone else offers as a means of making a living. Where does your right to receive services end and the doctor’s right to get the best possible financial return on their services begin Roger?

    We do not expect any other industry to just give us goods or services because we deem it our right, so what makes health care different. Is it the fact that we’re dealing with life or death issues? Is it moral to let someone die because they cannot afford health care? Is it moral to expect a business to operate at a loss so that they may provide services to those that cannot afford to pay for them? Is it moral that others should pay for the health care of those that will never be able to offer any form of payment themselves? Is someone born with a debilitating genetic disease more worthy of care than someone who’s developed lung cancer due to their three pack a day for the last 25 years lifestyle? Is someone in this country illegally deserving of care? Will elimination of the profit motive stifle ingenuity in research and development?

    Healthcare is one big gray area where not many easy answers can be found. Compelling cases can be made for both sides of the health care as a right debate.

  • R%D and healthcare are separate things, Archie. Universalizing the latter need not impact the former.

  • Arch Conservative

    Says lil ole shortsighted you.

  • Clavos

    OK, Roger. As you pointed out, a number of today’s rights did not appear in the original Bill of Rights, but were added in the years since. As you note,

    It took in some cases over two hundred years before these rights were recognized and put in the books.

    Is the fictional “right” to health care “in the books,” Roger? Where?

    Wishing something is a “right” does not make it so.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Clavos –

    Wishing something is a “right” does not make it so.

    And I think you’d also agree that just because something isn’t a right delineated in the constitution, that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be a right.

  • Don’t be silly, Archie. Under the present system, some of the health industry profits go into R&D research. Granted.

    Even so, lots of R&D research in all kinds of fields is still being funded by the government.

    So where in the hell do you foresee any problem if medical R&D were to be similarly funded?

    But no, you’d rather keep on justifying the escalating healthcare related costs in the name of research. And in so doing, you’re only offering an excuses.

    So who is being shortsighted here, Archie, you or me?

  • No, it’s not in the books. But neither was universal suffrage once upon a time.

    I’ve already argued that to regard universal healthcare as a right is riddled with conceptual problems – because of the many contingencies, the most important perhaps being “the ability to afford it.” As of present, certainly not every society on the face of the earth can. And given these circumstances, to insist on something being a right which at the same time may not be feasible is to corrupt the notion of right and to render it vacuous. That’s why I argue that it’s more enlightening to think of universal healthcare in terms of societal obligation (because such a language allows for the different contingencies).

    But in any case, my argument was of a general nature, namely, that the Bill of Rights is not written in stone, and that it certainly isn’t a preemptive type of document.

  • Why are you wasting your time speechifying on something your government cannot even afford. From a comment elsewhere at BC:

    For example: article after article here deals with “health care reform” in the United States. And like so many pigeons chasing crumbs, or pigs feeding at a trough, commenters chase after these articles and leave all sorts of idiotic comments. Why are the comments idiotic? Not because the commenters are idiots – not at all. The idea of spending trillions of dollars that are not available to the American government is idiotic! And that is what “health care reform” is! And this is true whether you agree with it philosophically (like I do) or not.

    Applying my logic to the previous paragraph, if there is no money available for “health care reform”, why oh why are so many people meowing for it like cats meowing for milk?

    It doesn’t matter. It’s ll bullshit. If “health care reform” actually passes, it will bankrupt you. Mind you, I am in favor of socialized medicine, not against it.

  • Clavos

    And I think you’d also agree that just because something isn’t a right delineated in the constitution, that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be a right.

    Not in the case of health care I wouldn’t, no.

    I would have thought that would have been obvious from my previous comments on a number of threads.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Clavos –

    I think the citizens of the rest of the first-world democracies would disagree with you.

    You see, that’s one of the paradigms that conservatives have to get away from: that if another first-world democracy does something that gets better results (for less taxes) than we do, then it must not be good for America because we’re America and the other country isn’t.

  • Clavos

    Yawn. I’m not changing my opinion because others disagree with me, I change my opinions when presented with evidence that, in my judgment, warrants such a change.

    And if another country (or individual) does something better than I (again, in my judgment), I have no compunction whatever about stealing the ideas involved.

    The only ideas regarding health care I’ve seen on any of these threads that I’ve seen as worthy of consideration have been those put forth by Stan, which he describes as the Aussie system.

    Unfortunately, none of the proposals currently working their way through our inept and corrupt legislature bear much resemblance to the system in Oz, so I don’t support them.