politics: October 2004 Archives

crossing over

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This afternoon, after my mom got home from work, we got in the car and drove up to North HS so we could stand in line. Twenty or so minutes later, the line started moving, and we flashed our cheapo printout tickets so we could stand for another 90 or so minutes in the North gym, after which we got to see John Edwards.

I was kicking myself for not bringing the camera, but I thought (mistakenly, it turns out) that there would be more security than there was. No outside bags, signs, or umbrellas (despite a little drizzle), granted, but we weren't searched, didn't go through metal detectors, and only had to make it past a few beleaguered volunteers to get pretty close to he who would be VP. I was, honestly, a little surprised by this, but oh well.

The crowd was well-behaved, knew when to boo and when to cheer, and looked from my perspective like a nice cross-section of the community. Of course, it was pretty clear that some of them were more interested in Edwards' opening act, Jon Bon Jovi. As for me, I found it quite entertaining to watch the woman to the side translate the lyrics of "Dead or Alive" into sign language.

And Edwards is nothing if not an engaging speaker. Some of what he offered was tightly scripted (the story about his dad studying math on tv you've no doubt heard a few times already), but some of it was clearly improvised from no more than an outline. He moved around the stage, he spoke well, and he conveyed a sense of energy and urgency. None of which was exactly unexpected, of course, but he's gotten more relaxed as he's gotten practice at all this.

It's been interesting for me to be here in a swing spot, with all the national commercials ($400 mill worth at last count, I heard tonight) and appearances. How jaded are we about this here? I checked three local news sites (two tv and one newspaper), and not only were there no graphics or video clips for me to link to, Edwards's appearance didn't even make it onto the front page of any of the sites. It's been almost 5 hours since it happened. Weird. Propaganda overload. And the national commercials make the local, shoestring ones look pretty sad by comparison.

on the trail

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W was in Davenport today, reading from a script to a hall full of supporters. I'm hoping to get the transcript tomorrow in the paper, but in the meantime, a couple of quick observations, since the local stations carried it in its entirety:

Bush mispronounced the name of Jim Leach's wife, Deba. (dee-ba) Leach is not the local congressman anymore, but he's been in Congress for a long time, and is still popular here. Bush called her Deb.

Also, he made some bizarre comment about how he could think of no one better to mow the White House lawn (?!) than Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. I'm relatively certain that this wasn't a lame attempt at a pun, that somehow this was intended as a compliment. Ummm. Thank goodness we've got Iowans to do the yard work? What?!

Yeah, I know this is nitpicky, but honestly, he was reading from a script, beaming over talking points that are old news at best, so it's not like there was much to really engage with. I know that he's basically just preaching to the base at this point, but really. The best he can do is to mispronounce one person's name and deliver a dumbass remark about lawn-mowing? Geez. I was a little surprised that he didn't start with "It's great to be back in insert name here!"

I thought for a minute about trying to get a ticket, but then I can't imagine that my "Nine more days! Nine more days!" chant would have gone over especially well...

Those of you who, like me, tracked down transcripts and audio or video clips of Jon Stewart's recent appearance on Crossfire, should appreciate this Flash send-up of the debates and their coverage...Debating for Ratings.

[via New Media Musings]

Off his strings

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I realize that my standards for a person's verbal coherence are probably much higher than average, but OH. MY. GOD. Quite frankly, Bush's performance tonight lent a great deal of credibility to the idea that Bush was wired for the first debate and actually received backstage assistance. It will be interesting to look at the transcript, because my gut impression was that most of W's answers were incoherent, even when they made some effort to answer the questions. It reminded me a lot of Dana Carvey's sendup of his father: you boil it down, and basically connect slogans and catchphrases with ellipses. Doesn't matter if it actually means anything. Wow.

A few more thoughts:

The irony of W describing himself as belonging to a "school of thought" was almost too much for me to bear.

The idea of a strict interpretation of the Constitution refusing the separation of church and state? Uhhh...what?!

Thank goodness W has "protected" us these past 4 years from those mysterious, potentially unsafe Canadian drugs.

Factcheck.org, the site cited by Cheney, reports both that the Republican definition of a "small business" does include W, and that he does indeed own part of a timber company, which apparently is "news" to him. Kerry's original point, that the Republican stats on the number of small businesses affected by Kerry's proposal are artificially inflated by a loophole-ridden definition? Yeah, that point was dead-on. W's response to having misled us? "Anybody want some wood?" Hardy har har.

Bush's big tagline, the one I've already seen circulating, was the dopey "you can run but you can't hide." Delivered twice, and each time rather poorly, the W machine seemed to believe that Kerry was going to try to hide. But he didn't. What makes him credible as someone who can be fiscally responsible (thanks to the current administration, this cannot be considered synonymous with "fiscally conservative") is that he broke party lines to vote for a balanced budget. Kerry was both prepared and willing to defend and/or explain his record, something that Bush refuses to do at almost every turn.

I was really struck tonight by the difference between Bush's strategy ("he said no.") and Kerry's ("here's why I said no."). More than anything else, that was the key difference for me that emerged from the debate. And more than anything else, I was struck by how unprepared W seemed to be able to handle anything more complicated than "he said no." That's not clarity--it's misleading simplicity, imposed upon issues that are by their very natures complicated. I don't doubt Cheney's ability to handle complexity; with him, I simply don't trust his motives in doing so. But W does nothing and says nothing that leads me to believe he is actually capable of exercising judgment. The more I see of him, the scarier that becomes to me. Almost as scary as the apparent spin from the pundits that, because W didn't behave like a squirmy pre-adolescent, he was somehow Presidential. We deserve better.

evidence, part 2

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Continuing yesterday's thoughts, and following Cameron's addition of the VP debate to his data set, I wanted to talk a little bit about what I see as the significance of this kind of analysis.

This is important for me because one of the basic questions that I find myself asking about network studies is the degree to which this kind of study is merely descriptive. In other words, what benefits are there to having this sort of evidence? What kinds of claims and/or strategies can build on network analysis?

We tend to think of language as something over which we have complete control. But anyone who writes over a fair period of time knows that this isn't the case. In my case, I can no longer remember the specific language of articles that I myself have written any better than I can remember others'. And yet, there are certain features--of style, semantics, vocabulary, etc.--that remain relatively constant, and which I do recognize when I go back and read my writing. "Relatively" because we absorb all those things as we come into contact with others' language, and that contact nudges us in various directions. I may use a word more often because I like it, or avoid certain sentence constructions because I find them confusing. But the deeper the patterns, the slower the change, and the less conscious control we have over them. We may have immediate control over something that we are writing at the present moment, but we don't think about every single word to an equal degree. We take any variety of shortcuts--language use is at heart a vast network of shortcuts and connotations, and we use those shortcuts and patterns as a means of conserving our communicative energies.

And so the virtue of a doing large-scale, statistical analysis of a set of textual data is that it may reveal those shortcuts, those subconscious preoccupations that emerge over the long term in the language we use. As I think I already mentioned, this kind of analysis is limited by small samples, and it's likewise limited by textual performances that are as highly scripted as the debates undoubtedly are. In other words, both things allow for more conscious, deliberate control over text.

And yet, there are things that can be said here. When I see, for example, the prominence of the phrase "hard work," my sense is that W is basically asking for the political equivalent of an "A for effort." Given how quickly they've been to accuse the Dems of "demeaning the sacrifice" of our troops, I think that they realize that, in the face of a very limited amount of success, they have to argue not that we've been successful, but rather that we've tried really, really hard. Of course, my gut response is that they've made a big deal out of the bankruptcy of such a tactic when it comes to teachers that they have no right to rely on it themselves. If teachers are to be judged purely on the basis of their students' test scores (i.e., quantitative results) regardless of how hard teachers work, then they should not shy from the same sort of accountability themselves. If it's not enough for teachers to "work hard" and "fail," then it's hypocritical of them not to abide by the same standard.

Now, a healthy dose of this is partisan interpretation on my part, I know, but the patterns unearthed by analyses like Cameron's, I would argue, give us avenues for that kind of interpretation, avenues that do carry some quantitative justification behind them. This doesn't mean that all language use can simply be reduced to statistical patterns--far from it, in fact--but rather that it is a mix of conscious art and subconscious pattern, and that to date, we've (and that's a disciplinary "we") been less inclined to pursue the latter element. I would say that the work of Don Foster is a notable exception to this, and I'm sure that there are others whose work I have yet to encounter, particularly in linguistics.


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About a month ago, I made mention of the infographic in the NYT about keyword frequencies at both the DNC and RNC. Along the same lines, both Cameron Marlow and Anjo Anjewierden have done similar analyses, this time on the smaller scale of the first Presidential debate.

I don't think that either analysis necessarily presents any surprises, at least for those of us who watched the debates carefully, but that's only because it's easier to grasp a 90-minute debate than it would be were the text(s) more substantial. In other words, relationships and frequencies are easier to gather (intuitively?) in a smaller set of data. What's impressive to me about each of these projects is that they confirm some of my impressions about the debate, and they can tackle much larger-scale texts than I myself would be able to. I hope that both Cameron and Anjo will add the results of the other 2 pres debates and perhaps even the VP one.

And I'll be watching to see how closely those subsequent events follow the patterns that they've laid out for the first...

By now, I hope that this story is making the rounds, about the literally fake news story by FAUX News chief political correspondent Carl Cameron that appeared on the front page of the FAUX website:

The Fox News Web site on Friday retracted a story falsely purporting to quote Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry as saying at a rally the morning after debating President George W. Bush, "Women should like me! I do manicures" and "I'm metrosexual - he's a cowboy," referring to Bush.


So here's my question. Given the standards established by the Republicans for silencing dissent, couldn't the Democrats refuse by now to issue press credentials to FAUX, and require them to broadcast from a so-called "free speech zone"? I'm dead serious here. If U.S. citizens can be arrested for bearing signs or wearing t-shirts that disagree with GWB and his policies, then FAUX correspondents surely risk arrest every time they cover the Dems.

"Mr. President, my position on Iraq has not changed because of politics; it has changed because the situation and the evidence changed. Adjusting a course of action to account for the best available evidence is not flip-flopping. It's leadership. Knowing what we know now, I would no more endorse your war than I would keep driving once I saw that the oncoming bridge was out. In Iraq, not only have you burned the bridges, but you've kept driving us towards them as if they were still there."

He came close a couple of times, and did a decent enough job, I suppose. Three other thoughts:

It was almost unbearable to watch the "expert commentators" weasel out of making any sort of claims about the debate, choosing instead to "wait until we've had a chance to see how it was received." In other words, here were CNN commentators basically admitting that they had to wait and see what everyone else thought before they'd be willing to admit to thinking themselves. Shameful.

But they had no monopoly on the shame front. Jenny and I watched the Daily Show afterwards, and while Clarke was clearly partisan, Rudy Guiliani crossed the line from partisanship to mindless TOOL. Guiliani actually described Saddam Hussein as a "weapon of mass destruction," and behaved as though that fulfilled Bush's rationale for going to war in the first place. Where's the Zellot when you need him? Rudy, you know what is a metaphor is, dontcha? Apparently not.

Okay, one last thought, and I'm done. When asked about the Sudan, Kerry delivered a concise diagnosis of the problem, and offered a specific policy change (shift our focus to logistic aid). Bush repeated almost everything Kerry said, minus the specific policy (and minus any explanation of why he's not done anything yet), adding only that the "rainy season" there was almost over. Ummm, Mr. President, why haven't you intervened in a situation your own Secretary of State describes as a virtual genocide? It hasn't stopped raining yet? Oh, okay. Thanks. If I hadn't decided yet to vote, and for whom to vote, that'd be enough for me.



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This page is a archive of entries in the politics category from October 2004.

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