February 22nd, 2006

ozarque figure

Linguistics; political language and strategy; what on earth is Bush up to?

I've been listening with respect -- and a steady application of Miller's Law -- to your (yourall's) optimistic assessments of the state of our world and our country. It's been instructive to have access to your perceptions, and I've been finding them interesting. And I cannot help wondering how you perceive What George W. Bush Has Done Now.

First, his government announced that it was turning over the running of half a dozen of our biggest seaports to a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates.

Second, the dead rose; at least, that's how it looked to me. For the first time since at least January 2002 there was an indication that members of Congress are not in fact robots or zombies, but are capable of independent thought, even independent action. Congresspersons on both sides of the aisle stood up and declared, right out loud, that no such thing was going to be done with our seaports, and that they were prepared to introduce legislation to guarantee that. Important and powerful Republicans shouted, "Halt!" Republican pundits, right on the cable news channels, suggested that the administration had lost its so-called mind.

Third, George W. Bush came strolling out and said, basically, "Oh, don't be silly. Any attempt to pass a law against what I have decreed will be vetoed. I have spoken."

Gentle Readers, I am baffled. Why would he do that? Not why would he turn the seaports over to the UAE's company; that fits right in with the governing principle of "Run in circles, scream and shout!" and surprises me no more than anything else that he has done. But why would he come right out in public, stand before a watching nation, draw a line in the sand with his toe, and dare the most powerful members of his own party to cross that line?

Nothing he does now can erase from history the fact that he has been subjected to a bipartisan mutiny that appears to have the backing of the population of these United States. (Presumably nothing but that backing could have brought the Congress to life.) And nothing can erase from history the fact that he reacted to that mutiny with a very public challenge. One of his classic chest-thumping bring-it-ons. This in the bosom of a culture where there can only be a winner and a loser, and no Commander-In-Chief can be allowed to be a loser.

I've been watching political/rhetorical strategies, as a linguist, for thirty years, and I have never seen anything that I found so incomprehensible. Usually I can muster up at least one plausible strategy, noble or ignoble or something in between, that could lie behind the public behaviors of our government officials. Not this time.

Suppose the legislation to stop the deal goes to Bush's desk and he vetoes it, and Congress isn't able to override the veto. He will then have publicly whipped the tails of all of his own men, like naughty children; what good will they be to him after that? The same thing will hold if Congress backs down and doesn't send the legislation forward; they'll look like whipped children. Suppose the legislation goes forward and Congress is able to override Bush's veto; he will then have been publicly whipped by his own men, and will be forced to face the awful fact that he is not the King. Then what? Why would he risk any of those possibilities by issuing a public challenge on national television?

I'm just going to sit here, being old, and await your wisdom.
ozarque figure

Linguistics; gender and language; afternote...

Linguist List [ http://linguistlist.org ] for February 21, 2006 had the following book notice for editor Judith Baxter's Speaking Out: The Female Voice in Public Context (Palgrave Macmillan 2005):

"Focusing on the female voice in public contexts, a stellar group of language and gender specialists consider both the barriers and opportunities encountered by women in gaining recognition in politics, law, the church, education, the business world and the media, where people are increasingly judged by the way they speak and where female speech is often evaluated differently from the speech of men."