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Friday, December 21, 2007

Breaking All the Rules

There are a few rules that politicians (make that skilled politicians) tend to follow. For instance, there are words you never say. At least, not in reference to yourself. You never say, "We're trying" to do something. As Homer Simpson said so well, "Trying is just the first step in failing." Instead, you're "aggressively working toward" a goal or "moving forward" with your idea. "Trying" suggests the possibility of failure and speaking about failure at the outset doesn't inspire confidence. A good politician only uses words like "try" and "attempt" when talking about the opposition -- speaking of their failure from the git-go does inspire confidence.

Another rule can best be put this way -- "Never pull crap out of your butt." Don't make promises for other people, don't make up "facts," and, for that matter, don't say things that you aren't sure are true. This rule was broken the other day by a man Molly Ivins once described by saying, "He's the most skilled politician I've ever watched work."

David Session put it this way at Slate:

Bill and George's not so likely adventure: Bill Clinton said Monday that the "first thing" Hillary would do as president would be to send him on a world tour with fellow former President George H.W. Bush to fix the bad reputation the United States has garnered under the current President Bush. Predicting that Bush 41 would quickly shoot down the idea (he did), bloggers of all political stripes questioned Clinton's commitment to his wife's campaign.

Bill was slinging bullshit here and it came back to bite him. I'm sure he was thinking of his and 41's world tour to drum up support for tsunami aid, but he really should've considered who's daddy 41 was. Clinton was just shooting from the hip and wound up pulling something out of his butt. It doesn't seem to have stuck to his wife's campaign, but it was a surprisingly bad move from someone who's been referred to as the best political mind of his generation.

Another bad political move is to answer bullshit with bullshit. When faced with pure BS, the best possible move is to answer with the truth. President Bush was asked about this comment at a press conference and his answer was pretty much perfect -- then he went on and blew it.

Here's the exchange:

Q Mr. President, you maybe saw that President Clinton said recently that one of the first actions of a new Clinton administration would be to send Presidents 41 and 42 on a worldwide goodwill mission to restore the country's good name abroad.


Q I wonder if you think such a thing is necessary --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, 41 didn't think it's necessary. It sounds like it's going to be a one-man trip. (Laughter.)

At this point, the wisest possible thing to say would be, "Hahaha! Yes, I'm so funny and Clinton's a very silly man. Next question, please" -- he'd just buried the issue and put up a tombstone.

But he didn't shut up and let it die. He decided to defend himself (emphasis mine).

Yes, Michael, do you want to try [to follow up]--

Q Mr. President, I wonder if you would consider doing such a thing during your presidency, and do you think that --

THE PRESIDENT: That's what I do during my presidency. I go around spreading goodwill and talking about the importance of spreading freedom and peace. Go ahead. I don't know what I'm going to do after I'm President. Michael, I've got an exciting 13 months ahead -- and I know you're just waiting for me to say "sprint to the finish line," so I won't. (Laughter.) But it's -- go ahead, Michael, try one more time.

Apparently, the shrub has himself confused with freakin' Santa Claus. The rest of the world thinks the US sucks and the only "peace" he's been spreading is the peace of the grave. The reality is that, once Bush is out, someone's going to have to go on tour and announce we're back in the peace and freedom business.

A multinational poll finds that publics around the world reject the idea that the United States should play the role of preeminent world leader. Most publics say the United States plays the role of world policeman more than it should, fails to take their country's interests into account and cannot be trusted to act responsibly.

In fact, positive opinion has been on the decline.

Poll graphic

In 2005, world opinion was 46% mainly negative and 40% mainly positive. Today, that gap has grown to a whopping 52% negative to 29% positive. If Bush is traveling the globe, spreading goodwill, it's not taking root. Of course, the world sees the US as an "our way or the highway" sort of force in the world. Talking a good game isn't the same as having a good game.

Not surprisingly, opinions in the Arab world are even worse. A 2006 Zogby poll shows that "Overall Arab attitudes toward U.S. have worsened; negative attitudes have hardened" and that "Attitudes toward U.S. policies in Iraq and Palestine are to blame."

General favorability toward the US is 82% negative in Saudi Arabia, 83% in Egypt, 87% in Moroco, 90% in Jordan, and 68% in Lebanon. So much for "spreading goodwill." I wasn't able to find 2007 numbers -- apparently that poll hasn't been released yet -- but you'd expect that sabre-rattling over Iran and the threat of yet another war in the middle east would bring those negatives up even further.

Of course, there would've been no reason for me to point any of this out if Bush had just laughed the whole Clinton thing off. But he didn't. He added bullshit to bullshit, added to a story about how Clinton screwed up, and took ownership of the gaffe himself. The story, which had been about Bill Clinton, became a story about George W. Bush.

Which brings me to a final rule of politics -- if you suck, don't point it out. Although, I suppose if you suck, you can't help but suck. You're going to blow it and point it out.

Bush blew it in that press conference, by pointing out that he's spent the last seven years blowing it. He also proved Clinton halfway right -- someone's going to have to clean up this mess.


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