June 04, 2008



Despite the seemingly endless struggle between Obama and Clinton, I would occasionally get the weird sense while listening to the former that I was actually hearing the husband of the latter. Paul Street at Z Mag cleared up my confusion when he noted of Obama:

"My God this man can crank out the bullshit. He's a machine of highly organized vacuousness. . . like a specially designed android crafted to recycle empty discourse made up of strung-together terms that have been used over and over again by previous waves and generations of imperial, corporate-sponsored politicians.

"The language is very unoriginal. He talks about 'charting a new direction for the country' . . . -a term used in 1968 by Robert F. Kennedy.

Here are some other Obama phrases he and his speechwriters have recycled from past presidential candidates and their speechwriters:

"politics is broken" (used by Bill Bradley in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2000)

" you need a president who will tell you what you need to know, not what you want to hear" (Geraldine Ferraro, 1984)

"this is a defining moment in our history" (Elizabeth Dole, speaking for Bob Dole in 1996)

Washington as a place were politicians come to "score political points" (Bill Clinton in 1992 and George W. Bush in 2000)

"lifting this country up" instead of dragging or tearing it down (Bob Dole, 1996)

"we're going to take this country back" (Howard Dean, 2004)

"we can disagree without being disagreeable" (Gerald Ford, 1976)

"unity over division" (Jesse Jackson, 1992)

"hope over fear" (Bill Clinton, 1992 and John Kerry, 2004)

"choose the future over the past" (Al Gore, 1992)

overcome our "moral deficit" (Bush and Gore in 2000 and New Gingrich, 1994)

move "beyond the divisions of race and class" (Bill Clinton, 1992)

"the story of our country" (Ross Perot, 1992)

"the genius of our country" (Bush, 2000)

"the wonder of our country" (George H.W. Bush, 1988)

"ordinary people doing extraordinary things" (Perot, 1992; Bush I, 1992; Bush II, 2000; Ronald Reagan, 1984).

And then I stumbled upon something I had written about Clinton back in March 1992:

"Clinton, while clinging for the most part to traditional English sentence structure, has become so bored with his own ideas that, when not stealing those of his opponents, he frequently merely recites them as if reading the ingredients off a cereal box, or dismisses them as a 'package,' as in 'I have a whole package on urban problems,' adopting the canon of the marketing industry that packages are more important than contents.

"Clinton's rhetoric is a fine example of entropic exposition, designed to make one feel good without actually saying anything. The first rule in dealing with such language is to read it a second time. You will discover, if you do, that Clinton favors a construction something along these lines: 'We need a strong [program - package - strategy] to deal with the [problem] which has [caused the following bad things].'

"The casual listener will assume, because Clinton seems to understand so well the problem and its effects, that he knows what to do about it. They will miss the semantic shell game created by the use of the word a. This little word, beloved by policy nerds, diplomats, congressional witnesses and others involved in wholesale facts evasion, conceals the complete lack of commitment to what the statement seems to be addressing. International crises have happily proceeded for years with diplomats periodically standing before the cameras and speaking of the "pressing need for a viable process," while carefully avoiding any description of what that process might look like."

So, here we go again.