In today’s political climate outrageous fictions often pass for informed opinion and seduce too many of us into settling for easy answers. News outlets continually use the terms liberal and conservative, terms that aren’t always helpful in moving the debate. Much of the time language is used to manipulate rather than to inform, serving to cloud issues and inflame emotions instead of furthering rational discourse. And labels often add to the confusion engendered by the double-speak continually thrust our way.
Perhaps in the interest of label definition Republican candidates should be asked if Ann Coulter is best described as a conservative and if she speaks for the Republican Party. Somewhat amusingly on Bill O’Reilly’s show the other night Coulter remarked irritably that she was sick of having to defend her ‘jokes’, suggesting that critics were just too stupid to understand elements of the English language and her use of syllogisms. Actually that word means an argument that contains two premises as, for example: anorexic females are skinny, Ann Coulter is a skinny female; therefore she must be anorexic, indicating as one definition has it “a subtle or specious piece of reasoning”. Of course Coulter is about as subtle as a jackhammer, but in any case, except for the “specious reasoning” her remarks cannot be described as syllogisms – – just another case of tortured language and arrogance run amok.
Poisonous barbsfrom the likes of Coulter and other right-wing hate mongers are repellent and non-informational. But if the vitriol of low-level pundits is less than compelling the empty rhetoric of leaders is not reassuring either. Assertions about “the rule of law”, honest government and equal justice seem not to apply to this administration and create feelings of helplessness and betrayal among the electorate. Shouldn’t we, after all, be informed about what is being done in our name?
Yet there is little hope the White House will ever release documents Congress wishes to examine, nor is there much chance that members of the Bush staff will testify under oath in the Senate no matter how many subpoenas are issued. Could a claim of executive privilege be sustained in support of the odd assertion that advisors must be kept confidential so the White House can receive good counsel? Is this a logical let alone constitutional conclusion?
But by the time the constitutional issue, if there is one, is resolved, the president will be off to the ranch, his entourage headed for K Street or speaking engagements that will attempt to cleanse the tainted image of this administration.
And so it is easier just to make assumptions since that is about as close to “truthiness” as anyone is likely to get. Let’s assume, for instance, that Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers, with the president’s approval, decided that some federal attorneys weren’t working hard enough to achieve GOP political goals and should be replaced with people more politically savvy. Okay, point taken. But as if to prove that this is the gang that never gets anything straight the Justice Department said the removals were performance-related which infuriated the attorneys in question and led to a lot of unwelcome publicity.
So began the shadow dance at Justice with the ever-so-artful dodger, Attorney General Gonzales, avoiding what became obvious to anyone who was paying attention. Apologists on the right persist in the fiction that presidents may remove attorneys for any reason at all as most do when they first take office. But ‘any reason’ usually implies something benign in the sense of replacing a previous administration’s appointees with a new team: what seems to have happened in this case is that in the middle of a term the White House and Justice removed members of ‘the team’ for not scoring political points with partisan indictments and perhaps for pursuing investigations of politicians even if they turned out to be Republicans.
In the case of the fired federal attorney in Arkansas his replacement was to be a Rove crony with meager legal and prosecutorial credentials. Such an appointment would have enabled Rove not only to advance the career of a pal but also to install an operative in Arkansas where, coincidentally, a former president once presided as governor with his wife who just happens to be running for president. Rove’s man backed off as the negative vibes began to shudder through Washington, but even an objective observer might be inclined to assume that partisanship played a part in the Arkansas shuffle.Significantly, none of these antics could have been accomplished without a revision (since rescinded) in the Patriot Act allowing the appointment of attorneys without Senate approval.
In the new Congress many Republicans are joining Democrats in reasserting their congressional responsibilities. They are insisting on fulfilling their obligations as legislators and guardians of our system of checks and balances. And they aren’t buying into reports about progress in Iraq anymore either and must have been dumbfounded when the president recently proclaimed that his idea of success in Iraq would be something resembling Israel – – democracy with a touch of violence on the side – – truly a storybook ending to our bloody adventure there.
While it may be a mind-numbing exercise, it is essential that voters pay attention to what people say because language defines the political landscape even when it is vague, but especially when it is mean-spirited and distorts the truth.

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