Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Have we Fallen this Far ?

As a measure of just how far our political system has fallen, the White House has actually put out the word (here: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060123/ap_on_go_pr_wh/bush;_ylt=Av6kNFdKgpNoRg9sy21Sfais0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3OXIzMDMzBHNlYwM3MDM- that President Bush is now taking unscripted questions from audiences when he makes appearances around the country:

Bush has been taking questions from audience members in recent speeches, and the White House says none has been prescreened. It's a throwback to the folksy style on the campaign trail that helped him win re-election and a departure from the heavily scripted speeches that were the norm last year.
Someone remarked the other day after I posted James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance that it would be almost unthinkable for a modern president to write such an eloquent and brilliant document. Of course, presidents today don't even write 1 minute statements on mundane items; everything is vetted and sanitized for their protection. I can't be the only one who reacts to this and thinks, "For crying out loud, have things gotten so bad that a president taking unscripted questions has become a revelation so surprising that it's worth announcing in the media?" It reminds me of those Christmas letters written by a mother trying to rationalize the one kid still living at home at 32 and saying things like, "Well, Michael hasn't really found his niche yet, but this year he did start going to adult education to get his GED."

I would also note that the fact that they claim that the questions from audiences are not "prescreened" hardly means that the president is answering tough questions from those who may not agree with him. Given the fact that the Secret Service routinely denies entry to the President's speeches to anyone who gives any hint of opposition. People with perfectly civil but anti-Bush t-shirts have been kept out of events, as have people with bumper stickers on their cars supporting the other party. In at least one case, people were kept out of a Bush speech solely because someone knew them and identied them as Democrats (that was right here in Michigan). I don't mean this at all to be a partisan statement; for all I know, the Democrats do the same thing. But the reality is that taking unscripted questions at events that are loaded with your supporters generally amounts to having people fawn over you and tell you how great you are. It's not exactly a high water mark for public discourse.

Again, this is not a partisan statement. The most recent Democratic president, Clinton, was very good at answering unscripted questions but his answers were mostly BS. He was a genius at talking a lot and saying nothing, so I'm not talking here about mere glibness. I'm talking about wanting leaders who are actually capable of making sustained, reasoned arguments that make sense. Today, that doesn't happen regardless of party even with all the speech writers they have. We've gone from the point where the key issues of the day were debated in the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, brilliantly written arguments by the finest thinkers of the day, to 2 hour long dueling catchphrase contests on television. This is not progress.

Written by: Ed Brayton



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