Monday, February 09, 2004

Meaningless Interview

Nobody will vote or not vote for George Bush based on his performance in the Russert interview yesterday. Ultimately, it was meaningless.

Nevertheless, it gives pundits something to talk about. Nothing like the rhetorical presidency (and campaign process) to enhance the self-importance of the journalist class.

I'd refrain from commenting, myself, except I couldn't help but notice Andrew Sullivan's misrepresentation of Peggy Noonan's assessment of the interview. Sullivan correctly points out that Noonan was dissatisfied with the interview. But he neglects to mention Noonan's argument that Reagan was poor at interviews and that Republicans are generally poor at interviews. Her advice to the president is to stop giving them and concentrate on speeches at which she thinks Republicans fare much better.

Sullivan takes a "money quote" from Noonan to voice his own displeasure with Bush, while Noonan herself merely gives some tactical advice to the administration and makes a general comment about the two parties and which rhetorical method suits each one better (speeches for Republicans; interviews for Democrats). Sullivan hears only what he wants to hear from Noonan, or he "projects" his own larger dissatisfaction with Bush onto Noonan's remarks.

Peggy Noonan was a presidential speechwriter, so she has some familiarity with the rhetorical presidency. I generally like Ms. Noonan's pieces, and I am charmed by her unmatched admiration for her former boss, Ronald Reagan. Nevertheless, one wonders whether she appreciates the extent to which rhetoric can potentially harm both a president (because it hems him in and reduces his flexibility) and the country as a whole. She had the good fortune to work for a president who was mostly able to play with this fire; but, despite her admiration for him, I wonder whether she recognizes how unique he was in this particular respect.

As for Sullivan, I seem to be going after him quite a bit recently. But he seems to be rather unhinged lately regarding the administration, despite his continued defense of its foreign policy.


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