OP-EDS

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February 4, 2003

Bush's uncomplicated rhetoric

The President's oratory is direct, forceful, and pointed, but the last thing one can call it is shrewd. Often times it is passionate to the point of being inflammatory--as was the case when he dubbed Iraq, North Korea, and Iran the "axis of evil" in his last State of the Union Address. Perhaps these tough words echo the tough times that America has recently faced: the war in Afghanistan, corporate scandal and plummeting stocks, and growing dissension from the international community over Iraq. I believe however, that it is time the president lowered his tone and attempted some political shrewdness instead of verbal bully bating.

Despite ever increasing jeers from the United Nations, President Bush continues to repeat phrases such as, "our enemies hate us because we love freedom," "terrorisms will be stamped out with or without international support," and my favorite, "American is the best nation on earth." His formal addresses to the Security Council have been cloaked in thinly veiled diplomacy, but when left defenseless without his team of speechwriters in interviews, Bush falls back on the same old adages. Recently Bush told the press, "Those of us who love freedom must work together to do everything we can to disrupt, deny and bring to justice these people who have no soul, no conscience, people that hate freedom."

Yes of course, the listener says, why didn't I realize that our enemies want to kill us solely because we let our citizens enjoy a life of relative freedom. There's no chance it's because they feel violated by the actions of the United States, or that they have been religiously brainwashed from such a young age that they don't have any logical reason for what they are doing at all. No, you're right George, how can we make them see the way? With big guns and bombs, of course.

In this arena, Bush might be wise to look to President Clinton for a better example of the way a leader can motivate and manipulate with his words. For all of his failings, Slick Willy could sell a ketchup Popsicle to a debutant wearing white gloves. He managed to rally support for the fight in Bosnia, once as controversial as today's situation in Iraq, by being patient and subtle with his propositions. Listen to an excerpt from a speech made in 1995:

"America cannot and must not be the world's policeman. We cannot stop all war for all time but we can stop some wars. We cannot save all women and all children but we can save many of them. We can't do everything but we must do what we can. There are times and places where our leadership can mean the difference between peace and war and where we can defend our fundamental values as a people and serve our most basic strategic interests."

Compare this statement to one made by Bush earlier this year:

"States that sponsor terror and pursue WMD (weapons of mass destruction) must stop. States that renounce terror and abandon WMD can become part of our effort, but those that do not can expect to become our targets."

It may seem unfair to compare selected excerpts from two politicians with a lifetime of public speaking experience, but I tried to be as impartial as possible when choosing these quotes (I chose the speeches at random from the results of two separate Google searches). Clinton's words attempt to include America among the world community as just another nation trying to do its best for itself and mankind at the same time. Bush's speech makes a clear division, us versus them, you're either in or you're out--and you better be in if you know what's good for you. Clinton uses the phrase "strategic interests," while Bush uses the word "targets." Both of them were likely talking about the same sort of thing, but people don't throw up picket lines over "strategic interests."

Some would argue that I'm playing with fire. What if American politicians start using terms like "ethnic cleansing" to describe their actions? My only answer is that my faith in the American people and its values is strong enough that I am confident our leaders can be both shrewd and just at the same time. Political rhetoric may seem despicable at times, and some may favor Bush's direct style of speech, but unfortunately it doesn't get much accomplished in the real world of international affairs. I think we do have the world's best interests at heart in most cases, though we can't shove our ideas down their throats like cod-liver oil. A little bit of sugar makes the medicine go down, someone wise once said.