Chicago-style politics means you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight
I’m so tired of buzz-phrases repeated endlessly on cable news so that people who are angry and don’t quite know why can repeat them without really thinking about what they mean.
Well that’s not entirely true. I’m also sort of fascinated by them, but that’s just because I’m a blogger and we’re designed to be fascinated by things that should annoy the hell out of us instead.
Here’s a pretty decent ad that Clint Eastwood did for
the Obama administration Chrysler:
A clear reference to “It’s morning in America” with an almost pun-like tie-in to the Superbowl. I liked the ad – partly because I’m a Clint Eastwood fanboy – but not everybody agreed.
“I was, frankly, offended by it,” said Karl Rove on Fox News Monday. “I’m a huge fan of Clint Eastwood, I thought it was an extremely well-done ad, but it is a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics, and the president of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising.”
I’m irritated by essentially every word that comes out of Karl Rove’s mouth (and from now on he will be Ham Rove as far as I’m concerned) but it’s that phrase – Chicago-style politics – that irks me the most. I’m almost 100% sure that I’ve heard that before.
No I’ve definitely heard that phrase before….
Basically Google “Chicago-Style Politics” plus “Insert Republican Name Here” and you’ll find some reference to the horrible Capone-like politics of the Obama administration.
It’s kind of cute how they can all get on the bandwagon one moment, and then use their unlimited Super PAC money to tear one another from limb to limb the next.
Now Karl Rove is using it to attack Clint Eastwood. And American car manufacturing.
Actually, taking offense at the ad strikes me as a horrible political tactic. In many ways it serves as validation for the ad’s messaging.
Does Rove hope to turn conservatives against the libertarian-leaning Eastwood? Against American car manufacturers? That strikes me as a rather dumb idea. And Rove is supposed to be a political genius – the Yin to Bush’s Yang.
Eastwood is politically complex. He’s fairly libertarian in many ways, having expressed many times his distaste of central planning, too much welfare, and so forth. But he’s been pretty consistently a supporter of Democrats*. This may be more culturally driven than politically. Eastwood’s films have a socially liberal slant. He told USA Today “I like the libertarian view, which is to leave everyone alone.”
In Parade magazine in the late 90’s, Eastwood wrote: “Abuse of power isn’t limited to bad guys in other nations. It happens in our own country if we’re not vigilant. Those in power get jaded, deluded, and seduced by power itself.”
And he told British magazine Hello that “I’ve always considered myself too individualistic to be either right-wing or left-wing.”
In a sense, my problem with the word and the meaning of the word “Libertarianism” is exactly because I think that any philosophy that is as free-wheeling as libertarianism ought to be would be bound to self-destruct in a fit of its own individuality. The things that disqualify one from joining the club seem absurd to me – a disagreement over the nature of liberty determines whether support for universal healthcare disqualifies one from the title. Liberty, I think, is not such an easy word to define.
I digress. The point is that Eastwood is hardly a shill for Obama or the Democrats. He may have thrown his lot in with them, but that hardly ought to lead us down the road Rove is driving us on. “Chicago-style politics” is just one of many of the right’s constant buzzwords. Every issue gets its own set of phrases and incantations: death panels; shoved it down our throats; union thugs; ACORN; activist judges; East-coast elites; liberal media; job creators; and so forth. There’s one for every occasion.
What I want to know is: who comes up with these clever sleeper-words?
Whoever it is understands that if you say them enough times the idea behind the words – the forms behind the syllables – will take root in the collective consciousness. And then they’ll take shape, and turn into more words, repetitions, cycles of ideas and insinuations. Kenyan – socialist – tax and spend – the list goes on. Say it again and again and again and the damn thing is bound to stick. If you build it they will come.
Is this coordinated in some way? Does this happen behind closed doors? Does some team of writers work this stuff up? Bored speech-writers maybe?
Or is it wholly organic, something latched onto and repeated into that long echo chamber, refracting about the chatter-sphere until it becomes real.
“Did you hear that great little piece of invective Sarah Palin just managed to get out? Let’s regurgitate that for the next eight months and see if we can create a meme.”
“That’s a splendid idea!”
Say it again, won’t you?
And then sometimes they don’t stick. Like maybe they’re too long. Gingrich’s “secular-socialist machine” phrase was just overkill. Can’t we just say “socialist?” Isn’t that just as good? I mean, people like secular and they like machines. Let’s just stick to what scares people.
Europe takes a lot of the buzzword heat, making it into the talking points Top Ten Lists year over year.
It’s such an interesting phenomenon to me.
The language that the right uses is so precise. It’s so lockstep. It’s interesting to see how movements bind themselves and reinforce themselves through the use of language, even – and perhaps especially – simple language, like catchy songs. Did the GOP learn the lessons of the four-chord-progressions, the catchy chorus, and the silver-tongued-twang of Nashville?
I always wonder why the right is so bad at government and yet so damn good at politics. This seems to be a piece of it, though the intended audience plays its own very big role.
This is also why the primary season is so fascinating. In so many ways its a contest over who can claim the language itself.
Tod Kelly makes a very smart observation in the comments:
What I’d like to know, as much as who creates the soundbite words, is this: To what degree are those that parrot them – on the inside as well as out – aware that they are part of] the meme incubation process? Is it a conscious thing where Sean Hannity says to himself, “New word! Better talk to the writers and make sure they pepper this through today’s show.” Or have they all just become so used to listening for the repeated phrase so they can repeat it themselves that it just happens organically now?
I think it might be the latter, which would actually explain why they are so good at the politics and not good at all at the governing.
There are layers upon layers of activity here, and the lines are blurry, but I think Tod is onto something. Perhaps the convergence of audience and actor that occurs so heatedly on the right is indeed responsible for its success.
*Turns out Eastwood supported McCain in 2008. He’s supported Democrats and Republicans at various times. He’s just a mixed bag, I guess.