Friday, August 24, 2012
BOB GARFIELD: What Andrea Seabrooke says is all well and good, but you know who I feel sorry for - politicians. It’s just so hard for them nowadays to deliver their messages the way they want to. Look at Missouri Congressman Todd Akin who’s running for the Senate. Akin simply went to a local St. Louis Saturday interview show and let slip something maybe a little bit politically incorrect.
REP. TODD AKIN: If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
BOB GARFIELD: And next thing you know, he was vilified coast to coast as some sort of woman-hating bible thumper dispensing crackpot medical advice because, evidently, when a tree falls in the forest, there’s always someone lurking around to hear it. Back in the day, politicians were perfectly free to appear before chosen audiences to pronounce whatever they wished, knowing that the message would be self-contained.
For instance, here’s the late Yasser Arafat speaking in English to a Western audience:
YASSER ARAFAT: Our people do not consider that exercising the right to self-determination could violate the rights of their neighbors or infringe on their security.
BOB GARFIELD: Meanwhile, on Palestinian TV he promised viewers to lead them, man, woman and child, to Jerusalem to be martyred. And he’d sacrifice 70 of his own people, if it meant killing a single Israeli because, duh, it was in Arabic, and what was said in Gaza stayed in Gaza.
Unfortunately, that party ended in 2006, when US Senate candidate George Allen stopped his campaign bus in the hamlet of Breaks, Virginia, where he spied a cameraman from his opponent’s campaign. The kid was a college student of South Asian descent, and next Allen started talking about monkeys:
GEORGE ALLEN: This fellow here over here with the, the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is, he's with my opponent and he’s following us around everywhere.
BOB GARFIELD: It turns out that recorded images are portable, something to do with YouTube or whatever, and within 24 hours Allen’s Senate campaign and 2008 presidential aspirations went – poof!
And since then, staying on message has just gotten harder. Take poor Michael Baumgartner. He’s a Republican running for the US Senate in Washington. His big issue is the war in Afghanistan. But in the wake of this week’s “controversy” one reporter kept pressing him for his views on abortion. So, what choice did Baumgartner have? He emailed the reporter, telling him, “Go [BLEEP] yourself.” Thatta boy, Mike. Really, the only other option is ‘dog whistling,’ speaking to certain audience in language that will be clear to the assembled but obscure, or at least ambiguous to nosy outsiders. This technique can give you a decent chance at targeting a message, but it requires mad skills. Here’s Vice President Joe Biden before a largely black audience in Danville, Virginia about two weeks ago.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: They’re gonna put y'all back in chains.
BOB GARFIELD: Although Biden’s seamlessly applied African-American dialect, some finger pointers feltt he was playing the slavery card. And why was he exposed to such criticism? Because, even the vice president of the United States can’t appear before a large audience in the middle of a presidential campaign without someone eavesdropping. Politicians, poor guys can’t catch a break. At times like this, I just want to hug them.