07/01/2004: Thought for the Day:
"9/11: A leader showed strength and compassion," begins the narrator of this ad. "President Bush. He held us together." Indeed he did. As evidence, the screen displays image after image of Bush hugging people. First he's hugging a firefighter. Then he's gazing compassionately into the eyes of a man in a red, white, and blue cap. Then he's hugging another firefighter. Then he's sitting next to Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld while someone, somewhere, is hunting down terrorist killers. "But what if Bush wasn't there?" the narrator asks. "Could John Kerry have shown this leadership?"
Show, show, show. This is what passes for leadership in the age of television. Leadership used to be the noun form of a verb. A leader was someone who led. Now a leader is someone who "shows leadership." Politicians don't lead. They show.
All this talk about showing leadership confuses two different things. If you're a soldier under fire in Iraq, you're not "showing" anything. You're doing. You're guarding or patrolling or shooting or being shot at. When leadership is necessary, you lead. You don't worry much about how your actions look, because the stakes are immediate and real.
If you're a politician, however, everything is for show. You hug. You gaze. You grab a bullhorn at Ground Zero and shout something bold for the cameras. These gestures are often sincere, and they do count for something. But just as often, campaigns and candidates offer them as substitutes for action. If you haven't led—or led well—you show. And what you show is all the leadership you've shown.
This ad is a shining example. Cut through the hugs and gazes, and what's left of Bush's leadership? The ad's only substantial claim is that Bush "began to hunt down terrorist killers." Indeed he did, if you give him credit for everything done by U.S. troops and agents during his administration. And what's the upshot? A week ago, the State Department was forced to concede that, contrary to its initial assertions, terrorism increased sharply last year, producing the highest number of fatal terrorist shootings and bombings since 1998 and the highest number of significant terrorist incidents in at least 20 years. What does the ad say about this? Nothing. "President Bush will win this war on terror," it insists. As evidence, it shows Bush pointing his hand with decisive confidence.
--William Saletan [slate.msn.com, on a Bush 2004 campaign spot]
Len on 07.01.04 @ 09:08 AM CST