So Petraeus and Crocker have reported, President Bush has spoken to the nation, and the congressional war debate is slated to begin in earnest next week. Since the Democrats seem to be incapable of staying "on message" the way Republicans so effortlessly manage to do, I'd like to steal a page from the Republican playbook. It's an idea whose time has come: Democratic talking points.
Before I get to the memo, however, I was wondering if anyone else noticed two verbal gaffes by Bush last night. Sorry to get all "grammar police" here, but two things stuck out from his speech. The first was the use of a word I had never heard before (and which I'm not convinced even exists): "overwatching." Here is the relevant sentence:
Over time, our troops will shift from leading operations, to partnering with Iraqi forces, and eventually to overwatching those forces.
Either (a) Bush is slightly dyslexic and mis-read "watching over;" (b) it's an obscure military term I am unfamiliar with; or (c) somebody didn't proofread this speech very carefully.
While the military is fully capable of inverting normal English phrases for no particular reason (see: "MRE" or "Meal, Ready to Eat"), I suspect the answer is (c), because of the next gaffe.
Here is Bush, once again:
And we are ready to begin building that relationship -- in a way that protects our interests in the region and requires many fewer American troops.
"Many fewer." This is what is known as an oxymoron -- a self-contradicting term -- much like "jumbo shrimp." A normal person would have just said "requires fewer," someone looking for a more poetic phrase would have said "far fewer," and someone looking for emphasis and erudition would have said "significantly fewer," but what Bush actually said was "many fewer."
I point this out not to score cheap political points against the President (well, OK, maybe just a little bit...), but to ask whether Karl Rove's absence (and all the others streaming out of the White House these days "to spend time with their family") is having an effect on the speechwriting staff. They're usually better than this, so it does indeed make me wonder.
But even if Bush is slipping in the wordsmithing department, the only way to capitalize on this is if Democrats can jump in with their own vision, their own "framing" and their own consistent terminology during this weekend's interviews on television.
To help them out (since they can't seem to use this very effective political tactic very well on their own), I have prepared the following memo, for immediate release.
[Feel free to add items of your own in the comment section.]
TO: All Congressional Democrats, all party spokesmen, and especially those who are booked on Sunday morning talk shows
FROM: Chris Weigant and the rest of the usual suspects at Huffington Post
SUBJECT: Talking points on Iraq and the President's speech
(1) Avoid the passive voice like the plague. Whenever talking about the war in general, what's wrong with the strategy, or Republican obstructionism in general; use the following phrase to bind congressional Republicans to George W. Bush:
Bush and the Republicans in Congress
Use liberally (pun intended). "Bush and the Republicans in Congress are standing in the way of a new strategy for Iraq." "We could end this war tomorrow if Bush and the Republicans in Congress would listen to the public." Etc., etc., etc. Pin the blame where it deserves to be pinned: on Bush and the Republicans in Congress. Tie nervous Republicans seeking re-election to the White House's Iraq policy as often as you can.
(2) Remind everyone what is really going on in Iraq by always using the phrase:
See Jeffrey Feldman's article currently up on the Huffington Post for further details.
(3) Dust off that old Republican chestnut and fling it back in their faces. Demand:
An up-or-down vote on Iraq
To most Americans (many of whom do not understand the way the Senate works) this sounds mighty fair -- have a vote, then whoever gets over half wins. Use the term obstructionist as many times as possible to define the Republican stance in the Senate. Use one of the GOP's favorite catchphrases against them.
(4) Make it clear what Bush's only goal in Iraq is (which he finally admitted last night):
Kick the can down the road to the next president
This one really needs no explanation, but it bears repeating as often as possible. All Bush cares about is his "legacy" which equates to "stay the course" and "stalling for time."
(5) STRONGLY disagree whenever the media uses "the far left anti-war wing of the Democratic Party" or similar phrases:
Vast majority of the American public
As in: "Actually, the vast majority of the American public wants the U.S. out of Iraq, faster than we're even talking about today." "Well, it's not a 'fringe Democratic' position, and I object to you calling it that -- in truth, poll after poll shows it is the position of the vast majority of the American public."
(6) Ignore the Petraeus and Crocker smokescreen. Put the blame where it needs to be:
Americans just don't trust George Bush on Iraq any more
If the MoveOn.org ad comes up in the conversation, turn it around and talk about Saxby Chambliss. "When the Republicans are ready to apologize for what they did to Silver Star and Bronze Star recipient Max Cleland -- a triple amputee due to his battlefield injuries -- by smearing him with the images of Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, then we can talk about the MoveOn ad. Not before."
(7) Note the lack of progress of the Iraqi government:
Three benchmarks complete out of eighteen, after eight months of waiting
"American soldiers are dying every day in Iraq so that the Iraqi government can meet these benchmarks. They have completed three out of eighteen after eight months and hundreds of dead American soldiers. At this rate, they will complete all eighteen in 40 months' time. [turn to face the Republican you are debating] Are you willing to let George Bush keep over 130,000 soldiers in Iraq until the beginning of 2011? Because I think that's too long, and so do the American people."
[As I said, feel free to add your own. I'd also like to take this opportunity to say goodbye to Alberto Gonzales on his last day in Washington. For those of you who remember the Reagan administration, you may enjoy reading when I actually did say goodbye to him -- back on April 18, 2007.]
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com