Blogs > Cliopatria > Broder on Bush and Roosevelt

Mar 11, 2004 9:33 pm

Broder on Bush and Roosevelt

In this morning's Washington Post, David Broder addresses the question "Would FDR Run Those 9/11 Ads?" The question seems to be a legitimate one. And using research by a Post assistant, Brian Faler (a friend of mine from graduate school)Broder answers that FDR was far more inclined, indeed brazen, about using World War II as a rationale for his reelection campaign in 1944 and indeed for politics in general.

He mitigates his conclusion in his closing paragraphs by asserting

If you accept President Bush's premise that this nation is at war with terrorism, then you have to applaud the restraint his campaign has shown so far in exploiting the attack that began that war.

Far better than criticizing his ads, ask why Bush is not calling on comfortable Americans to make any sacrifices for the war effort and why he refuses to raise the revenue to pay for what he calls a life-and-death struggle.

Those are the legitimate issues.

I think there is something to be said for both arguments, though I am going to focus mainly on the first. I am not certain how far I would push an analogy between the current political environment and that of 1944, first of all. Second, however, Democrats and liberals simply need to deal with it. Is there something unseemly in using images of 9-11 for partisan purposes? Yes. Of course there is. But this is politics. Some may say that there is something unseemly in using veteran's status, an attractive family, or inrodinate wealth to run for the presidency also. But much as me might all wish that politics could be simply struggles about ideas, it is not.

Furthermore, this is yet another debate in the political dialogue where the two sides have coalesced around an issue that in and of itself is not inherently ideological. In other words, there is no reason for Republicans to rally around the idea of the President appropriating 9-11 in his ads, or Democrats to rally against the idea any more than there were logical ideological reasons for the two sides to have coalesced around the issues in the aftermath of the 2000 election as they did. I have a sneaking suspicion that if President Gore were running for reelection and using the same sorts of ads (and is anyone going to argue with a straight face that he would not be doing so?) Republicans would be up in arms and Democrats mounting the defenses over the exact same issue, just as had the tables been turned in November 2000 both sides would have argued precisely the same as what the other side did argue.

In other words, maybe it is time to stop with the mock outrage, or at least the contrived outrage, that all adds up to a noisome hypocrisy. I know it comes as a shock to people, but both Kerry and Bush are going to try to win this election, and they are probably going to push the envelope of what the other side will call good taste. If we know this, maybe, just maybe, we can reduce the moral otrage that both sides manage to muster up at the drop of a hat. Somehow, however, I doubt that this will happen.

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Ophelia Benson - 3/12/2004

Hoo-boy, tell me about it. How I envy my friends in the UK, where campaigns last all of two months. And true, it's always been this way. The campaign against Jefferson was dopy, and Jackson used the intellectual-bashing number on John Quincy Adams, so it's all just normal normal normal. (And I swear the 2000 campaign started two years before the election...)

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/12/2004

Fair enough. And I supose I am more blithe than you -- the fact is that we have never had a time in American history when elections haven't been contentious, when there weren't dirty tricks and when each side did not do whatever it took to win. I suppose my article can thus be seen as a form of resignation to a certain type of campaigning, but at least in part because I doubt anyone would agree on just where the lines would be drawn -- one campaign's assertion of the other guy's record is the other campaign's negative advertising, after all. I think a problem I have is the perpetual campaign -- I can deal with this sort of thing if it really begins in earnest in January, but as a native of New Hampshire (though I have not lived there for some time) I am accustimed to campaigns startinge arlier and earlier, and of course nationally we've been bombarded with the 2004 election since, what, last summer? No wonder it gets so damned small and small minded -- there are newscycles to satisfy! I think this is going to be one vicious campaign. Buckle up.

Ophelia Benson - 3/12/2004

Okay, I'll do my best, Derek. You probably do detect a hint of indignation but I think it's a different kind from that at the heart of your piece. It's just that I am somewhat allergic to that phrase - 'deal with it' - because it does sound to me like a conversation-stopper, and I'm opposed to conversation-stoppers, on principle. I'm also big on nitpicking, because I don't think it is nitpicking; I think words matter. But then I would, wouldn't I, as a lexicographer. Or rather, that's why I am a lexicographer, because I do think words matter. I'm not sure one can make a valid distinction (or a distinction that works in practice, at any rate) between the ultimate meaning of a piece in its entirety, and the meaning of particular words and phrases.

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/12/2004

I don't think any reasonable person reading my post would think that's what I meant, Ophelia. How about settling down on the nitpicking (and am I detecting a hint of that righteous indignation that is at the heart of my piece?) and looking at my piece and its ultimate meaning in its entirety? Is that really too much to ask?

Jonathan Dresner - 3/12/2004

Presumably not by the target as by the source: outrage can only be deemed hypocritical if it comes from someone who would have done the same, or who would have supported someone doing the same, on their own account. So you have to have some basis of past behavior to draw on....

Oscar Chamberlain - 3/12/2004

How does one tell the difference between legitimate and hypocritical outrage when both are directed at the same object?

Ophelia Benson - 3/12/2004

Hmm. On looking at the post again, I see it says 'Democrats and liberals need to deal with it.' Just the phrase I dislike. Sorry, but I think that's a strange demand. Nobody 'needs' to 'deal' with anything, if that translates to shut up and lump it.

Ophelia Benson - 3/12/2004

Yes, well I certainly loathe all the nonsense that makes up presidential campaigns. And that's true enough about the bad theater.

But I do often hear statements along the lines of 'That's just how it is. Deal with it.' Which I certainly take to mean 'There is no point in criticising whatever 'it' is.' But if that's not what Derek meant, then that's not what I meant either.

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/11/2004

Jonathan --
Hey, I agree with you about the 9-11 images. But I think my point stands, that Gore would be doing the same thing, and that it would be the GOP up in arms and the Dems defending.
Further, I'm not certain it is so easy to draw the line between the politicians and the citizens -- look at HNN. Very few politicians contributing, and yet the same palpable hypocritical outrage abounds.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/11/2004


There is a difference between the strategic "outrages" of politics and the very real offense which real people take at the use and abuse of certain images, words, ideas.

I don't think that private individuals should have their images used for political purposes without permission, either direct or, in the case of the deceased, of their immediate family. That's not so much to ask, is it? Would you want to suddenly find your face appearing in Bush/Cheney '04 ads?

In this case, the images are individual, but there is a strongly implied inclusion of thousands of other people, I really think that this is outrageous.

I can't say for sure, but I'm pretty sure that I'd feel the same way about a Democrat doing the same thing.

Oscar Chamberlain - 3/11/2004

Political banter does all seem like bad theater, too much of the time, does it not. (And that has been part of our politics at least since campaigns of Jacksonian America.

Bush & Co. lead with 9/11 ads that they knew would elicit cries of outrage. Such cries would hearten their core. Those cries were equally predictable because looking for (or inventing) an outrage by the opposition is part of campaigning.

I sympathize with Derek's call for less hypocrisy in this performance. Yet Ophelia has a point, too. If on thinks actions are wrong, one has a right and perhaps an obligation to state it.

That, of course, underscores the harm this bad theater does. It makes the true criticisms almost impossible to discern from the staged cries of "shame!"

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/11/2004

Right, but I would argue that the personalized hypocrisy of both sides is not going to get us any closer to the solution you seek. Snd, at the end of the day, there are those who would argue that it should be about more than ideas -- that likeability, leadership, integrity, and such matter, and that we can get through these things by looking at someone's resume, for example. In any case, at what point in my post did I say there should be no criticism of what is? My post was about hypocrisy and the nature of the current political dialogue, breathless hypotheticals notwithstanding.

Ophelia Benson - 3/11/2004

"Some may say that there is something unseemly in using veteran's status, an attractive family, or inrodinate wealth to run for the presidency also. But much as me might all wish that politics could be simply struggles about ideas, it is not."

No, it's not, but what follows from that? That no one should criticise what is? Why on earth would that follow? In fact, what would be the point of criticising what is not? Surely what is, is exactly what needs criticising, if one thinks there is something wrong with it and it could do with improving.

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/11/2004

Here's an interesting link (in more than one sense), demonstrating at least one actor trying to gin up "furor" over the ads:

It's nice to see that the big media boys are doing business as usual -- news by press release.

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