Hangover From Seduction: Why Rhetoric Of Unreason Is In The Warlord’s Natural Footstep

David Hume said many centuries ago that reason is the slave of passions. It’s a dictum that has been used ruthlessly by many a political regime since, not the least the Warlord’s here in the States 2001-06. George Orwell, watching some of the most horrific uses of this technique added: ” . . . human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working hours . . . and in general common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrfrice . . .”

The seduction of rhetorical psychological manipulation . . .

We saw American mass psychology manipulated post 9/11 and the discard of reason. Gerson’s speeches, “mushroom clouds” contributed as much — not more — than video of the two towers. The result? Christian Socialist Authoritarianism and within the Beltway, great Fear. Many small imitators try to peddle that worn card. Some wonder how a country decades ago with trillions in dollars in debt, defeated and under foreign occupation, massive unemployment could fall for rhetorical seduction.

Why not? We did. A prosperous, wealthy, unspeakably powerful superpower willing fell under the spell with collapse of a mere two buildings, a crashed plane and a concrete Pentagon wing. (God rest the souls of all those fallen).

Interestingly, Obama — the media’s Crown Prince — is the mirror image of this technique, albeit (and importantly) without the discernible, glinting malice. (We’d go so far to say he’s (we hope) malice free beyond the venal political sort). We watched his speech today and examined 5 or 6 of his last. Playing the Mad Lib game of switching out adjectives and nouns reveals his speeches, like the Warlord’s, are almost 100% content free.

He offers instead psychological manipulation of the savior sort. He envelops listeners with emotion, overwhelms logic, promises change as an end in of itself. He’s the fresh broom to clear out “them” (special interests, the Senate club he so desperately wanted to join), etc. With gentle humor, the Crown Prince also hints at and mobilizes resentment against the “Establishment”. The Crowned One is careful to avoid a full throated, specific Bryan-esque Cross of Gold way (which at least is overt and honest).

The Crown Prince so far mounts a campaign based on rhetorically seducing rationality. It’s not longer we doubt “audacity”. We doubt now his basic approach to politics and his suitablity for our times.


To cure the Warlord we don’t need a successor regime similarly empty of content and able (or forced by inexperience or lack of competence) to bludgeon the mass American mind with rhetoric. In colloquial terms, imagine a night closing saloons with shots of [insert potent alchohol of choice here — as a Warlord stand in], waking up the next day and doing it again with a slightly lower “proof” label; it’s both insanity and no real change. The Crown Prince thus fits with fear peddlers relying on the GWOT ™, 9/11, Iraq, Iran, etc. from a different direction.

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Media across history are usually the first to fall in love with a Movement or individual who psychologically manipulates through the spoken word (or are penetrated by said Movement/individual). No wonder. It’s their trade; it gives good copy, entertains them and for today is anti-Clinton. (See McCain 2000 for another recent example). McCain’s seduction, however, was all about access. The media’s infatuation with the Crown Prince misses the point that liberal small “d” democracy is about deliberation, it requires logic, reason and rejection of the siren song of the irrational and unreason. Our bi-cameral Congress is designed to structurally embody the point — House more prone to passion, the longer-serving Senate as the speed break to heated debates of the day. One must excuse the Crown Prince a bit. As of today he’s served there a mere one year.

Post Warlord, it’s perverse to dismiss a platform offering “programs” as “boring specifics”. And folly to favor soaring oratory; let’s call it for what is — embrace of and surrender to propaganda. To deal with immigration, recession, the budget, global warming, energy issues, the challenge of the Pacific Rim, not to mention the Middle East, concrete specifics are the *precise* antidote to the Warlords’ calamitous tenure. Not hollow sloganeering.

America can not afford another empty campaign election installing an incompetent Administration sustained in a permanent campaign by sheer emotional rhetoric (or is near brother, symbolism). From either party, but especially at this point, from the crown prince. We must all reject the tempting eduction of emotional and psychological manipulation. Stand your ground and think. Color us beyond unimpressed.


  1. A Random Quote Note says

    At the beginning of his essay Churchill sounds more like a clinical observer at Masters and Johnson than a turn of cent. observer of old people watching speeches: ” .. is unable to resist its influence. From unresponsive silence they advance to grudging approval …”

  2. A Random Quote Note says

    Inquire – It’s from an essay Churchill wrote called “The Scaffolding of Rhetoric.” From India, if memory serves. He was 24.

  3. inquire says

    A Random Quote
    January 14, 2008 at 21:20

    Source for the Churchill pls. That is a remarkable meditation.

  4. A Random Quote says

    “[Nick Burns] is a stunningly effective diplomat. There is Dean Acheson DNA in the kind of work he does — but also a little John Foster Dulles. He is part Kennan and Scowcroft and also has the moral integrity of a Cyrus Vance. Henry Kissinger and Paul Nitze would be comfortable with Burns’ methods of achieving the country’s national security objectives. He is both realist and idealist, a hybrid — and he is one of the few who may have saved this country …”
    ~Steve Clemons

  5. Anon says

    Damm those typos – Waughs – Incidentally we now recall that Waugh comment re WFB. We’ll have to find it.

  6. Comment says

    IMO – all this debate over religion is problematic. Politicians are the least reliable people in the world to talk about such subjects. It’s really amazing that no one really cared about George Romney being Mormon, but there you go. Now we have Huckabee.
    This is all has potential for division and misunderstandings. The media is unhelpful. All the cable channels. It must be annoying for Muslims to when they tune on the tv and they see Christiane Amanpour do her schtick explaining the East.

  7. Comment says

    Aldershot – Broadly speaking (not to dwell) we do think they did Obama a favor allowing him (not to deny in a defensive way) to explain that he is Christian – But Brian Williams could not help interjecting the misleading word “fact” when he asked Barack. We doubt Williams did this on purpose – Maybe – But he knows TV well enough to know how people do not listen closely, but pick up bits and pieces and strong wordss like “fact” catche people attention even when it is followed by a falsehood. In Williams mind, Obama is being treated unfairly – But a part of him wants to suggest there is a negotiable quality to this detail. We very much doubt he would have such a Freudian slip if he asked almost any other candidate to deny such rumors.

  8. Comment says

    Reminder – speaking of the Governator, when his drug issues were debated in the White House back in Bush 41 days, we recall it was Jim Pinkerton who seemed to be on top of the issue – According to the foia docs that came out a while back. Pinkerton is now working with Huckabee.

  9. Comment says

    Speaking of secret Muslims – Maybe that’s why Dubya looked at home doing his sword dance in the Mid East with his Sheik pals.

    Funny, Mark Steym used to write out that he thought Bush secretly loathed Bandar and could not wait to tell them off or topple them.

  10. Comment says

    We know what you mean by dread – Part of us thinks that it baseless, but we dread a lot of that too. The whole Clinton thing. We saw that Joe Wilson essay for Hillary as symbolic of this feeling – Or maybe a forshadowing of eight more years of endless boomer civil wars. Barack’s likabale enough comment was only nasty when the news clip cuts immediately. But when they let it run another second or so you can see he was trying to be polite but was a bit tired.

  11. Comment says

    Aldershot – It’s no accident, as they say, that your uncle thinks Obama is Muslim. We know plenty of older folks who have heard as much – Over the holidays we heard an debate between a retired doctor and a retired teacher over this topic. The problem – both were misinformed on the basic question and were debating on the basis of false knowledge. Both watch cable news regularly, if not super studiously, where cable hosts like Tweety and others intentionally confuse the issue even when they pretend to be “defending” Obama’s and his “faith” from being attacked. On cable they Sotto vocce they note he is Christian. We are pretty sure confusion is somewhat/sometimes hhis intentional with some of the cable slobs – Tweety repeats errors or conflates flasehoods with truthhoods. He does this well after his staff had time to correct him. Occassionally Tweety will tell the truth, then couple that with some falsehoods.
    It might be subconscious – like Rush suddently start using the word “spade” when Barack’s name comes up.
    Also – it seems people “know” more about Barack’s drug past from his book, than what’s in his book. We heard someone bring this up even though they were dismissive of the far more serious drug issues that swirled around the Governator.

  12. Aldershot says

    Apparently, my 68 year-old uncle in Ohio is worried Obama is a Muslim…they probably did him a favor allowing him to deny it to a large audience.

    IIRC, I saw Bush say that about Karla Faye on TV…on a news magazine…?

    Maybe dread is a better word. How many people will she reprise from Clinton I? How visible will Bill be? How much rancor will there be between her and the Right? How will healthcare and ‘fixing’ NAFTA play out? Things can’t go THAT wrong, can they?

  13. Comment says

    “I long for and fear a Hillary presidency. It would be fascinating theatre, but the thought of a re-run of Clinton I kind of makes my heart sink.”

    Fear? It is unfair to make HRC pay for the whole tedium of the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton narrative. But that’s life – Interesting that Tweety was pushing this line against Hillary a while back and soon switched to talking up Jeb Bush for Pres. Btw, that Edwards haircut stuff is very unfair and it plays in to some of the worst elements of media phoniness and hypocracy. But it’s still works. That YouTube video of him combing his hair was devasting.

  14. Comment says

    re Bush and Karla Faye – We don’t want to defend Dubya, but we sometimes doubt aspects of that anecdote. True = Bush does have a history of cruel remarks and it’s possible that he did ridicule that woman. But Carlson is not a reliable eyewitness – We recall he was pro McCain at that time and he has a tendency to exaggerate. Still…

  15. Comment says

    If we had to guess, McCain V HRC would be like Dole V. Clinton in ’96. HRC would trounce him. McCain’s age is a factor with many voters and his over reliance on cliche in speech means that, unlike Reagan, he won’t be able to overcome that. We thought the debate was boring, but Russert and Williams were trying to stir pseudo-controversy. Why didn’t Williams ask Hillary about Vince Foster? Afterall, he actually asked Obama about internet rumors = and while doing so, falsely referred, in passing, to one of the rumors as “fact.”
    There are so many good questions to ask, but those two are lazy and they get all their ideas from GOP talking points and talk radio.

  16. Comment says

    Doc – reading the transcript from the debate we are left to wonder if VFW-reject from Buffalo, of Woodstock fame, was wasting everyone’s time with ROTC questions for no other reason than to set up the GOP for Kukturkampf?
    Russert was not even clever or smooth the way he asked around the ROTC subject. He bored the candidates as he probed the issue.

  17. Aldershot says

    I thought the debate was pretty good. After the nastiness the week before, it was a relief for them to realize what they were doing. Hillary is a dynamo. I long for and fear a Hillary presidency. It would be fascinating theatre, but the thought of a re-run of Clinton I kind of makes my heart sink.

    My $64 question: would McCain win against Hillary?

    Jon H, I agree with your comparison of Obama to Bush II. It was positively chilling when he was asked what he thought Karla Faye would say if she could speak to him, and he said with a stupid-mean smile and a high-pitched voice, ‘Please don’t kill me.’

  18. Comment says

    Tweety has been getting a lot of heat on the blogs lately – Media Matters was really focused on him. He is obviously conscious of the criticism because you can see how hard it is for him to verbalize Hillary’s debate win – After according her a “power play” he starts going downhill discussing her “multi-tasking” – You know “multi-tasking” is something women excel at, right? That’s what we learn from really low rank gender/mgmt. books and magazines that one glances at in the airport. How else to explain such an unartful phrase creeping into post debate analysis?

  19. Comment says

    Keith Olberman: “Obviously a very substantial and substantive” debate.

    LOL – Keith knows that’s false – It’s funny to see him have to lie like that. Tweety thinks like Russert – though a lower form of Russert, so he could pass a lie detector test saying that he thought it was a good debate. Tweety would be content to ask questions soley about polls and gossip and staff memos and gotchas or weirdness.
    Anyway – Hillary won the debate – but she always wins thsese debates.

  20. Comment says

    Brian Williams just asked Obama to comment on false rumors about him – Again, there may be a time for that , but it’s really not right to bring it up in a debate. There are rumors about Hillary too, but he’ll probably resist the temptation to quiz her on that — That stuff is Tweety territory and Williams wouldn’t want to poach.
    Does anyone else see how dumb this debate is and how sad it is that Brit & Co have come the closest to having a meaningful debate.

  21. Comment says

    Why did Brian Williams ask a debate question about a line in a Frank Rich column? We wonder. In a better world, Brian Williams should have been afraid to ask such a stupid questions, even if he wanted to know, since he would worry about ridicule. Frank Rich, for reasons that escape us, has a following with media liberals. Presumably because he loves to regurgitate inaccurate (but devestatingly effective) GOP talking points that make him feel sophesticates.

  22. Comment says

    There are real differences – IMO – between the candidate on issues and relevant experience and it makes sense that people chose sides.
    So far tonight’s debate is a moronic exericise of media narcissism – Dumb horse race question, Russert lowering his head asking gravely about staff aide talking points, Williams carving out a line from the (extremely overrated – IMO) a pro Obama Frank Rich column to ask Obama about a moment that may (or may not) have been misconstrued from when he was tired. Now Russert is asking Hillary to look into the future and try to imagine how GOP will use arguments among Dems (something that doesn’t work too well). Now Russert wants Hillary to complement Obama and Edwards.
    The whole things is rotten. Newt is right – Why should Russert – a demonstrable error prone broadcaster – have so much influence. Why not simple questions?

  23. Jon H says

    One advantage of Obama over Bush: One of Bush’s significant pre-Presidential accomplishments was the large number of executions, with minimal effort given to considering clemency requests, and at least one instance of mockery (Karla Faye Tucker).

    With Obama, one of his key accomplishments in the Illinois legislature was his bill to require police to videotape questioning of suspects. This he managed to get passed despite bipartisan opposition and strong opposition from law enforcement, who had already seen the prior Governor put a stop to executions.

    The videotaping was intended to prevent torture and coercion of suspects, by police such as those in Chicago. In 1998, they even obtained ‘confessions’ from 7 and 8 year old boys from the projects, who the police claimed had raped and murdered an 11 year old girl. Doctors later attested the boys would have been incapable of producing semen which was found on the body. (Google the Ryan Harris case sometime)

    This comparison alone suggests to me that, while in some ways their campaign style might seem similarly vapid, in substance Obama is far more likely to live up to his rhetoric, while Bush, being a walking malignancy, was utterly incapable of living up to his.

  24. A Random Quote says

    “Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory … Many have watched its effects. A meeting of grave citizens, protected by all the cynicism of these prosaic days, is unable to resist its influence.
    From unresponsive silence they advance to grudging approval and thence to complete agreement with the speaker. The cheers become louder and more frequent; the enthusiasm momentarily increases; until they are convulsed by emotions they are unable to control and shaken by passions of which they have resigned the direction …
    The orator is real. The rhetoric is partly artificial. Partly, but not wholly; for the nature of the artist is the spirit of his art, and much that appears to be the result of study is due to instinct. If we examine this strange being by the light of history we shall discover that he is in character sympathetic, sentimental, and earnest: that he is often as easily influenced by others as others are by him. Indeed the orator is the embodiment of the passions of the multitude … To convince them he must himself believe. His opinions may change as their impressions fade, but every orator means what he says at the moment he says it. He may be often inconsistent. He is never consciously insincere …
    The direct, though not the admitted, object which the orator has in view is to allay the commonplace influences and critical faculties of his audience, by presenting to their imaginations a series of vivid impressions which are replaced before they can be too closely examined and vanish before they can be assailed.”
    ~Winston Churchill (1897)

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