Tuesday, February 15, 2005
After reading stories like the one below, we are almost -- almost! -- ready to line up behind Michael Moore and Zemblan patriot J.M. in pushing Oprah Winfrey as the Democratic candidate for president in 2008:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- heading around the state to push his proposals on radio and TV -- knows all too well how to handle the reporter types trying to play "gotcha." Take the recent no-holds-barred exchange on Los Angeles radio station KZLA:In Salon yesterday Peter Byrne enumerated a few of the reasons why Mr. Schwarzenegger is probably wise not to discuss those "drier topics":
Q: You've got the best suits I've ever seen. Are they custom-made or are they off the rack?
A: You know, with my body I cannot get things off the rack ... .
Q: May I say, from one man to another, beautiful? They drape unbelievably.
Schwarzenegger also took this grilling: "I've got to ask you, governor. A lot of the guys we talk to ... say their wives turned them on to country music. Does Maria like it as well?"
And at an "all news" Los Angeles station, there was this recent interrogation: "You have done so much in your life. You won what, five Mr. Universe titles, I believe -- is that right?" . . . .
[M]edia watchers say the current surfeit of sweetness is the result of savvy planning by the governor's team -- and evidence of how the attack dogs of the media elite can, on a surprisingly regular basis, be just as spineless and starstruck as their entertainment media counterparts.
"Part of the reason he is so successful at managing the media is that there are so few reporters who cover state government on a regular basis,'' said Barbara O'Connor, a political science professor at California State University Sacramento. "He has made himself available to the Capitol press corps on a limited basis. But it's clear that this governor wants to set the media agenda in the way we haven't seen in a long time. And because of his celebrity status, he is successful at doing that."
He also chooses the venues, and "appears on highly rated talk radio," often with a conservative bent, "and on entertainment news evening shows, like Jay Leno," O'Connor said.
In both venues, media folks have learned that the governor has a comfort level with certain subject matter -- happily expounding on his custom suits and movie career. But on drier topics, such as what will my taxes look like, "he's less likely to give an answer," O'Connor said.
[W]ith his defiantly immoderate State of the State speech in early January, when he proposed to drastically cut back education and social services in lieu of taxing the rich, Schwarzenegger blindsided liberal Californians with his nakedly Republican agenda. This week, the celebrity governor travels to Washington to mine his relationship with President Bush and the GOP-controlled Congress to boost federal spending for California. Since arriving in Sacramento, Schwarzenegger has:We were groping (oops; our apologies to the Governor) for the words to describe exactly what it is that postmodern politicians like Schwarzenegger do, or more accurately, the strategies they use to distract the public's attention from what they mean to do, and it occurred to us that we have already waited too long to order a copy of Harry G. Frankfurt's On Bullshit (Princeton University Press, 2005):
For more than a year, proximity to the "Governator" has blinded Democratic Party leaders, reporters, editors and the public to the tawdry reality taking place in front of their eyes -- the huckstering of a conservative product line and the glorification of the Schwarzenegger brand in California's highest public office.
- Taken governmental actions that benefit his personal finances, in apparent violation of state law.
- Collected tens of millions of dollars from many of the same "special interests" he had sworn to kick out of town when he was elected.
- Vetoed bills that would have protected labor, the environment, workplace safety and consumers.
- Sought to centralize his power by abolishing citizen-run boards that make important regulatory decisions.
- Advocated for increased deregulation of the electricity market.
We have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves. And we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us. In other words, as Harry Frankfurt writes, "we have no theory."SchwarzeneggerTM: kicking the butts of the special interests since 2003!
Frankfurt, one of the world's most influential moral philosophers, attempts to build such a theory here. With his characteristic combination of philosophical acuity, psychological insight, and wry humor, Frankfurt proceeds by exploring how bullshit and the related concept of humbug are distinct from lying. He argues that bullshitters misrepresent themselves to their audience not as liars do, that is, by deliberately making false claims about what is true. In fact, bullshit need not be untrue at all.
Rather, bullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true. They quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant. Frankfurt concludes that although bullshit can take many innocent forms, excessive indulgence in it can eventually undermine the practitioner's capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not. Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true. By virtue of this, Frankfurt writes, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.