Friday, October 06, 2006

God Punctuation, and Politics

While watching The Daily Show last night I learned President Bush had made remarks calling his war in Iraq "a comma". This quote was getting picked up and interpreted. Some felt it was a "code message" for the religious right.

First, I do not believe that President Bush has the retorical acumen to think quickly enough to drop "code words" that are not prewritten by a speech writer in the text of a speech. Even his staffers concede that!

Secondly the comma, as a religious reference, is not a term of the religious right--it is the marketing phrase for the United Church of Christ one of the most theologically and politically progressive Christian Denominations. The quote is from Gracie Allen, the delightful woman comedian who was married to comedian George Burns.

Peter Baker in yesterday's Washington Post online spells out the comma debate. Click below for the whole article, here's an excerpt...

The comma remark, though, offers an especially intriguing case study in how a few words can trigger many interpretations. Bush used it in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer aired on Sept. 24 in talking about Iraq. He noted the bloodshed shown on television but hailed the resiliency of the Iraqi people and cited the election last December in which 12 million came to the polls despite the violence.

"Admittedly, it seems like a decade ago," Bush went on. "I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma because there is -- my point is, there's a strong will for democracy." The president used a similar line at a campaign event last week in Alabama and again on Tuesday in Stockton, Calif.

Critics of Bush began e-mailing and blogging about the remark within minutes of the CNN interview. The Carpetbagger Report blog called it stunning "even by Bush's already-low standards" and added: "Everything we're seeing is 'just a comma.' I'm sure that will bring comfort to the families of those who have sacrificed so much for Bush's mistakes."
Then Ian Welsh, on his Agonist blog, postulated a theory about the hidden meaning of the comment, citing the "never put a period" saying and calling it a "dog whistle" comment that only some would understand: "He is constantly littering his speeches with code words and phrases meant for the religious right. Other people don't hear them, but they do, and most of the time it allows Bush both to say what those who aren't evangelical or born again want to hear, while still reassuring the religious right [what it] wants to hear."

But it turns out that the phrase "never put a period" originated not with a Christian conservative figure or biblical passage but with Gracie Allen, the comedienne wife of George Burns. And the phrase is a favorite not of the religious right but of the religious left. The United Church of Christ, which is devoted to fighting for what it calls social justice and opposes the war, adopted the phrase in January 2002.

"I needed something short and succinct," said Ron Buford, the marketing director who came up with it. "When I saw the Gracie Allen quote, I was up all night thinking about it -- God is still speaking, there's more for us to know."

When he heard about Bush's comment, Buford was stunned. "It's ironic that, as savvy as they are about using these quotes to strengthen their base, that he would use a quote that we've been using lately," Buford said.

Aides said it is ridiculous to believe Bush is sending subliminal messages. "People have too much time on their hands," said Bush counselor Dan Bartlett. "I can assure you, you don't need a secret decoder ring to decipher what he's saying."

All Bush means, he said, is the struggle to build Iraqi democracy will take years. "He's making a historical analysis -- that these brief periods seem long and protracted now, but when you look back at them in history, they won't seem that way. He's definitely not discounting the loss of life or the sacrifice people are making."

Personally, I hope history will look back upon the Bush administration as just a comma in the history of U.S. democracy! I saw a new bumper sticker yesterday. It looked like the "W" sticker that Bush supporters have on their bumpers, but this one had writing on it. So while keeping assured clear distance, I got close enough to read it. It said "W"(orst President Ever)


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