Friday, February 04, 2005

Question Time

American Prospect Online - ViewWeb

The emotional power of the Bush doctrine...almost eclipsed the president's pitch to privatize Social Security. Nothing about the pitch was surprising -- not his claim that the system was “headed toward bankruptcy,” not his dwelling on private accounts rather then the cutbacks in Social Security payments, not his emphasis on previous Democratic proposals to alter the system. What surprised, and delighted, were the cries of “no!” from the Democratic side of the aisle as Bush predicted the system's coming insolvency. For a moment, Congress sounded like Parliament; for a moment, the Democrats sounded like an opposition party.

Back when the matchless Margaret Thatcher was PM we used to watch Question Time regularly. Tony can't, or won't, shout as loudly, and doesn't have what my voice teacher called cut but it's still a good show, with sagging MPs lolling on the green leather benches, rousing themselves to grunt approbation or shout, "hear, hear!"

I wonder why we don't do it that way. It isn't that our politicians put on a show for the benefit of their constituencies--the Brits put on a show too, but one that's intended to appeal to different tastes. So the question is why the difference in tastes? We don't expect politicians to make sense or even to simulate making sense. We expect rhetorical muzak from politicians who are groomed, trained and scripted--and look groomed, trained and scripted. Could a Dubya, or a Schwartzenegger, be elected to high political office in the UK, or India--or Afghanistan?

Maybe we put up with it because of our cynicism about the role of government and the political process. We expect candidates to be appropriately branded and packaged. We expect the standard slogans: we don't pay any attention to them but it would be jarring if they weren't there. We don't seriously believe there are any real differences amongst the various products.

Pray, bretheren, that Democratic politicians have finally figured out that consumer research, focus groups and improved packaging won't boost their market share and that they are prepared to start behaving like like an opposition party.


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