Buencamino does foreign and political affairs analysis for Action
for Economic Reforms. This article was published in newspaper Today, 13 September 2004 edition, p. 9.
It’s good to be in a part of the world where the cowboy hats outnumber the ties. – GEORGE BUSH, Poplar Bluff, Missouri
LAST week, at a campaign rally in Missouri, George Bush attacked trial
lawyers. Blaming lawyers for rising medical costs is popular with
everyone who has never been the victim of medical malpractice. Besides,
it makes Kerry’s running mate, a former trial lawyer, vulnerable to
empty language attacks like, “No one has ever been healed by a
“Empty language”, a cognitive analyst explained, “refers to broad
statements that are so abstract and mean so little that they are
virtually impossible to oppose.” In other words, empty
language is hee-haw.
Bush “uses empty language to conceal faulty generalizations; to
ridicule viable alternatives; to attribute negative motivations to
others, thus making them appear contemptible; and to rename and
“reframe” opposing viewpoints.”
Hee-haw works with frames and metaphors, those structures that govern the way we think.
A cognitive scientist, George Lakoff, explained, “People think in terms
of frames and metaphors—conceptual structures. When the facts don’t fit
the frames, the frames are kept and the facts ignored.” And
that’s why despite all the facts proving Bush is a liar, millions of
Americans still connect Saddam to 911, al-Qaeda and weapons of mass
destruction. 911 created Bush’s terror frame. He capitalized on the
tragedy by repeatedly reminding Americans that they are under constant
threat; “we have to be right every time while they [the terrorists]
only have to be right once.” Bush color-coded fear with terror
alert-level warnings that are issued whenever a sense of complacency
begins to manifest itself. Thus Bush can play Pavlov and manipulate a
terrorized population to rally behind his leadership.
Bush used a metaphor central to US foreign policy, “A Nation Is A
Person,” in the run-up to the war on Iraq. The metaphor of Saddam was
employed because bin Laden did not fit. He had no country that could be
invaded, occupied, and declared defeated.
On foreign policy, Kerry is running against the terror frame and its
metaphor. On domestic policy, he is running against what Gore Vidal
describes as “socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor”
which Bush cleverly frames as “privatization and
deregulation.” Both frames are articulated with hee-haw language.
An attack on tax cuts for the rich is repelled by making taxes a
concern even for the unemployed, “The best and fairest way to make sure
Americans have that money is not to tax it away in the first place”;
government regulations meant to protect the common welfare become,
“Government should help people improve their lives, not try to run
their lives”; the deficit that ate the surplus that would have ensured
social security for future generations becomes a rationale for
privatizing social security itself: “I believe younger workers ought to
be allowed to take some of their tax money and put it in a personal
savings account, to make sure the Social Security system is available
to them”; skyrocketing medical costs are blamed on, ” frivolous
lawsuits running up the cost of your health care “; and foreign policy
is personalized, “Dick Cheney and I will make this world safer,
stronger and better for every single American.” In addition, Bush
tarred Kerry’s nuances as flip-flopping while portraying his
narrow-mindedness as the “steady, consistent, principled leadership”
Bush, the analyst observed, “used empty language to reduce complex
problems to images that left the listener relieved that George W. Bush
was in charge.” And maybe Bush is right. Maybe American voters are
However, it might be dangerous for Bush to place all his money on
“principled leadership.” Recent exposes relating to his National Guard
service record could raise questions about his trustworthiness.
If those exposes move Americans out of their comfort zone, it would
leave the cowboy from Crawford, Texas with just a cowboy hat and no
cattle in a part of the world where a man’s worth is measured by the
size of his
herd not his hat.