Pundit Wire

Clinton and Corbyn: The Fine Old Art of Dissembling

At the No More War event at Parliament Square in August. A Creative Commons stock photo. You don’t hear the verb ‘to dissemble’ so much these days, although Edgar Allan Poe knew just when to use it. Its synonyms include pretend, deceive, feign, masquerade, sham, bluff, pose, and counterfeit. It’s all about projecting a false if not dishonest impression, with a view to misleading.

Dissembling may have drifted towards desuetude, giving way to the more robust idea of ‘lying’, but the practice is alive and well. This week sees momentous examples from two ambitious politicians on either side of the Atlantic, both with a problem. How to deflect public attention from what they have really been doing, as their doings look embarrassing when subjected to closer scrutiny?

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Bernie has it. Trump has it. Joe has it. Does Hillary?

I respect and admire Clinton. So do many of Biden’s potential backers. They’re just imagining the damage that could be done when billions of dollars’ worth of attack ads drill “Hillary thinks the rules don’t apply to her” and “Hillary thinks she’s above the law” into voters’ brains. Accuracy will be irrelevant. They will be attached to a narrative “out there” purporting to connect the dots between Whitewater files that rematerialized, misremembered Bosnian sniper fire, Benghazi and, now, documents that weren’t classified that she didn’t send on personal email and didn’t scrub from her personal server.

What Biden has, what nervous Democrats fear Clinton lacks, is authenticity, the new It factor. The old It was ideological (Do they hate big government or racism as much as I do?), positional (Are they with me on guns or climate change?), demographic (Do they care about people like me?) and personal (Who I want to have a beer with?). The new It is ontological: Who’s real?

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Is Speechwriting Spiritual Death?

Bette_Davis_-_portraitSome years ago, a speechwriter friend of mine sent me an obituary on ghostwriter Sandford Doty.

I had never heard of Doty but, as it turned out, I had heard of his work. He had ghosted the memoirs of such luminaries as Robert Merrill, Judy Garland, Bette Davis and Helen Hayes.

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Ruthless

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 1.48.16 PMIn her August 16 column in the Washington Post, Ruth Marcus paraphrases Carly Fiorina from 2008, saying something positive about Hillary Clinton… But then in addition I see quotation marks and the words, punctiliously noted from seven years ago, “That’s off the record.”

Wow, reminds me of the Wild West days of Spanish journalism of the early 1990s, when scribes would quote embassy officials of various countries, “…and he said, off the record [sic], ‘yes no maybe…’” I remember helping one journalist find someone to quote back then, and then never being forgiven (me!) because of the offending violation of basic rules of decency.

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Overnight to Ystad

1The fate of Denmark’s Jews in October, 1943 was an anecdote in a sea of‎ malice. My Danish friend Michael was on one of those boats, the ones wandering around in the Øresund on a dark night in October, lights out lest the Nazi patrols find them, and also lost in an autumn storm, headed possibly for Sweden, but also possibly to Poland or Germany itself.

I asked Michael how it was that night, and he said, “I was two months old.”

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There They Go Again

unnamed-3This thing called the “international community” rises to clown-like behavior when Haiti has elections. They always did, and I hope they’ll give it up one day.

After six murders, scores of beatings, and one third of the ballots trashed in the streets, Haiti’s legislative elections August 9 were pronounced “a success” by the UN, Brazil, France, Canada, Spain, the United States, the EU, and the OAS. Read: “Good enough for Haitians.”

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Bulldoze the Lincoln Memorial?

Lincoln MemorialThe state Democratic parties of Iowa, Georgia, Connecticut and Missouri have recently voted to remove the names of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson from their traditional Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners. The reason is that Jefferson and Jackson were both white males who owned slaves.

As Andy McGuire, Iowa Democratic chairwoman declared: “It is important to change the name of the dinner to align with the values of our modern-day Democratic Party: inclusiveness, diversity and equality.”
The Democratic parties of at least five other states are considering the same change.

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A Speechwriter’s Hell

2Barton Swaim’s new book, The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics, took me back to my own fumbling beginnings as a wordsmith. Flipping through the pages, I felt again what it was like to be sitting in the audience as fledgling speechwriter, listening to an important public figure deliver a speech that I had written, with “ears greedy for my own words.”

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