Thursday, January 18, 2007

Public Communications -- Who is the Audience?

The President's spokesman, Tony Snow, asked concerning a Senate nonbinding resolution by the Senate opposing Bush's so-called troop "surge"
"What message does Congress intend to give and who does it think the audience is? Is the audience merely the president? Is it the voting American public or, in an age of instant communication, is it also al-Quaida?"
It is, of course, a cheap shot for Snow to suggest that the intended audience is al-Quaida, but the point that Snow is making -- that public communications are available to all is worth making.

When a football coach holds his weekly press conference, the press asks questions which have a clear intended audience, the coach, but what the coach says will likely be heard by the members of his team, the university administration including the athletic director, the next opponent, and the general public. The problem the coach faces is that the press will normally ask probing questions intended to get information it and fans most want to hear -- what is often called "inside information" -- but the coach, unless he is a dolt knows that he if he satisfies the desires of the press and fans, he will be providing information that could affect one or more members of his team or all of them in a negative way and also be helpful to the next opponent. A smart coach will tell the press nothing useful while seeming to answer the question. So, if the question is, "Who will be your starting quarterback next season?, the smart answer would be "The competition is too close for me to say."

The President when he talks and the Senate when it passes a resolution and makes it known faces exactly the same situation a football coach faces. The people who will be listening to the Senate resolution will be the President, the men and women fighting in Iraq, the voting public, and allies and enemies of the country, and anyone else who is interested. How does the Senate craft a resolution opposing the "surge" that does not tell the troops in the field that they will not be getting any help in the form of increased combat soldiers and does not tell whoever is fighting against US interests in Iraq (whatever they are) that they will not be facing increased numbers of people trying to kill them. Of course, being politicians, Senators who vote one way or another are very much thinking about the voting public and possible opponents in the next election, especially those senators who must run in the next general election.

The Senators who vote for the resolution seem to have in mind the President ("It is time for you to bring the troops home", Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq ("Get off your butt and put your troops at work stopping the civil war going on in Baghdad"), and the voting public ("I heard your voices in the last election and know you no longer support the war"). The President and his supporters will object saying that ("This resolution will undermine morale among Americans fighting in Iraq and embolden the insurgents" among other things) and Dick Cheney, reliably and on cue will say that those voting for the proposal have "no stomach" for the war. Cheney is an expert on that topic since he knows what having no stomach for fighting in a war means from his own personal experience, having been too cowardly to fight in the Viet Nam War, preferring instead to take student deferments while at the University of Wisconsin.

Clearly, then, the Senate faces the problem that its actions always communicate many messages to many different audiences, some intended and some not intended. There is nothing that can be done about it. But, if the Senate is not to be reduced to a totally impotent body, it must act in the way it sees as best, just as the President must.

I have one question? What do we call a form of government in which the leader of a country can ignore with impunity both the views of the elected legislative body of the country and the views of a vast majority of the people? We damn sure don't call it a democracy.

The clearest lesson that could be learned by anyone who lived in the USA during the Vietnam War or who has made a study of it is that no war opposed by the people can ever be successful. Of course, George Bush lived through that period but somehow missed this lesson. He is about to learn it now.

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