A more meta post, this one, but prompted by something that turned up which Balloon Juice has already had some well-deserved snark about. Some context:
Dan Bartlett can be, very accurately, called one of the current President’s closest associates. He no longer works at the White House, but this is only after working for Bush pretty much from straight out of college on, as both Wikipedia and his official (if now a little outdated, obviously) White House biography confirm. He’s very much a loyal Republican and supporter of Bush still.
In the course of this Texas Monthly interview, there’s this little exchange, split over the two pages — italics mine:
If one of those journalists-turned-bloggers, Chris Cillizza, e-mails you to say he needs an interview, and at the same time one of the Post’s print reporters—say, Dan Balz—e-mails you and says he needs an interview, and you can do only one . . .
Because the print edition of the Post has more of an impact?
Because Balz is on multiple platforms. He’s booked more easily on television. He’s read by more people. He influences people a bit more. Now, the question might not be as much Chris versus Dan as maybe, “Is it Dan Balz or one of the guys at [the conservative blog] Power Line?”
Yeah, or what if [conservative blogger] Hugh Hewitt called?
That’s when you start going, “Hmm . . .” Because they do reach people who are influential.
Well, they reach the president’s base.
That’s what I mean by influential. I mean, talk about a direct IV into the vein of your support. It’s a very efficient way to communicate. They regurgitate exactly and put up on their blogs what you said to them. It is something that we’ve cultivated and have really tried to put quite a bit of focus on.
So the jokes have already been made, as mentioned — it is a revealing choice of words, to be sure. But better to step back and think a bit more about it, and why it’s said.
First, a general point of view — press secretaries, PR reps, TV commercial directors, anyone and everyone working for a candidate or political figure or political pressure group, all of them want you to regurgitate, and it doesn’t matter what side you’re on (or what side THEY’RE on, for that matter). The whole idea is for you to acting as a repeater for words and thoughts they’ve just said, to get them out in the world and the discourse, or reinforce what’s already there. They don’t want you to deconstruct the terminology, they don’t want you to question the underlying assumptions, or if you do, they want you to agree with them in any event. They want you to keep your viewpoints in line with theirs as long as is necessary (and that could well be a lifetime). If you contribute something to the discourse, they will seek to make it theirs and erase your tracks. I could go on, but you get the drift — I feel it’s axiomatic — and lord knows I have been complicit and almost certainly still am, no matter how much I try to think otherwise. Getting out of the rut is something that requires constant guard and activity.
This said, it’s a right-wing political figure that’s been interviewed here, and it’s in that right-wing context you have to take what he’s just said. Note, after all, that he’s essentially said that he’s happy that a noted talk-radio and general Internet commentator on the conservative side, namely Mr. Hewitt, replicates a message directly communicated to him, and does so by means, literally using the word, of vomiting it back up. If Bartlett had said ‘repeating,’ the implications would still be there, but the tactile choice of vocabulary is a very poor one indeed — even more so when you think about, say, how some animals can return to their own spew.
But why shouldn’t this be surprising? It’s a realm, after all, where ‘Dittoheads’ have embraced that name for themselves over the years in their support for Rush Limbaugh, where the implication is that they can only repeat, that they WANT to repeat. It seems like that impulse is inculcated, and the fact that, as I said, this can and does cross political lines in terms of behavior doesn’t excuse it at all. (Indeed, it’s long amused me that commenters on both sides talk about themselves as the truly mature and internal-debate-heavy side while the other is the one that’s monolithic and mindless. Odd, that.) Still, if you willingly embrace that impulse — if you just repeat everything you’ve heard without reflection — then you should at least be open about it.
So ask a right-wing blogger (or ask yourself) — do you regurgitate? One of the President’s closest advisors aimed to have you do that during his time on duty. Did you analyze, reflect, consider, or did you just throw it all back up — as if you couldn’t keep it down at all? And do you still? And if you didn’t, do you do that for anyone else? Are you happy to claim that mantle?
Ultimately, do you know where the words come from that you say? Do you know why they are there? And do you ever wonder why that is?
Just some thoughts on a Wednesday, as we move into a year where plenty of people are going to want you to regurgitate a heck of a lot. Again, and again.