Based on a true story: W.’s performance

30 09 2008

In Talking Politics, University of Chicago anthropological linguist Michael Silverstein compares the presidential communication styles of Abraham Lincoln and George Walker Bush and finds that both styles are squarely within their sociopolitical Zeitgeist. Abe’s “enduring style of substance” (p26), he argues, effectively embodied the voice of “American civic morality” (p30) while Dubya talks like a man who “has moved up from the Texas Rangers and Harken Oil to head the country’s largest diversified corporation, the United States government” (p68).

Amusing as Dubyaspeak may be, this style “communicates concern […] but not expertise; command, as it were, but not control” (p72). It is exactly this indexical property which made and makes Dubya’s political rhetoric work. Indeed, as Dubya has “successfully projected, and successfully continues to project, determination, “really trying”” (p71), he has come to iconicize the earnest CEO who, when given lemons, makes lemonades, as opposed to the bourgeois, can’t-keep-your-pants-on Clinton know-it-all. In such a context, language “reformed for a People Magazine politics” (p115) works and provides enough ammunition to make a promising satire out. Oliver Stone’s W. debuts October 17 stateside and October 30 in Europe.

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