I'm a little late to the party, but I'm finally reading Ann Coulter's wonderful 2002 book Slander : Liberal Lies About the American Right. In it, in her wonderful snarky way, she exposes the media's relentless push to demonize conservatives — and, especially, to portray all conservative politicians as stupid. It makes most of my previous posts on the subject seem wooden and pedestrian, but that, of course, won't stop me from pointing that syndrome out where I see it.
My latest sighting was in the most recent New Yorker. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a glowing, lengthy article about a guy named Cesar Millan, a former illegal alien who, owing to his unique dog handling talents (and they do sound extraordinary), is now famed in the training community. So much so that he even has his own show, the Dog Whisperer, which I, a dog fan, intend to watch.
The article focuses on "the movement of mastery." After describing Millan's skills with dogs, Gladwell shifts to dancers and movement specialists analyzing videos of Millan and work. And then, suddenly, in the midst of this hagiography of a dog trainer, we get this (and please note the use of the word "say" in the very first sentence, indicating that this whole thing is a casual aside):
Movement analysts tend to like watching, say, Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan; they had great phrasing. George W. Bush does not. During this year's State of the Union address, Bush spent the entire speech swaying metronomicall, straight down through his lower torso, a movement underscored, unfortunately, by the presence of a large vertical banner behind him. "Each shift ended with this focus that channels toward a particular place in the audience," Bradley said. She mimed, perfectly, the Bush gaze — the squinty, fixated look he reserves for moments of great solemnity — and gently swayed back and forth. "It's a little primitive, a little regressed." The combination of the look, the sway, and the gaze was, to her mind, distinctly adolescent. When people say of Bush that he seems eternally boyish, this is in part what they're referring to. He moves like a boy, which is fine, except that, unlike such movement masters as Reagan and Clinton, he can't stop moving like a boy when the occasion demands a more grown-up response.
So you see, Bush isn't merely stupid and smirky (a given), he's "primitive," "regressed," and "adolescent." This is as opposed to Clinton's graceful, mature serial molester and rapist. By the way, lest the red herring mention of Reagan ("Reagan too moved well!) distracts you from the fact that this is meant to highlight Clinton's virtues, you get this in an online interview with Gladwell about his article:
You write about political phrasing, and how a politician like Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan is better at calming and inspiring an audience than a politician like George W. Bush is. How much difference does that make to voters watching speeches on television? How much does phrasing overlap with personal charisma?
That’s a good question, and not one I have a good answer to. Television has a strangely muting effect on a lot of this stuff. A former aide to Clinton once said to me that if Bill Clinton had been able to personally shake the hand of every American, he would have been elected unanimously. I think that’s right. In person, people like this are far more impressive than on television: we pick up so much more on nuance. I remember the first time I saw Jesse Jackson live. I’d seen him many times on TV, and was unimpressed. I thought he was kind of a clown. In person, I was floored. Cesar is the same way: it’s only when you meet him that you “get” why he has that kind of effect on dogs.
Again, note the unreserved praise from Clinton and, of all people, the lying, smarmy, anti-Semitic, rabid Jesse Jackson.