I'm reading Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized by People Who Think You're Stupid by Joe Klein. He makes it clear how much influence consultants armed with polling information and focus groups have over the message of candidates eager to win the approval of voters. I read a transcript of George's State of the Union address. It reads like a litany of issues that the American people have shown themselves concerned about: entitlement spending, climate change, the deficit, etc. (Once again close to half of this country's state of the union is about Iraq's state of disarray, but that is another matter.) Klein makes it clear how much care is put into the words and phrases that politicians use - each carefully tested for maximum approval. But this is the part that I would find fascinating. Where are those focus groups, those polled Americans, who were exposed to the words, phrases, priorities, and concepts that bombed? I would love to talk with them about how the draft concepts differed from what was finally delivered.
It could be that we'd better be able to predict Bush's actions if we could see the draft of his speeches. When campaigning against Gore, Bush spoke out against nation-building. One now wonders if he just stumbled into that occupation as an accident or whether he had always wanted to engage in nation-building but exorcised that from his campaign speeches when it polled poorly in focus groups. It may well be that only by reading the early, unpolled and unedited versions of his state of the union speech would we be able to predict what new surprises Bush may have in store for us in his these final two years of his presidency.