Nostalgia As A Rhetorical Weapon


Citizen Tanya

Elections are supposed to be about our future, and waxing nostalgic should have no place in choosing our leaders. But nostalgia is seeping into current campaign rhetoric, and it’s only serving as a distraction.

At last Thursday’s vice-presidential debate, Gov. Sarah Palin admonished Sen. Joe Biden. “There you go again, pointing backwards,” she said when Biden mentioned G.W. Bush. But it was Palin who was clearly “pointing backwards” in her attempt to resurrect a 1980 presidential debate zinger.

The McCain campaign is reviving more classic rhetoric by accusing Obama of “palling around with terrorists". This kind of statement is right out of G.W. Bush-Speak 101. Here’s the essence of a Bush-era presidential address: “My fellow Americans, it’s terrible how the terrorists are terrorizing us with their terrorism. . . ” After eight years of this kind of leadership, I have to say: Enough of the terrorism card!

A legitimate discussion of the threat of terrorist violence would be important. However, this isn’t about discussing security, it is only more BS. I don’t mean BS as an abbreviation of a popular colloquialism alluding to misstatements or screwy reasoning. It’s about B and S as two consonants—the difference between the names Obama and Osama. We’re supposed to connect the dots: Sen. Obama is somehow “palling around” in caves, or wherever, with Osama. National security hyperanxiety was good for Republicans in the 2002 and 2004 elections, and they’re trying to resurrect the fear to turn the 2008 campaign around.

The comment was about domestic terrorists. Does the McCain campaign really want to start a discussion about 1960’s-era radical groups? Of course they do, because that ancient culture war has been a staple of Republican campaigning ever since the 1968 presidential campaign. I was born in the ’60s, as was Obama and Palin. I don’t really remember the turbulence of that era. But I do remember the 1980s. So does the Obama campaign, and they’re resurrecting McCain’s role in the Keating Five and that banker bailout.

The “palling around” statement is really a nostalgic twofer. It ties Obama to the 1960s counterculture while attempting to harness anxiety by continuing Bush II fearmongering. The Republicans need to steer the dialogue away from the economy, and they’re trying to do so with their old campaign staples. But 700,000,000,000 is a big number, especially when counting taxpayer dollars. The party of small government, private initiative, and personal responsibility has lost its way. Empty-handed, they’re grasping for the good old days. They may find comfort in nostalgia, but the harsh reality is that their ideology lies in ruins.

Here’s a rhetorical blast from the past: It’s the economy, stupid! This statement was how Bill Clinton kept on message in his successful 1992 campaign for president. With Obama’s campaign surging, I’m starting to remember the 1990s. We may not bring grunge back, but how about that economic prosperity? Think about Mary Hopkin with a Hagstrom guitar and a fuzz pedal: “Those were the days, my friends, we thought they’d never end, we’d sing and dance forever and a day. . .

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