You’ll want to read this exchange from Ask Figaro:
Hey Figaro. Bush pulled a very bold piece of rhetorical jujitsu in saying that the comparison of Iraq to Vietnam bolsters his own party’s line. While I think the comparison is bogus (as our continued presence in Iraq creates more terrorists than it kills), and I doubt that any number of decades of war waged in Vietnam would’ve led to some kind of ‘success’, the speech was interesting and will have historical repercussions.
I’m very interested to hear your take on Bush’s move and the speech as a whole, and I’m a little disturbed to see that you haven’t written about this maneuver since the speech was made, but you have written about something unrelated. I hope you don’t sit this one out; there are a lot of people who will assimilate this speech into their talking points, and it may even change some minds. As one of the most widely read analysts of rhetoric today, your thoughts on this speech should be heard.
[signed] The Rude Gesture
Dear R.G., Boy, now I feel guilty. Here I’ve been lecturing Mrs. O’Speech about Bush’s marvelous Iraq-Vietnam rhetoric while ignoring those masses of Figarists eager for my widely read analysis. My only excuse is that I assumed both of them were on vacation.
I suspect that one of Figaro’s rhetorical heroes, Karl Rove, is behind the Iraq-Nam gambit. It was Rove, after all, who devised the brilliant strategy of running on one’s weaknesses. If, say, your military record is dubious and your opponent won a medal in Vietnam, then you accuse your opponent of cowardice. If your policy platform refuses to coddle the weak and the victimized, then you run as a “compassionate conservative.” (Note to Senator Edwards: Make fun of Hillary’s haircuts!)
Now put yourself in Karl Rove’s lame-duck shoes. Citizens are beginning to call the war a “quagmire.” So what do you do? Point out the many obvious differences between the two wars? No! You campaign on your weakness. The liberals lost Vietnam. They forced our country to turn tail, which made Osama bin Laden think we were weak, which was why Al Qaeda attacked us!
Patently absurd as this logic is, it can work even if no one falls for it entirely. In these undeliberative times, you don’t have to win the debate to win the election. You need only to sow doubt in your own weaknesses, and in your opponent’s strengths. Look what happened with the Swift Boat campaign; accusations of cowardice raised a small doubt about John Kerry even in the minds of voters who didn’t believe the ads.
As the Creationists say, preach the controversy. In a divided, argument-averse country, a small doubt can make all the difference.