Supporting Our Troops (or following the money of a rhetorical shift), Part 1

Part 1 of 2. When Vajdon and I were forced to leave the US (he in 2005, me in 2006), the first thing we noticed was no yellow stickers.  Up and down the highways and bi-ways of Canada we didn’t see one of those weather-proof billboards of propaganda.  And, boy, did we breathe deep.  There is an enormous psychic relief to not being challenged every ten feet with whether you support the troops, the Administration’s policies and the inescapable fact that the declaration itself, an imperative, has “you” (i.e. me) as its subject.  The stickers assume that any reader who might pull up behind the car, doesn’t support soldiers and needs to be convinced otherwise. Imperatives presume that the reader isn’t doing what is commanded. You can imagine, in Los Angeles, where “a mile in my shoes” means two hours behind the wheel, how oppressive those stickers might become.  Kind of like your football coach: Run faster!  Play harder!  Get their ankles! “Support Our Troops!”  Aside from my annoyance, there are deeper dynamics at play here.  The use of imperatives presume that the speaker is doing what the reader is not.


American conservative and retired general, Andrew Bacevich has some problems with saying that if you slap a bumper sticker on your car then you support the troops. Bacevich’s critique challenges us to actually support the troops.  Really support the troops.  Get up out of the Lazee-Boy, clean up the spew next to their beds and spend time with them.  Stevie Nicks (a Republican) does it, why won’t you?

Because actual support would bridge the disconnect between the softness of your life and the hardness of theirs.  But you’re not thinking that deeply about it; what could the connection be between your sticker and real world events? It’s a gesture, slap it on the bumper and forget about it.  On your behalf, that sticker will stick it to all of those weak-kneed, pot-smoking, grigio-sipping Liberals.  But, your cognitive disconnect equals the Administration’s rhetorical success.

‘Rhetorical’ refers to the direct use of words, phrases, situations, events etc. in order to persuade a listener or reader or viewer of one thing or another.  Rhetoric doesn’t rely on facts or evidence, it relies on the human connection; the heart strings.  And, of this, Karl Rove and his media lapdogs are masters. And, it is intentional. If you didn’t have a sticker slapped on your bumper in early 2003, it was presumed that you didn’t support Bush Administration policies and that you thought those young men and women deluded for going to fight on behalf of oil companies.  But around 2004, in particular after the election, a rhetorical shift happened.  I’d like to connect the dots between that rhetorical shift and real world events: supporting our troops and the largest transfer of wealth in history.  First, let’s set the stage and ask why we’d display a ribbon sticker in the first place.

Historically, our current Support the Troops (SOT) stickers are descendants of the yellow ribbons tied around trees on front lawns and in parks throughout the United States during the Iran Hostage Crisis and anecdotally prior to that. For 150 years, Americans have signified “welcome home” and the love for a missing loved one by displaying yellow ribbons.  On the contemporary scene the ribbons, which began going up when the wife of an American hostage in Iran put one around the tree in her yard, a few years after Tony Orlando and Dawn’s huge 1973 hit, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round that Old Oak Tree.” With the advent of the second Iraqi invasion, the ribbons returned as an entrepreneurial tool of garnering support for war.  A lot of folks made a lot of money and pigeon-holed the rest of us.

Rhetorically, there are two reasons to display a sticker. First, to identify yourself as someone who supports the Bush Administration’s policies. Between 2000 and 2004, SOT stickers meant that you supported Bush Administration policies such as preemptive war.  Bush himself shaped the Manichean public discourse, “You’re either with us or against us.” However, in the rhetorical space of 2004-2008, this identification shifted. Consciously.  After the 2004 presidential elections, people got fed up with thinking that just because they found Bush disgusting they shouldn’t have the opportunity to declare their support for our fighting men and women.  As the news darkened from the fronts, the public rhetorical space around SOT stickers widened to include those who backed the troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and those who did not support Bush Administration policies.  By the time the 2008 primary season kicked off, there was elbow room under the SOT tent for:
•    Supporting the men and women in the armed forces.
•    Supporting the troops’ mission.
•    The 70+% of Americans disgusted by Bush-Cheney and their policies.
•    Those who, like the President, have faith that it’ll all work out for the best.

Ironically, I track the widening of the tent to Big Media’s tools to pit us against each other and to emphasize our differences (and therefore, their ratings).

More to come…a lot more!  I look forward to interacting with you around these issues.  Keep it civil, keep it intelligent.

~ by Thom on October 4, 2008.

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