[KB] "Trivial Repetition," "Dull, Daily Reenforcement"

Edward C Appel edwardcappel at frontier.com
Thu Sep 18 11:41:35 EDT 2014

Carrol,, Herb, and All,

	Carrol, I may be guilty of underplaying Democratic malfeasance in all this, but I think you are overplaying the matter with the “Democrats are the more effective evil” theme.  Thomas Frank may be near to your view, and substantially correct, if he’s suggesting that Democrats are only “MARGINALLY better” than Republicans.  But I would caution that the Dems are still “marginally BETTER.”

	Take the Iraq war.  (As Henny Youngman might say, PLEASE!)  I have a hard time believing, if the judicial coup of 2000 had not occurred, and he had been awarded the presidency, that Al Gore would have taken us into that disastrous conflict.  The Afghanistan fiasco might have transpired, but Iraq?  Not likely.  (We had to do something in Afghanistan.  The scapegoat motive was just too intense.  I think a Burkean ought to realize that.  Air strikes and covert/commando raids should have been the MO, not all out warfare and nation building.  But, sadly, the requisite temperament for such restraint is not usually inherent in viable, ambitious, presidential aspirants.)

	You’re right to condemn Carter on deregulation and Clinton on NAFTA (and CAFTA), and you could add Clinton’s signing off on the gutting of Roosevelt’s reform of investment banking.  But Clinton and the Dems did raise taxes in 1993 (without one Republican vote), which brought budget surpluses and a temporary halt to our downward slide into horrendous debt.  Can we call that successful effort just another facet of the “more effective evil” of these sly Democrats?

	And remember, too, the historic pressure on Democrats to take on something of the coloration of conservatism, as the 60-or-so-year political pendulum swing began to turn rightward after the upheavals of the 1960s.  Just as Dewey, Eisenhower, and even Nixon weren’t all that conservative by today’s standards (they had to go a bit with the zeitgeist, as well), a turn toward the center was perhaps inevitable for a Democrat to get elected president in the 1990s.  Let’s shift some of the blame to global trends and conditions, while we’re at it.  (Doesn’t that make me a respectable, orthodox postmodernist?)

	As for making Elizabeth Warren part of this “axis of political evil” you reference, give me a break.  Talk about pressure to wink at Israel’s “crimes” in Gaza: It’s far stronger even than not treating Iraq as a wasteful, mendacious misadventure in which our troops died “in vain.”  I don’t think I need to go into all the reasons why.  The word “Holocaust” serves as a good start.

	Let’s pull this discussion back toward Burke before we invoke a reprimand.  I spoke of the power of the scapegoat mechanism that even a Burkean “comedian” can’t totally ignore.  Let me add that my initial post on “trivial repetition” and “dull, daily reinforcement” points in the direction of a rhetorical dilemma I have not yet explored: How can a political leader without a death wish repeat and repeat and repeat again a position on the issues I think need to be highlighted, when those accusations will indict virtually everybody, all the usual suspects having dirty hands to one degree or another?  We may need something along the lines of, “Choosing a Rhetoric of the Enemy: Kenneth Burke’s Comic Frame, Warrantable Outrage, and the Problem of Scapegoating, Part II.”
	Herb’s “Requirements, Problems, and Strategies” quandary comes to mind.

	As tightwad Jack Benny, when confronted with the challenge, “your money or your life,” after a long pause, would say: “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.”


On Thu, 9/18/14, HERBERT W. SIMONS <hsimons at temple.edu> wrote:

 Subject: Re: [KB] "Trivial Repetition," "Dull, Daily Reenforcement"
 To: "Carrol Cox" <cbcox at ilstu.edu>
 Cc: kb at kbjournal.org
 Date: Thursday, September 18, 2014, 7:55 AM
 perceptive. YES, there's a pattern here.
 On Wed, Sep 17, 2014 at
 4:13 PM, Carrol Cox <cbcox at ilstu.edu>
 At 84
 I've given up out-living the Age of Neoliberalism. One
 of my reasons for this glum  conclusion is the
 preponderance among men and women of good will of the views
 expressed by Ed Appel below, which he nicely summarizes in
 the following words: ". . . what’s happen, by
 DELIBERATE policy on one side of the aisle, and culpable
 acquiescence on the other, to USAmerican jobs, USAmerican
 taxation, and USAmerican debt. . . ."
 This is, I fear, the standard liberal understanding of the
 Democratic Party: They see that party as
 "opportunist," "cowardly," even
 "stupid." They fail to see that the DP is, as Glen
 Ford of Black Agenda puts it, "The More Effective
 Evil." It is the DP, primarily, that has determined
 U.S. policy over the last half century. (Consider the
 analogy to "Good Cop / Bad Cop." It is the Good
 Cop (the DP) who does the real damage. Three acts by the
 Carter Administration marked the all-out assault on the
 working people of the U.S.:
 1) Carter's virtual signing of of Bishop Romero's
 Death Sentence
 2) The Deregulation of Air lines and trucking
 3) The appointment of Volcker as Fed Chairman
 Subsequent administrations have but filled in the dots. Some
 of the high poits:
 Reagan's crushing of PATCO
 Clinton's pushing through of NAFTA
 Clinton's Effective Death Penalty and Anti-Terrorism
 Unanimous Congressional Approval of Afghanistan and Iraq
 Senator Warren's aggressive support of Israel War
 As to Obama, he richly exemplifies Noam Chomsky's
 observation that "War Criminal" is part of the job
 description of U.S. presidents.
 Ed is certainly correct that no Left exists in the U.S.
 Earmarks of a hypothetical Left:
 1. Liquidate the Prison System
 2. Withdraw all U.S. troops from the world
 3. No U.S. Foreign Aid (it is all open or disguised military
 aid to tyrannies)
 4. Open Borders. No human is Illegal.
 -----Original Message-----
 From: kb-bounces at kbjournal.org
 [mailto:kb-bounces at kbjournal.org]
 On Behalf Of Edward C Appel
 Sent: Wednesday, September 17, 2014 1:58 PM
 To: wessr at onid.orst.edu
 Cc: kb at kbjournal.org
 Subject: Re: [KB] "Trivial Repetition,"
 "Dull, Daily Reenforcement"
 Bob and All,
         Your list for “trivial repetition and dull,
 daily reinforcement” by the left would be as good as
 mine.  Maybe we could start by taking a cue from Teddy
 Roosevelt, much on the agenda at PBS the last three
 nights.  TR comes across as a ridiculous,
 heroism-obsessed blowhard in some ways, but as also a great
 man, great leader, and great egalitarian spirit, as well. 
 (Not perfectly egalitarian, for sure, but wondrously so for
 his time.)
         Roosevelt’s mantra about the Constitution
 being for the good of the people as a whole, rather than
 vice versa, a strait jacket into whose supposedly tight
 18th-century constraints all contemporary common sense has
 to be bound, should be our guiding principle, too (see Burke
 on the “Dialectic of Constitutions,” GM).
         The first question I’d ask, though, is, where
 do we find the USAmerican political “left?  I know one
 place I can find the left-wing US commentariat.  See the
 amalgam of voices gathered together on CommonDreams.org, for
 instance.  But among our political leaders?  Maybe Warren
 and Sanders, but even Sanders echoes Obama on the taxation
 question: The wealthy ought to be paying “a little bit
 more.”  A LITTLE bit more?  When their contribution to
 the commonweal has gone from 51 percent of earnings 60 years
 ago to about 16 percent today, less than the average
 middle-class earner?  When average CEO pay has burgeoned
 from 40 to 1 to 400 to 1 in respect to average salaries in a
 given industry in the past three to four decades?  When a
 candidate for the presidency can get away with disclosing
 one, and only one, tax return, at 13 percent (!), and still
 run for that highest and supposedly exemplary office, and
 get away with it?
         I don’t see much of a “political left” in
 our nation, or much of a sense of what a “political
 left” should look like, among our citizenry.  (See Donald
 Barlett and James Steele, The Betrayal of the American
 Dream, for requisite numbers; see Thomas Frank, What’s the
 Matter with Kansas, on how Democrats have become only
 “marginally better” than Republicans; see a study by
 Martin Gilens [Princeton] and Benjamin Page [Northwestern]
 on how “’the preferences of the average American appear
 to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically
 non-significant impact upon public policy,’” [“Disease
 of American Democracy,” Robert Reich, 8/21/14], as the
 result of the takeover of political outcomes by Congress’s
 and the executive’s  corporate paymasters.)
         But, if we had a “political left” of some
 dimensions (let’s fantasize!), what would be the three
 most salient issue-positions I’d recommend a strong,
 repetitive, dull, daily emphasis upon?  It would be the two
 I recommended in “Democratic Narrative” and in my post
 on the nefarious Iraq War, to wit:
         Drum home “agaaaiiinnn and aggaaaiiinnn and
 agaaaiiinnn” (I can hear FDR exclaiming it!) what’s
 happen, by DELIBERATE policy on one side of the aisle, and
 culpable acquiescence on the other, to USAmerican jobs,
 USAmerican taxation, and USAmerican debt, over the last
 three and a half decades.  American jobs have been exported
 to low-wage sweat shops in Asia, Indonesia, Mexico, and
 beyond, to the economic benefit of the entrepreneurial
 class, who can then sell their products to consumers
 worldwide.  They don’t need Americans to make their
 goods, nor do they need them as much to buy their goods. 
 Manufacture cheap and sell across the globe.  You lose your
 high-paying factory job as a result?  Go work for
         And while we’re at it, let’s cut taxes to
 the bone.  “Starve the beast!”  As Reagan insiders
 Donald Stockman and Bruce Bartlett have revealed, the idea
 was to cut taxes to such an extent, and run up deficits so
 onerous, Congress and some future administration would be
 forced to dismantle the “welfare state.”  George W.
 Bush admirably followed suit, at the outset of his dubious
 war, no less!---and there’s reported evidence on things
 that Bush privately said that indicate he was just as
 deliberate.  (See Venomous Speech: Problems with American
 Political Discourse on the Right and Left, pp. 109-116, for
 ample documentation.)
         Democrats left fingerprints over all of this
 chicanery, as well.
         Who’s got clean-enough hands to pound home
 this narrative, repeatedly, in our day, and the political
 courage to boot?
         More, later, on the other two mantras, and how
 Heath and Heath might simplify the tale---and on the
 "identification" angle.
 On Mon, 9/15/14, wessr at onid.orst.edu
 <wessr at onid.orst.edu>
  Subject: Re: [KB] "Trivial Repetition,"
 "Dull, Daily Reenforcement"
  To: "Edward C Appel" <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
  Cc: kb at kbjournal.org
  Date: Monday, September 15, 2014, 9:58 PM
  Ed, Burke is surely right
  about the power of repetition. The
  advertising industry leaves no room for doubt  about
  identifications might the left try to repeat ad
  What might Burke advise?
  Quoting Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com>:
  > Burkophiles,
  >     I asked in a
  chapter in Praeger’s Venomous Speech last year,
  > Is the Democratic Narrative, FDR
  Style?”  That piece had mainly to
  do with the polemical malfeasance of the Dems in dealing 
 with,  > rhetorically pretty much  ignoring, what
 globalization has done to  > aggravate the income gap in
 USAmerica the  past three and a half  > decades.  (Tax
 policies are culpable, too, we know, in multiple  >
 ways.)  Senator Warren appeared on Moyers  on PBS last
 Sunday.  She  > listed  four Democratic proposals she
 thinks are winning issues  going  > into the Fall
 elections.  Moyers asked her why, then, aren’t we  >
 hearing more about them from Democratic  candidates and
 their  >  spokespersons?  Warren really had no good
  >     Burke says in
  the Rhetoric (p. 26), “Often we must think of  >
 rhetoric not in terms of one particular  address, but as a
 general  > BODY OF  IDENTIFICATIONS that owe their
 convincingness much more to
  > trivial repetition and dull daily
  reenforcement than to exceptional
  rhetorical skill” (emphasis in original).
  >     I monitor Fox
  News daily.  That propaganda network masquerading as 
 > a news channel (I know, we can say the  same thing
 about MSNBC) is  >  near-fanatically repetitive in
 promoting its conservative,
  > anti-Obama agenda.  Fox is
  relentless.  Case in point: Bill O’Reilly  > has
 invidiously targeted the President in  his opening
 “memo” for as  > many  nights as I can remember. 
 Another: Wish I had even one  dollar  > for every time
 I’ve watched  our consulate in Benghazi burn on my 
 >  Channel 48.  They don’t let up.
  >     Add this mantra to the list: Bush 2 
 “won” our righteous “War on  >  Terror” with
 the surge in Iraq.  Obama came into office,  took our 
 > troops out of that country,  and now has “lost” a
 war that Bush,  > Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz had 
 brought a U.S. victory and peace  >  to!
  >     The
  rhetorically inept, more accurately altogether missing,
  > response by Obama in his “leading
  from behind” speech on Wednesday,
  and in his fumbling precursors to that address, are 
      First and foremost, Obama was and is uniquely 
 situated to  > characterize the Iraq  War for what it
 plainly was: A mendacious  > military adventure, foisted
 on USAmerica  by subterfuge and  > deception, a 
 cynical exploitation of the shock of 9/11, not merely a
  > “dumb war.”  Fifteen Saudis and
  four Egyptians, under the leadership
  of a wealthy Saudi, trained in Afghanistan, highjacked 
 four  > commercial jetliners and  perpetrated the
 mayhem of that frightful  > day.  Saddam, we knew even
 then, had  nothing to do with it.  Nor did  > his 
 chemical weapons, if they even had existed and they 
 didn’t, nor  > did his so-called  “mushroom
 cloud” potential, pose any real threat  > to this
 nation.  Again, we knew even then  that Iraq’s nuclear 
 > ambitions,  even if real, were as yet no more than
 hope, if not  > fantasy.  And, for anyone paying 
 attention, the Bush-Cheney  >  fear-mongering had
 already been shot down in an op-ed in the  NYTimes  >
 by Ambassador Wilson, and by  clear-headed reporting 
 >  by the  McClatchy News Service.
  >     So, what happened after waste of a  trillion
 dollars (it will be  > three  trillion or more after
 medical expenditures are exhausted  a  > half-century
 from now), loss of  thousands of American lives, tens of 
 >  thousands of maimings and woundings, and destruction
 and  shattering  > of this jerry-built  nation of
 warring sects that only a tyrant like  > Saddam could
 hold together—what happened  after the candidate who 
 > promised to  end the Iraq War came to power?  He
 stopped calling the
  > war what it really was and started
  treating it pretty much like a
  somewhat legitimate enterprise we had to bring to an
  > “responsibly.”  Obama was even
  planning to keep fifty thousand (or
  was it eighty thousand?) troops in Iraq in perpetuity, 
 before  > al-Maliki said “no way”
  to our insistence on military immunity.  > (And Obama
 doesn’t even defend himself  on that issue.)  > 
      You may object that Obama had to metamorphose into
 a  “war  > president,” since he was  then
 Commander-in-Chief.  Can’t in any way  > imply that
 our soldiers died in vain in a  conflict subversively 
 > motivated by  oil, Israel, Bush family score-settling,
 or plans for  > victorious re-election in 2004 by a 
 flight-jacketed president after  >  “Mission
  >     Upshot: There exists a corrupt
  context to what Obama and USAmerica
  face in the current chaos of the Middle East.  It is a 
 context that  > requires repetition and  more
 repetition still by leadership that has  > some
 semblance of the near-self  -destructive insanity of
 America’s  >  vaunted “War on Terror.”  As he
 takes us into yet  another phase of  > this 
 resource-draining, quick-sand tugging, tar-baby of a 
 conflict,  > someone with a megaphone  has to stand up
 and shout down the McCains  > and Foxies who current
 occupy the  rhetorical terrain uncontestred.
  >     I have no hope that Obama’s the
  >     Ed
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 Herbert W.
 Simons, Ph.D.
 Emeritus Professor of
 Dep't of  Strategic
 Communication, Weiss Hall 215
 University, Philadelphia 19122
 Home phone:
 215 844 5969
 Academic Fellow, Center for Transformative
 Strategic Initiatives (CTSI)
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