The End of a Long-Winded Era?

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After being sworn in, the new President George Bush gave a refreshingly short speech that lasted a mere 14 minutes. Later in the day he gave another address inside the Capitol building which lasted less than 10 minutes. After the Age of Clinton, such succinct speeches are certainly unexpected. Let’s hope it is indicative of future addresses by the new president.

In contrast to Bush, the exiting president Clinton could scarcely refrain from droning on and on during his last week in office. He ruined prime time television with a farewell address earlier in the week, and on Saturday treated himself to a wide array of radio addresses and self-congratulatory speeches. While egotistical nonsense can be expected from most presidents, Clinton, in prime form, has managed to take it to a trashy new level. By the time he left office, rambling speeches were the norm from the president. We could always depend on a two-hour long laundry list of government favors Clinton was planning to dole out to various interest groups. Knowing that he would rarely actually deliver on, (and thus not pay for), anything he talked about, Clinton felt free to go on and on about all the great he was going to do or had supposedly already done and give himself a big pat on the back.

There was never enough exposure for Clinton and his pathological need for attention. If he himself wasn’t rambling on about something or other, one of his minions was chit-chatting with the starry-eyes press about their latest cosmic battle with the dastardly Republicans.

The press, caught up in their own paternalistic arrogance, was always hungry for more government heroics and never missed a chance to fill the airwaves with dozens of talking heads analyzing and reanalyzing every aspect of the day’s news as if every word uttered by Clinton or one his bureaucrats signified a great historic event in the history of public policy. Formal Clinton speeches like a state-of-the-union speech were especially stimulating for the press because it offered the networks two hours of material to rehash into the wee morning hours.

After the Bush inaugural speech, all the pundits could do was sit around with a deer-in the-headlights look on their faces and comment on how short the speech was. It must be difficult for the modern journalist to comprehend a president that does not want to meddle in every aspect of human life. The media thrived on the Clinton model for governance. Under Clinton an endless flow of regulations, political wrangling, scandals, and military expeditions helped fill the demands of the 24-hour news services. The Clinton White House never missed an opportunity to get in a few more sound bytes.

With the rise of the short-winded Bush, the media simply doesn’t know what to do with itself. One can only discuss a fourteen-minute speech for so many hours. In lieu of words from Bush himself, the media might be able to satisfy itself with comments from members of Bush’s staff, but none of those people are talking either. It has been reported that Bush has made it clear to his staff that leaks to the press are an act of disloyalty. Bush’s staff is so tight-lipped, in fact, that recently, Tim Russert and Tom Brokaw openly fretted about the amount of information being leaked from the Bush staff. It seems that mum’s the word down at the Bush White House.

This must be absolute torture for the pundit classes who can barely imagine a world where politics doesn’t flood the airwaves every minute of the day and pseudo-intellectual journalists discuss various ways to tell other people how to live.

Maybe, just maybe, Bush will be one of those presidents who feels that the federal government has better things to do than to tax, regulate, and sue every American who doesn’t get on board with whatever moral crusade the government happens to be on at any given time. If that is so, America just may get a nice break from the cacophonous chatter of the endless parade of journalists, intellectuals, and politicians who have filled the airwaves for eight long years.

January 22, 2001

Ryan McMaken lives in Denver, Colorado. He edits the Western Mercury.

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