June 1st, 2009
08:14 AM ET

Dear President Obama #133: Talking points? More like pointless talking

Reporter's Note: I am writing a letter each day to the White House. I have done so every day since President Barack Obama took office. Sometimes it gets rather tiring, but I suppose I can keep enduring it as long as he can.

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Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

Ever since you announced your first Supreme Court nominee, I have been gnashing my teeth amid an onslaught of what surely must be one of the worst plagues to hit American politics since the last time British Regulars marched on the colonies. Of course I am talking about the latest Talking Points war.

On the left and the right, this relentless parade of people defending and attacking your nominee is far too often characterized not be actual discussion or ideas, but instead by mindless recitation of Talking Points; prepared arguments for or against confirmation that are droned out like the prayers of monks, and with seemingly no less faith in the divine power of the words. At least some of the monks have the decency to make their petitions in private.

We (meaning the media) are complicit of course; we put these babbling Charlie McCartheys on the air as if they have something to say, and then pepper them with questions as if we expect them to really answer. It all produces a kind of political Kubuki theater, no matter which party is playing.

Interviewer: What about Jackson versus The Five; don’t you think Sonia Sotomayor’s ruling deserves scrutiny in that case?

Dem Party Hack: She has more judicial experience than Solomon himself!

Interviewer: Huh?

Dem Party Hack: You’re right about that: She is remarkably intelligent.

Interviewer: Uh, let’s ask your counterpart in the other party. Thoughts?

Repub Party Hack: She’s not to be trusted. Have you read what she told her student paper in 6th grade?

Interviewer: Huh?

Repub Party Hack: Exactly. And we don’t need a judicial activist on the bench.

That’s sort of how it goes. I think the groundwork for this relentless refusal to actually discuss issues, was oddly enough pioneered by the old Alabama Governor George Wallace. When he was near the end of his final term, and quite hard of hearing, he could become stone deaf the moment he was asked a question that might be politically delicate to answer. No kidding, I actually witnessed exchanges that went sort of like this.

Interviewer: Governor, will you give the teachers a raise?

Governor: Fishing? Sure I like fishing.

Talking points are designed purely to reduce political risk. They are a way for both parties to avoid any genuine discussion of matters that might actually illuminate the public about any issue; and in place of that discussion is an insult…the notion that if you shove a message at Americans long enough and hard enough, and ignore any questions or facts that get in the way, that voters are just too stupid to notice.

Talking points are not about honest talk at all. They are certainly not about listening. And that’s really a shame, if you get my point.

All that said, hope your Monday is off to a good start. Back in town and back in the office, so ring me up if you get a moment. Want to grab a salad? I’d say a burger, but I need to behave a bit after playing cholesterol roulette in Louisiana. Ha!



Find more of the Foreman Letters, here.

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Tommy Watson

    I only wish I had heard about this blog sooner. Finally, a reporter who not only speaks what is on my mind but taps into the passion of my heart as well. Thank you!

    June 1, 2009 at 10:52 am |
  2. Michael C. McHugh

    To me, the most tedious part of it is watching the Republicans playing for the Archie Bunker vote, as they always do, telling their base that a "racist", feminist, affirmative action elitist Hispanic lady has taken "their" job on the Supreme Court. It's the same ad as the one Jesse Helms ran in North Carolina: "They've taken you job and given it to a minority." Evidently they figure this will work especially well for them in times of high unemployment, in places like Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and so on.

    Nothing unusual in all this. America has a long history of elites manipulating the lower class white vote with racism and religion, going back to the 17th Century, and the Republicans are especially good at it.

    To counter it, I would play the class card. I'd propose a thought experiment: Let's imagine people like Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney as Supreme Court Justices. isn't it likely that they would be a little biased, too? That they might show more understanding and even favoritism to white white guys like themselves? And haven't we seen plenty of examples in American history of rich white guys in power, who show great understanding and favoritism to members of their own class?

    June 1, 2009 at 9:50 am |
  3. Osere osiya

    Well reaserched n relevant.

    June 1, 2009 at 9:31 am |
  4. JoanS

    I SOOOO agree! I bounce back and forth between news channels and the interviews are ALL predictable - I'm hoping the senators can come up with some great questions that cannot be scripted! From all accounts the judge is more than able to "think on her feet."

    June 1, 2009 at 9:13 am |
  5. Maria

    Hello. As you can see, I too am latina.that has nothing to do with it thou. My thought is that no matter how or what, GOP's are ready to throw stones. Be the car industry, economy,war,etc, they are all there pitching their nays. I don't remember anything like this with the Republicans. Nobody questioned them on the whys and hows.
    Coming to this weekend news of the pres. and 1st lady out on the town taking a play. What is the big deal!! They have all done it!! Like they said this morning, they would gladly have taken a shuttle if they could but they can't! How PETTY!! Please give the a break. Nothing is good enough for them GOPS. If they were back there again, you bet they would do what tthey want. Look at Palin,She took all her brood. She's Rep. Thanks

    June 1, 2009 at 9:11 am |