From: Leni Riefenstahl
To: Barack Obama und Frau Obama
Subject: Politische Kundgebung getarnt als eine Gedenkfeier (Political rally masquerading as a memorial service)
It's been two years since I last wrote. Then it was about the Invesco Field Rally in Denver. Now it's about that rally in Tucson. If you don't mind a few harsh words from someone seasoned in such things, no matter that you tried hard, the tragic incident in Tucson was no Reichstag Fire, and while you made as much of it as you could, you need to hone your shtick a bit better in future. I keep writing to you out of admiration for your political inclinations and skills, of course. I want only for you to succeed, and I hope you take my words to heart.
Here is what was good and what was not so good about this -- in short form because I know how busy you are with golf and vacations and wrecking the American economy for decades to come.
1. You did need a distraction
Every leader has to know how to distract public attention from shortcomings, and on this you succeeded nicely. Your party got (excuse the expression) slaughtered at the polls in November; you lost the House, and your control of the Senate is shaky. Oil is reaching $100 a barrel, jobless claims are jumping, consumer confidence is down, foreclosures are increasing, wholesale food prices are soaring, the USA's AAA credit rating is in jeopardy, the public is catching on that the taxpayers are unlikely to recoup on the GM bailout, and one half of the states are suing to have ObamaCare, your signature legislation, declared unconstitutional.
And I'm not even getting into the international mess like the fall of the Lebanese government at the hands of the Iranian and Syrian-led Hezb'allah.
Yes, you needed a distraction. And yes, the TV producers and press were dying for stuff that they didn't have to work at to fill space, so you were right to look for a distraction. And boy, did they fall in line, filling the airwaves and papers with almost nothing else for days.
2. You overplayed your hand, though
The murder of six people, including a photogenic child and a well-regarded judge, and the serious wounding of an attractive and popular congresswoman of your party, among others, certainly deserved your attention. But that attention should have been more low-key. It should have been like what Reagan did for the Challenger accident (a beautifully crafted TV message) or what Bush did at Virginia Tech (a sober six-minute speech one day after the incident).
But what did you do? You played this as if it were a major national tragedy, which it was definitely not. It could not have been a day after the shootings that your staff got to work, obviously thinking this was going to be the kickoff for what promises to be a rough reelection fight. Borrowing a slogan which appeared on your 2008 campaign website, Organizing for America, you had 10,000 tee shirts printed with the slogan and logo "Together we Thrive" on them. I have to admit I like the subtle codewords for "shut up, opponents," but tee shirts at what you billed as a memorial rally? You really have to pay more attention to propriety when you are making an appeal to the Republic of Nice, that part of the American population that wallows in maudlin sentiment and prattles on about "letting the healing begin," "closure," and "dialogue."
3. You dithered too long before speaking
By waiting so long and making this a bigger deal than it really is, you wasted your opportunity.
Yes, I know your friends in the press were playing up the "Climate of Hate" theme -- it was false, of course, and that was the problem with postponing your remarks while the beer and food concession stands were being stocked and the tee shirts and bumper stickers were being printed.
You had your supporters' fervid, libelous remarks about your opponents, kicked off by the witless Sheriff Dupnik, but you couldn't really capitalize on these. See, you do have a few problems that we didn't have: the internet and talk radio and a few (very few) reasonably honest media. It very quickly turned out that Loughner, the shooter, was (as is usual) a deranged leftist, a man whom Dupnik, Loughner's school, and his parents should have reported for psychiatric evaluation. Possibly you could have discussed the need for more mental health facilities or better state evaluation laws when you finally spoke, but that would have made all those tee shirts and logos and bumper stickers and concession stands look even more foolish, wouldn't it?
So while you were dithering with your speech and the trappings of the rally, the truth was coming out. I know you must have reworked that speech over and again for days and that you are unused to hard work like that, but while you were doing that, the public was receiving information which made the incident less and less politically advantageous to you.
4. Paradoxically, you jumped into this too quickly
Perhaps seduced by the hateful reporting of Krugman and others, you anticipated that this was a better opportunity to kick off your campaign than it actually was.
I especially was taken by this exchange with political cartoonist Jeff Danziger, who drew the shooter coming out of a teapot, but there was a lot of first-rate propagandizing by your allies:
Mr. Danziger first email - "I would guess that your experience is on one political side rather than the other. I am on neither. I want all this goddam noise and manufactured strife to stop. I want people to work toward a better country. I think I have earned the right to insist on it. I am not a Democrat nor a Republican, neither left nor right."
Mr. Danziger second email - "The Tea Party, the very name is ridiculous. Crazed fat people tortured by their lack of success in life, following the absolute worst of our politicians. Palin, Angel, Quayle's rotten kid. These people are your choice for anything?"
The rhetoric was quickly seen for what it was -- blood libel -- and no matter that your court rabbi, David Saperstein, and the ADL's Abe Foxman, a reliable shill for your party, tried to suggest that the term, as Sarah Palin finally used it, was inappropriate. You lost on that, strengthening Palin's hand even more.
While the establishment press proved your best ally the first time you ran, you really can't be dumb enough to plan your next campaign around their ravings. Surely you can tell merde from shinola even if your supporters cannot.
5. It's good to appeal to the muddled masses, but you (and your wife) have to be more subtle about it
Playing up to the side of the population that resides in the Republic of Nice -- well meaning, uncritical souls who just want everyone to get along -- is certainly a good ploy to shut up your opponents and stifle critical thinking, and even to persuade the more gullible among your critics that you do not abide the tactics of your allies. But for heaven's sake, be defter at it than you have been:
A. Mrs. Obama: Dress appropriately for the occasion and sit like a lady, and while it's good to be somber, aping portraits of the saints is unnecessary.
B. It's good to speak in meaningless platitudes. The unthinking pundits eat that up, especially if it sounds high-minded and is without substance, like "moral imagination," or if it reads like this:
So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.
6. You have to be better at covering your tracks
It's good that you purportedly ad-libbed into your speech a denial of the claim that the violence was precipitated by a "climate of hate," but it wasn't smart to let your staff announce ahead of time that you have personally called Sheriff Dupnik, nor to let them release pictures of you warmly greeting him at the event. He started that poppycock, and evidence is mounting that he and his office had numerous run-ins with the shooter and his family and dropped the ball in not notifying the public health authorities that Loughner merited mental examination. Not clever, either, to put Congressman Clyburn and Minority Leader Pelosi on the platform with you, both of whom regularly have engaged in libels of the opposition.
And it was not too clever immediately after the event for your frau to release a letter which to any careful reader revived the "climate of hate" nonsense and cautioned parents to teach their kids to have special unquestioning regard for people like the two of you. Maybe it's time you worked with someone other than Paul Krugman, whose posture as a sane commentator has been irretrievably blown:
Advocating violence is terrible, but it is also terrible to try to delegitimize vibrant criticism of the government, to have a biased view of where the least valuable speech is coming from, and to connect speech to violence when there is no connection. The truth is that we should dismiss the massacre as the mere act of a deranged individual and go on as before. Why should we change because a madman shot people?
Ironically, saying that a massacre can change the course of American politics encourages massacres! Why would you put such a thought into the heads of madmen? Hell, sane men might put the pieces together and plan a massacre to disrupt the work of the politicians who won the last elections. We need to turn away from the bloody slaughter and go on as before.
Anyway, timing is everything; you and your wife both show great natural talent for dissimulation and propagandizing. Maybe my hints will just help you be better at it. Leni
P.S. I heard that at the upcoming State of the Union address, you plan to make "civility" a theme. Fine, but just remember not to insult the Supreme Court justices there as you did last time. They are there as a ceremonial representation of the third branch. Everyone knows they are to be apolitical and are in no way to respond. It looked churlish then, and if you repeat it, the whole "civility" shtick is dead forever for you, and it really has some remaining potential even if you both badly undercut that this time.
Leni Riefenstahl is channeled by Clarice Feldman.
Graphic by Big Fur Hat of iOwnTheWorld.