September 16, 2007

Jim, Bring Back The Boots


Today, with boots on the ground 6,000 miles away, the history of that struggle is still in the making.

— Dick Cheney, September 14, 2007.  Grand Rapids, MI.

The latest legislative strategy on the part of the Dems might look like “half a loaf” to the roots, but it represents a terrific challenge to the Administration’s dominance over the war narrative.  Beyond that, it offers all kinds of visual and symbolic opportunities if the Democrats were somehow savvy enough to take notice.

Up to now, the Administration has thoroughly leveraged the military in selling the war (as evidenced by yesterday’s White House photo gallery, and Friday’s Bush/Cheney appearance schedule closing out the Administration’s latest Iraq Sell-A-Thon.)  In perhaps the defining example of this appropriation, the phrase “Support Our Troops” might as well be translated: “Support The War … However We NeoCons Choose To Define It.”

But then, enter the Webb amendment.  As a strategy, it is not lost on anybody that legislation to require time home for soldiers in an amount equal to the length of time deployed will force the White House and the military to commence a significant draw drawn in Iraq.  As significantly, however, it creates the opportunity for Democrats to simultaneously refashion and elevate their standing in relation to the (well being and viability of the) troops, patriotism and influence over war policy.

As a strategy, as mentioned above, opportunity abounds.  If implemented, however, would legislation, on its own, be enough to alter strategic political associations in people’s minds?

Last January, following Jim Webb’s “Democratic Response” to the President’s State of the Union Message, I noted the Senator’s use of a family portrait as a visual and emotive device to link the Democrats to a more sober determination of when to wage war.  In that post, I also indicated that the Dems needed to do a far better job in crafting their imagery.  To be successful in that regard, it is not only important to articulate effective visual and linguistic metaphors, but to also pound them home on a repeated basis.

At the Yearly Kos panel at the August conference, George Lakoff made an interesting observation in response to a question about why Democrats are so weak on framing.  In his response, Lakoff said one key to seeding a message is repetition, and that Dems are terrible at repetition.

As a case in point, I ask: What happened to the boots?


Certainly, many people will identify this visual from Jim Webb’s Senate victory party as one of the classic shots of the Democratic mid-term triumph.

Why it is so recognizable, however, has much to do with that pair of visual lightning rods that so powerfully helped seal the election deal.  Given his credentials as a veteran, the fact he comes from a military family, and the fact those shoes (which he often wore during the campaign) were his son’s combat boots from Iraq, I’m wondering where did they go?

Why did Webb drop them, for example, and switch to a much weaker symbol (of a photograph of his father serving in WWII) for the televised response to the President?  And why, in retrospect, was the use of the symbolism so transitory that Cheney, in the opening quote above, could be so free today  to claim the same imagery for patronizing still another stage-full of captive service people?

And why — with the Democrats in possible position to crack open a bipartisan split with Bush and put themselves in much closer alignment with the troops than a President who spends almost every day scoring photo ops with the armed forces — aren’t we seeing those boots (or a like symbol) marched around by the Democrat knowing that opportunities to reprogram key associations to the the war are readily at hand?

(image 1 & 3:David Bohrer, image 2 Chris Greenberg. September 14, 2007. image 4: Bill O’leary — The Washington Post.  November 7, 2007.  Virginia.  Via

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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