Safety of sticking to the script

Yesterday in his post Could Your Congressman Pass a Turing Test? Kevin Drum lamented how today’s politicians only seem to talk in “poll-approved talking points”:

…the other day I happened to watch a few old clips of politicians being interviewed (in this case, “old” = 30 years ago) and it reminded me &#151 again &#151 of just how mind-numbing their descendents are. This has become such a routine part of our daily lives that most of the time we barely even notice it, but honestly: everything, and I mean every last word, that comes out of politicians’ mouths these days is predigested boilerplate. It’s just an unending stream of stale, endlessly repeated, poll-approved talking points. Democrats and Republicans alike. Every single time. They simply never speak like normal people anymore.

…every few months I happen to notice this phenomenon again, and it seems freshly creepy every time. It’s easy not to think about it, but when you do, even for a few seconds, it’s pretty obvious that this just isn’t natural. Politics has always been partly about acting, but even politicians are supposed to be human beings for at least part of their lives. Within living memory they were, but no longer. What the hell has gone wrong with us?

Then today, as if answering Drum’s question, Kevin Cirilli of the Centre Daily Times digs into what happened when P.J. Crowley, former spokesman for Hillary Clinton, failed to stick to the talking points.

Crowley … called the treatment of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid,” at a Boston MIT seminar.

Manning, 23, is charged with leaking government files to WikiLeaks, a website that published classified international information. In March, he had been held for several months in the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Va., in what supporters say were conditions of isolation and deprivation that amounted to torture.

Crowley’s remark was so unexpected that a journalist at the seminar asked Crowley if it was intended to be on the record. He answered, “Sure.”

It was the end of a career in public service for Crowley – former spokesman for the National Security Council, witness to the Sept. 11 attacks and Persian Gulf War veteran.

“In those few seconds when I thought about whether to put my comments on the record, I wasn’t thinking about a future career,” Crowley said last week in a lobby outside of a classroom in Carlisle. “I just thought the question deserved an honest answer. [my emphasis]”

Facing intense political pressure, Crowley resigned three days later…

“I still think it was ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid,” he said.

There you have it. Clearly there are a lot of risks that come with speaking your mind freely and veering from the assigned script.  

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