No matter your political persuasion, you’ll find the following short column from today’s Wall Street Journal fun to read. It describes SOTUS…the straw man of the United States…and the article is entitled, “I’m the President’s Trusted Counselor.”
By NOAM NEUSNER
Some people get quoted in presidential speeches by writing heartfelt letters to the president about personal loss, or by doing something heroic, like landing a plane in the icy Hudson River.
I just sit in the Oval Office, and mouth off to President Barack Obama, one inanity after the next. And sure enough, my words—word for word, mind you!—show up in his biggest speeches.
Who am I? Sotus—Straw man of the United States. I'm Mr. Obama's most trusted rhetorical friend.
In his speeches, Mr. Obama says there are "those" who suggest we "can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures." He suggests there are "some" who are content to let America's economy become, at best, "number two." He says that on health care, "some people" think we should do nothing.
Listen, there is no "some people." He's just quoting me, Sotus.
Why, just a few weeks ago, I said: "Hey, Mr. President, you know, why don't we just fight tired old battles, run up the deficit, and, you know, just chuck common sense to the wind?" Imagine my thrill when I heard Mr. Obama during the recent State of the Union: "Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it's time to try something new. Let's invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let's meet our responsibility to the citizens who sent us here. Let's try common sense." Ouch, Mr. President, you got me there!
And then there was the nice talk we had right before that historic January afternoon, when he was sworn in. I turned to him and said: "Mr. President-elect, our system of government can really only tolerate small plans, and limited ambitions." Think how good it felt to hear my own words echoing across the Mall: "There are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done." Good one, Mr. President!
A few days later, as we were shooting baskets, I said: "Mr. President, you know, I think that in the face of the biggest financial crisis in three generations, you should really do nothing."
And sure enough, at a press conference on Feb. 9, 2009, he quoted me: "There seems to be a set of folks who—I don't doubt their sincerity—who just believe that we should do nothing . . . I don't think that's what the American people expect, is for us to stand by and do nothing." They don't? Guess I lose again!
And you know, I'm not just about policy. I also care a lot about presidential leadership. My preference: Go slower. Do less. Don't try so hard. Don't care so much. Don't be so bold.
Conservatives cry foul when they hear me quoted. They can't imagine anyone is saying the things that Mr. Obama stands up as arguments that he proceeds to knock down. Of course, they haven't met Sotus.
Some say Mr. Obama should make a stronger case for his opponents' positions than his own. The cynics think straw-man arguments by definition prove that the speaker has no proof or logic on his side. Some would force presidential speechwriters to choose between a nifty setup for a zinger and boring rhetoric that puts audiences to sleep.
See, this straw man thing is pretty easy. I just rattled off three of them. Maybe I need to give some of this material to the big guy. He's been saying he needs more material on false choices.
Mr. Neusner is a principal with 30 Point Strategies and was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush.