MAZE THE COURSE

From a perspective of what language can and cannot accomplish, and especially from the perspective concerned with the dynamics of cognitive relation to persuasive language over time, the effort of the Cheney Inc. to push “stay the course” back in the box is fascinating.

Maureen Dowd is pithy:

The Bushes don’t connect words with action. Action is something that’s secretly plotted with the inner circle behind closed doors. The public should stay out of it. The Bushes just connect words with salesmanship. (NYT Oct.25:2006)

Message management can only serve proscribed purposes. Conceptual simplification, reduction to spin, and repetition across delivery domains, lands rightly with some and lands not at all with others. There’s a ‘matching’ goal and, presumably, it reinforces acquisiton of consonance with both the message and the conceptual structure implicit underneath the message. The idea is people want to feel okay about the sense they make about something. For example, all the Bush callers who phone Washington Journal (on c-SPAN) and state their “100% approval” likely fund this consonant sense using rationales which smooth over divergence and dissonance. For some, there’s no devil and no details; it’s all good. One never hears a caller say they are “85% supporters”.

Having at hand a language of convergence, and of absolute sympathy and alignment, obviously helps the make the sale. One might, were one a marketer in this mode, measure the effective matching with the return report “Doh, we should stay the course!”. We buy what makes us feel good. It’s a hunch. Sure, who wouldn’t want to bring a victory home?

What happens when the matching becomes more difficult? Surely dissonance starts to ripple into the placid sympathy, unwelcome thoughts intrude, reality begins to feel different than it did previously, anxiety increases. The sturdy sense begins to become fragile. That stay the course refers to an actual course is besides the point for the most part. The point of matching to a sense of resolve, to confidence in the proxy, (ie. the executive and its military fighting on our behalf,) and, implicitly, to an optimal outcome, “Victory,” loses its grip when any of those vectors begin to be displaced or deposed. When several or all of them begin to unravel together, it’s possible to speak of, perhaps, a multiplier effect.

Keep in mind the phrase was often deployed-over and over again-defensively. The defensive maneuver was implemented in light of trying to smooth over the rough and disturbing spiral downward of the news coming from the battlefield of Iraq. In effect, stay the course glides over its own middle since the full posit is: stay the course to victory; stay to victory. Tis a hard deployment to cut and run from. Clearly the administration wants to stay the ‘something or other’. Even now the idea is to stay in Iraq until the course, whatever it is, is completed. But it is impossible to persuasively reimplement stay at the same time the recipient of the pitch is searching for a way to get away from the sudden, prominant feeling of severe dissonance. Nobody volunteers for a cognitive game of chicken.

There’s a point of irony, doubled, in noting this. This point is: reality is always dynamic and always requires adaptation. This week it was laughable for me, someone who isn’t likely to be ever persuaded by surface language, to hear Tony Snow state what I already knew had to be the case anyway and always. Yes, the facts on the ground are dynamic and our forces are always flexing and adapting to the changes. Twas ever thus.

(Oct.23:2006) Q Is there a change in the administration “stay the course” policy? Bartlett this morning said that wasn’t ever the policy.

MR. SNOW: No, the policy — because the idea of “stay the course” is you’ve done one thing, you kick back and wait for it. And this has always been a dynamic policy that is aimed at moving forward at all times on a number of fronts. And that would include the international diplomatic front. After all, the Iraq compact is something we worked out with the Iraqis before visiting the Prime Minister in Baghdad earlier this year.

So what you have is not “stay the course,” but, in fact, a study in constant motion by the administration and by the Iraqi government, and, frankly, also by the enemy, because there are constant shifts, and you constantly have to adjust to what the other side is doing.

I already knew “stay the course” was implemented to cover or even bury the dynamic situation on the ground. Failed adaptation was not to see the light. Consider it is the dynamics of shifting cognitive apprehension of rhetoric which eventually exhaust the ameliorative power of the spin and the catch-phrase and the reductive move to a satisfying ‘selleable’ trope.


Stay, stick, plant, focus, concentrate, (etc.) language single-mindedness. But the use of stay to bury the dynamic actuality has to exhaust its persuasive power when dynamics come into play in sensemaking. Stay but change…ouch! Anxiety precedes inevitable ambivalence. “Stay” was supposed to dominate “course”. I’ll go farther and suggest stay was supposed to dominate course until victory! In cognitive constructive terms this objective was, is, ludicrous. The wish to smooth over dynamics by building a singular bridge using, in the final analysis, dissonant phraseology, cannot be effective when both course and actual dynamics come to be dominant. Stay the course was always from the git-go a pressure cooker waiting to blow its top.

This pressue was always there. It is implicit in stay the course that there is a course disposed to converge or diverge on/from the explicit goal, victory. The phrase is structured to imply either a capable or incapable course and this is so given that the frame of reference for course or courses is, by definition, dynamic. At this point it might be well nigh impossible to persuasively smooth over the difficulty presented by the dynamics of the chaos and carnage having pushed their way to the foreground.

This is all doubly ironic because neither Cheney Inc. or certain members of the public want to embrace the anxiety provoking ambivalence. Yet, they’re forced to deal. Ironically, it would be nice to get back or recover the certainty of staying the course. But, the real challenge has arrived and it’s unwelcome. Uncertainty dominates and sensemaking is perturbed enough to require a new narrative, a new constructive matching and smoothing, and some language regime able to address what now is the dominant vector–what would reinforce consonance in light of uncertainty?

(In the abstract, all these factors do not make a smoothing annunciation impossible. The, as Dowd put it, plotting inner circle make it impossible.)
The problem is obvious enough: the uncertainty of the actual dynamics punctures even the possibility of there being a suitable matching and smoothing language. The product has lost its market!

In 2002, Andrew Card anticipated the sales transaction when he implied there was a right time to roll out new product. Creating a geopolitical ally in Iraq is untenable and can’t be retailed anymore. Anticipate a new roll out sooner rather than later. Whether it can get out in front of the cognitive challenge is doubtful but I suspect a new product and pitch will soon be advertised.

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