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NY Times: Af-Pak Speech Pitched to "Rank-and-File Americans" ... WTF?

Do you know your rank.
 
 
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NY Times reporter Jeff Zeleny knocked this out on the Times' blog last night, soon after Obama's Af-Pak speech:

The words from the president, which at times were soaring, seemed to do very little to settle the discontent from the left ...

As for the most important audience – rank-and-file Americans – it will take a few more days to get a reliable read from opinion polls of how people viewed the speech.

So we have "the left", juxtaposed against a very odd construct: "rank-and-file Americans." The latter, apparently non-ideological, are themselves part of the war effort.

As a citizen, I don't even know my rank, and I guess that's what makes me a leftist.

Now here's a very interesting fact. You could, if you so desired, go down to your local major university and enroll in an international relations program. You could sign up for a class called something like: Foreign Policy Analysis 110 -- the basics. In it, a learned professor would explain that in foreign policy, conservatives are, above all, "humble." Foreign policy conservatives believe "hubris" is the ultimate trap. They don't believe in nation-building, launching adventurous expeditions to stabilize the basket-cases of the international system or using military might to advance human rights.

Liberals, you'd be told, are the internationalists. They believe in humanitarian intervention -- in using force to prevent governments from egregiously violating their citizens' human rights. They believe in democracy's power to bring peace and reconciliation to war-torn, traumatized populations, and would, when the circumstances require, use force to impose it (or they'd say to impose an environment in which democracy can grow).

By the way, these ideological tendencies were more or less evident in U.S. foreign policy until recently -- the rise of the neocons, and the ideological reshuffling about war and peace that followed Vietnam, have obscured the philosophical differences between liberal and conservative approaches to international relations.

And contra Zeleny's narrative, traditional foreign-policy conservatism still exists in a segment of the right. Think Ron Paul, Paul Craig Roberts, Pat Buchanan, etc. -- where do they fit?

Anyway, that's neither here nor there. One could argue that it's unfair to take a reporter to task for a late-evening blog post -- that's first-draft publishing, and perhaps Zeleny would have chosen his words more carefully. But this is not a semantic point -- the labels reporters choose for a story guide the way readers receive it. "Rank-and-file Americans" suggests hard-working "real" people, as distinct not from rational thinkers who have calculated that the Afghanistan conflict is an unwinnable mess, but "leftists" -- presumably non-real Americans, elitists, weirdos from San Francisco, etc.

This kind of subtle framing is commonplace. Part of the reason I highlighted this little nugget is that I'd just read this post by Jamison Foster over at Media Matters yesterday, taking a WaPo reporter to task for similarly bizarre labeling:

Last week, Washington Post reporter Perry Bacon suggested GOP Sen. George Voinovich would vote against health care reform because he is a "strong fiscal conservative."  As I noted at the time, that's an odd use of the label "fiscal conservative," given that health care reform would, according to the Congressional Budget Office, reduce the deficit.

Well, today, a Post reader asked Bacon about that:

 
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