Career appointees at the Department of Agriculture were stunned last week to receive e-mailed instructions that include Bush administration "talking points" -- saying things such as "President Bush has a clear strategy for victory in Iraq" -- in every speech they give for the department.
"The President has requested that all members of his cabinet and sub-cabinet incorporate message points on the Global War on Terror into speeches, including specific examples of what each agency is doing to aid the reconstruction of Iraq," the May 2 e-mail from USDA speechwriter Heather Vaughn began.
What form does this take? Well,
The e-mail provided language "being used by Secretary [Michael O.] Johanns and deputy secretary [Charles F.] Conner in all of their remarks and is being sent to you for inclusion in your speeches."
Another attachment "contains specific examples of GWOT messages within agriculture speeches. Please use these message points as often as possible and send Harry Phillips , USDA's director of speechwriting, a weekly email summarizing the event, date and location of each speech incorporating the attached language. Your responses will be included in a weekly account sent to the White House."
I'm sure there will be gold stars and ice cream given for the best entries. Kamen's article is short and funny, so read it over. A few examples of how this works:
Now, you might still be scratching your heads, trying to figure out how this is going to work when people expect a talk about agriculture issues. Not to worry. The attachments -- which can be viewed at http://www.washingtonpost.com/fedpage
-- show how easy it is to work a little Iraq happy talk into just about anything.
There's a sample introduction: "Several topics I'd like to talk about today -- Farm Bill, trade with Japan, WTO, avian flu . . . but before I do, let me touch on a subject people always ask about . . . progress in Iraq." See? Smooth as silk.
Or there's this gem:
Be crop-specific. "The Iraqis have also discussed specific products, like tomatoes, which they are anxious to export into the world community," the e-mail notes.
If you read over the document linked above, showing some of the helpful examples of how to praise Bush's progress in Iraq while nominally speaking about corn, it's impossible not to laugh, even though this really is appalling. Every company has its own fashionable buzz words it promotes, but this is the U.S. Government! I think it's safe to say that career officials at the USDA didn't realize that promoting Bush's foreign policy was part of their job description!
Remember, it's all about politics, not policy. It's all about PR, not performance.
This really is Ministry of Truth territory, although as practiced by Commissar Barney Fife and the ilk John DeIulio dubbed "Mayberry Machiavellis."
But enough of such talk. Pass me two more of those Iraqi-grown tomatoes for the sauce. Taste that? That's freedom. And that's not the scent of garlic – that's the smell of victory.
UPDATE: The New York Times has a short op-ed on Kamen's piece titled "An Agriprop Guide to Cluck and Awe."