Thomas Sowell

RUSH LIMBAUGH has been having some fun lately, playing back recordings of politicians and media people, who have been repeating the word "gravitas" like parrots, day after day. Before Dick Cheney was announced as Governor George W. Bush's choice for vice presidential candidate, practically nobody used the word. Now everybody and his brother seems to be using it.

The political spin is that Governor Bush lacks "gravitas" -- weight -- and that Dick Cheney was picked in an effort to supply what the governor lacks.

In other words, the fact that Bush picked somebody solid for his running mate has been turned into something negative by the spinmeisters. The fact that media liberals echo the very same word, again and again, shows their partisan loyalties -- and their lack of originality.

While this whole thing is funny in one sense, especially since the polls indicate that neither the "gravitas" issue nor the all-out attacks on Cheney's record in Congress is working, Bush's lead over Gore has widened.

In another sense, it is a serious matter because it shows one of the differences between the two political parties. Democrats put far more emphasis and effort into articulation than the Republicans do. And the Democrats are all on the same page.

Democrats follow tried and true principles of propaganda, using the same phrases again and again, to drive the words into the public's heads. Remember "it does not rise to the level of impeachment"? Or "a risky scheme"? Or "tax cuts for the rich"?

It didn't work this time, but it has worked enough times in the past that the same strategy will undoubtedly be used again, as soon as the Democrats find another phrase that goes over well with focus groups.

Republicans, on the other hand, seem not to understand either the need to articulate their position or the need to put some serious effort into just how they are all going to express it. Instead, they seem to be just winging it individually when they get in front of a microphone or a TV camera.

Republicans are still paying the price for not explaining during the 1980s that presidents do not create budget deficits or surpluses, because all spending bills originate in the House of Representatives. Just as the Democrats got away with talking about the "Reagan deficits" then, they are now getting away with crediting Clinton with the surpluses that followed after the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives.

Both Bush and Cheney seem more media savvy than most Republicans. They not only know how to get their points across, they know how to avoid falling into media traps.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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