Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Politicians Speaking in Code

Who says encryption is only for mathematicians, geeks, or credit card transactions?

Generally, I am used to politicians dodging questions they are asked while trying to "stay on message" to push their specific agenda. But there seems to be a new trend in political communication of sending "secret" messages to core constituent groups that are very strategically and specifically encoded or worded so as to not put-off others outside of that core group. Otherwise they might otherwise seek alternative candidates if directly confronted with an open message. And I really do mean code, as in encrypted messages that only those who have, or figure out, the appropriate key can understand. My favorite recent example was pointed out to me by Josh Marshal and his blog readers.

One of Mike Huckabee's core campaign messages this season is that he thinks America needs "Vertical Politics" rather than "Horizontal Politics," and a "Vertical Thinker" for its next President. Here are a couple of examples from his speeches and his web site.

Being reasonably well-informed politically, this sort of verbiage didn't even register with me as anything unusual or even noteworthy. It didn't appear to me as anything more than a typical no-content type positioning statement much like "We need change," or "The urgency of now." (More on this last code later).

But it turns out there was a very important message embedded in what sounded, at first blush, to be otherwise meaningless positioning verbiage. I, however, being outside of the core group of intended recipients, did not have the key to decrypt the secret message. If you happen to be an evangelical Christian, or a faithful church-going Baptist, you probably already know what Mr. Huckabee is talking about because you have the key to his secret code. "Vertical Thinking" has become part of the common evangelical vernacular (see here on "Vertical vs. Horizontal Thinking" and here at the "" blog for explanations and the general philosophy).

The real message turns out to be a very clear statement to those "informed" that the US as a whole would be better off with a leader who holds God as the origin of all inspiration, morality, and, well, everything, and uses that to guide his leadership. This is in contrast to "Horizontal Thinking" wherein man figures things out without looking to God; it is this "Horizontal Thinking," according to Huckabee, which has gotten the US into so much trouble.

Now it's certainly true that Mr. Huckabee has been completely open about his history as Baptist minister, and I have to say that in the end, the message is completely consistent with his background. And I have nothing against any candidate who would clearly state a religious political agenda. But I find the wording that was so clearly calculated to pass innocuously beneath the notice of the unaligned moderates while still reassuring the faithful to be both a stroke of genius and rather insidious at the same time. It demonstrates a realization that if his agenda were completely out in the open, and the candidate were forced to speak clearly and openly without obfuscating their position in order to placate a conflicted constituency (i.e. the evangelical vs. fiscal republican bases) they could not actually garner winning support.

In all fairness, Huckabe isn't the only politician speaking in code. Sean over at Cosmic Variance pointed out Obama's "Urgency of Now" type code words taken straight from the civil rights movement.

My personal preference would be to support a candidate who is completely open in his communication, without depending on codes or secret messages decipherable only be specific constituent groups. I want to understand what other constituencies I might be supporting inadvertently by supporting someone like Huckabee, and where their agendas differ from my own.

I would also prefer that a candidate support such "horizontally" conceived issues such as stem cell research, family planning strategies based on real historical performance data and research, support for abatement of climate change. Lately, I have begun to contrast candidates who look backwards through tradition and religious adherence, and favor candidates who will openly accept the world as it is based on open scientific inquiry and look forward to how things might be. Is there such a visionary candidate?

Well anyway, I have a couple new code keys now, and so do you. What other sorts of secret political codes can we winkle out? How would you construct a clever political code?

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