Middle East code words

Digby’s argument, that the Bush administration language about the war in the Middle East is loaded with code words to pander to the looney fundamentalist base, isn’t entirely convincing. Just the fact that Rice used a word, “birth-pang,” that Rapture nuts have loaded with all kinds of millennialist meaning doesn’t mean she consciously chose it to make the fundies all giddy.

I admit, though, that the only reason I reject the hypothesis is that this administration has been so incompetent that I suspect they babble this kind of stuff all the time without putting any effort into thinking about it. These guys aren’t geniuses; overestimation of their abilities is something we should leave to their sycophants.


  1. Aaron Adams says

    Creditiing the heavy, caluclating political hand of Karl Rove in crafting messages to the base is hardly engaging in an “overestimation of their abilities.”

    Anyone who could take a spoiled frat-boy to the highest office in the land, while probably not a genius, is surely unusually politically astute. Is it beyond possibility Rove’s hand reaches into the message crafting shop at State?

  2. PaulC says

    “Birth pangs” is a pretty common metaphor, so it’s insufficient evidence that Rice was intending to send a message to apocalyptic Christians. I wouldn’t rule it out either. It could also be a term that slipped into her vocabulary after talking to others in the administration who are rapture nuts or talk to them frequently.

    I found her attitude disturbing when I first heard them the other day. Every disastrous situation is the “birth pangs” of some new thing. That doesn’t prove that the new thing is better. (Watch me as I studiously avoid any Godwin’s-law-proving examples that would end in phrases like “…the birth pangs of a new Europe.”) One could just as easily argue that 9/11 was the “birth pangs” of a new America, one in which citizens are less likely to insist on individual liberty and inclined to give the executive branch the benefit of the doubt on any policy that might remotely be construed as enhancing security. The big new thing is not necessary better than the old crappy status quo.

  3. Steve LaBonne says

    Every disastrous situation is the “birth pangs” of some new thing.

    Well, that’s about the only argument they have left after all the disaters they’ve been involved in…

  4. says

    Yeah, I’m more inclined to suspect arrogance than fundamentalism here — I could see Condi or Bush deluding themselves into believing their actions are giving birth to new, free nations in the middle east. They don’t need any religion to believe they have that power.

  5. nate says

    As I understand it, the more credible explanation for her use of the phrase “birth pangs” has to do with the neoconservative idea that destruction is required for creation in the middle east. I forget where I read that explanation, but I’ll provide the source if I find it.

  6. APL says

    Bush’s reference to the Dredd Scott decision in the run-up to the 2004 election was clearly a coded communication to the pro-life movement. While Digby may not have proven anything, the administration has a track record of sending covert signals to certain portions of the conservative subculture.

  7. PaulC says


    neoconservative idea that destruction is required for creation in the middle east.

    That could explain it. Our entire foreign policy is based on half-digested business development books filled with slogans and trendy buzz phrases like “creative destruction.” This isn’t the first time I’ve thought the motto of the Bush administration must be “If it ain’t broke, break it.” (and not in a good way).

  8. says

    These guys aren’t geniuses; overestimation of their abilities is something we should leave to their sycophants.

    That’s not what I heard about their speechwriters. Apparently this administration has a long history of sliding in subtle little shout-outs to religious groups in everything from SOTU speeches to regular old stump speeches. It is a tactic attributed to a speechwriter that recently left the administration. Basically, they include little references to hymns, non-dogmatic expressions of Methodists, Baptists, etc. and give the religious types the feeling that these guys are really on their side.

    Here’s some articles to back me up. If you weren’t such a gulldurned atheist maybe you’d have seen these more oblique reference PZ.

  9. Ginger Yellow says

    Yeah, as much as I respect Digby, which is an awful lot, I’ve got to agree with PZ and PaulC here. Given their record, it could be covert signalling. It could equally well be nothing. Condi’s not usually the medium for these coded messages, possibly because having a woman delivering the word of God doesn’t sit well with fundies.

  10. says

    I can’t say I agree entirely with you (but who can argue with, “These guys aren’t geniuses”). For an interesting analysis on the more general question of Bushs’ speech mannerisms, I suggest “It Figures.” Under the sub-heading of “Bushisms.”

  11. David says

    Prof. Bruce Lincoln at the University of Chicago has (if I remember correctly) an entire book dedicated to this sort of “double-coding” amongst the Bushinistas. That said, I agree with you that this particular instance is nothing more than a coincidence.

  12. says

    PZ’s post is way off. The single thing the Bush-Rove people are good at is stroking the base. They’re not stupid about everything; Rove really is a genius at what he does. (My source is a Texas PhD with a statistics background who knew something about the Republican databank).

    Another example is Guantanamo. No real military or intelligence purpose, and a lot of the detainees are known to be harmless, but it makes the hard right confident that Bush is tough enough. If Bush were to release the non-terrorist detainees, it would hurt him.

  13. Dave Puskala says

    I agree with you John. It is so easy to underestimate the hunger of the rapture ready crowd for confirmation of their beliefs. We have to understand how deeply these folks want to believe that the rapture is so close. This desire becomes so strong that they rejoice at destruction, bloodshed, war, famine and earthquakes because that means the end is near. Why is it so hard to believe that Condi wouldn’t be willing to throw a bone to the base, especially with their election chances looking so bleak. I have no doubt whatsoever the word choice was intended for the rapture readies.

  14. Greg Peterson says

    I have to say that as former fundamentalist, and totally independent of reading anything else, when I heard Condi use “birth pangs,” I could not imagine any other allusion other than the biblical one. I immediately understood it to be code, and I’m highly skeptical of conspiracies and such. I frankly can’t conceive that the bundle of apocalyptic meanings implied by that word was not intended.