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The comma conspiracy and the news agenda

As conspiracy theories go this one is pretty good — it’s not that George Bush is bad with words but that he is talking in code to the religious right. But, as Dan Brown has shown, people love to believe in secret codes.

I see it as a cautionary tale about bloggers and news agendas. There is something of the urban myth about this one.

It all began on September 24 when The Carpetbagger Report tried to understand a response given by Bush on CNN. It was:

I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma because there is — my point is, there’s a strong will for democracy.

The next day Ian Welsh in his The Agonist blog linked the President’s words with the phrase: “Never put a period where God has put a comma.” He explained this mean that God would make things better. Dale wrote:

This is the thing about Bush – he is constantly littering his speeches with code words and phrases meant for the religious right. Other people don’t hear them, but they do, and most of the time it allows Bush both to say what those who aren’t evangelical or born again want to hear, while still reassuring the religious right wants to hear.

He found other examples and concluded it was “dog whistle politics” with Bush reassuring the right “at a pitch the rest of us can’t hear”.

The whole thing has blown up with opponents of Bush saying the use of the word “comma” was evidence of Bush’s indifference to suffering and the death of more than 2,700 US troops.

The Washington Post analysed the issue yesterday under the heading ‘Just a Comma’ Becomes Part of Iraq Debate. The second deck of the hearing said: “Opponents See Bush’s Words on War as Insensitive or as Code for Religious Right.”

You have to read nearly to the end to discover the “never put a period…” quote originates not with any religious leader but with Gracie Allen, the comedienne wife of George Burns.

Today Welsh returns to the topic in the light of the Washington Post report and maintains his opinion that Bush meant to communicate with religious voters.


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