In some grand Rovian afterlife, the late Michael Deaver, Republican image machinator extraordinaire, is smiling, even laughing.
You remember Mr. Deaver, don’t you?
As the White House deputy chief of staff during the first term of the Reagan presidency, Deaver orchestrated Reagan’s every public appearance, staging announcements with an eye for television and news cameras. From a West Wing office adjacent to the Oval Office, Deaver did more than anyone before him to package and control the presidential image.[emphasis added]
Were Mr. Deaver with us today, he’d be overweeningly proud of whoever’s handling — abusing, actually — the press for Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican candidate for vice president.
No, no, forget that Mr. Deaver was an ex-con, once convicted of perjury in connection with his lobbying business. He set in motion the actions that made President Reagan a mythological hero, a conservative idol, by limiting press access that would reveal the flaws that made President Reagan as human as the rest of us.
He believed that pictures, not words, should define President Reagan. He carefully created that presidential image by keeping cameras close and wordsmiths at a considerable distance. Mr. Deaver invented the “photo op”:
[It] positioned the former actor in visually irresistible locations where troublesome reporters’ questions could not intrude: atop the Great Wall of China, on the beach at Normandy for the 40th anniversary of D-Day or in front of a construction site as the president announced the latest government report on housing starts.
Gov. Palin’s handlers believe that, too. As is playing in the news right now, her handlers are catching criticism for keeping the wordsmiths from asking questions at her scheduled “appearances.” The journalists who cover her are threatening to boycott her scheduled United Nations “events” because of the tight restrictions on journalists that, in effect, shield her from questions — any questions.
Mr. Deaver would dearly love this. He began his image-making of President Reagan in earnest after the former California governor became president. Gov. Palin’s handlers are literally taking her fresh and unsullied from a political womb and using carefully controlled, image-making opportunities to present her in a most favorable light to voters. She’s appearing at the United Nations with illustrious personages of political and policy substance, hoping some of that stuff will add gravitas to her untested, unquestioned fluff.
Her opponent, Sen. Joseph Biden, says CNN, has done more than 80 interviews since his selection as the Democratic vice presidential candidate. Gov. Palin has avoided direct, unscripted questioning by reporters.
With Sen. Biden, voters know what they’ll get — for good and bad. For Gov. Palin, voters know … what? That she’s photogenic, energetic and gives good speeches?
For Mr. Deaver, that’s precisely how politics should be. Give the voters grand images, but not a word of substance. Voters should recognize this behavior for what it really is — censorship.
Gov. Sarah Palin and former secretary of State Henry Kissinger: Henny Ray Abrams, Associated Press.