Loaded with substance
There is a telling and habitually ignored contradiction in the question based on the faulty assumption that "symbolic choices" are "devoid of substance."
Symbolic choices and acts are loaded with substance, though not necessarily spelled out in wonky policy statements. History is a chronicle of symbolic acts. The one that first comes to mind goes back to 1588 when Queen Elizabeth departed from Buckingham Palace in the Royal carriage to Tilbury to greet the victorious British armada as they docked. She spent hours beforehand, preparing a speech and dressing in a carefully tailored 40-pound breast plate, to appear as brave as those troops she was welcoming. Her speech to the "loving troops" is engraved in English history.
Caesar paid special attention to the drape of his toga before every public appearance. In World War II, most of us knew of FDR's disabilities, and yet he traveled to North Africa to praise those U.S. and British armies who brought the fabled Rommel to his knees. It was a key turning point in the war. Roosevelt also visited air force bases in England. Were those trips devoid of substance?
Is it meaningless that the guest of honor at President Obama's first State Dinner is the Prime Minister of India, given our recently strained relationship? Did Obama's speech in Cairo make any difference? Might it have led to the continuing instability in Iran's ruling class? Was Reagan's 1983 remarkable speech in Lebanon after the massacre of hundreds of Marines without substance?
I'm sure there are any number of vacuous ceremonial tchotkes that mean nothing and are "bridges to nowhere." Had President Bush shown up at Katrina the day it hit rather than "a few days later," would his sudden drop in approval ratings -- perhaps a turning point in his presidency -- have occurred? Did his "symbolic choice" lack substance? I leave our readers with those questions.
Posted by: G2A2K | November 30, 2009 4:04 PM
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