In response to earlier coverage of Jeb Bush giving a turtle figurine to a child, Bush campaign communications director Tim Miller writes to Gawker:
Jeb spent 10 minutes talking with the kid about NASA. He thought it was so cool. You wrote a snarky post about it. Man I just really don’t get the snark sometimes. Taking away a kid having a neat experieince.
This is an interesting complaint from the Bush campaign, philosophically, in that it conflates the child’s experience with the coverage of the child’s experience. The child spent 10 minutes (as timed by the Bush campaign, which for this purpose we may as well trust) having a nice talk about NASA (again, as represented by the Bush campaign) with a tall, important-seeming man, and at the end of it he got a little souvenir. That was the child’s experience. It happened; it is irrevocable, even if the souvenir turtle gets lost.
So when the Bush campaign talks about “taking away” that experience, the idea it is literally expressing is one that makes no sense. A post on a website cannot change an event that already happened, in the real world, an hour and a half earlier.
Therefore, the campaign must be talking about something else. The campaign communications director expects us to make no distinction between the substance of a thing and the portrayal of that thing in the media. What matters is not Jeb Bush giving a boy a little turtle to put in his pocket; what matters is Jeb Bush putting the idea of a little turtle into everyone’s pockets.
In Matthew 6:2, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes a point of contrasting the good deed with the performance of the good deed: “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”
But a presidential campaign is all performance. It would be uplifting, in concept, to know that Jeb Bush was running for president by going around having a series of intense one-on-one conversations about space exploration with children, and leaving them little sculpted turtles, a la Melvin the Shaman, as private mementos of the event. Yet as soon as you know it, it is no longer one-on-one or private. The gift ceases to be a gift, and becomes a mere prop.
Or was Miller arguing on the child’s behalf—that the child himself might read the blog post, and retroactively lose the joy of the experience of talking to Jeb Bush? That the media representation of the event is, in fact, more powerful, more real, than the firsthand event itself? If so, the campaign trail is an even worse situation than it is generally considered to be.