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September 22, 2006

Truth is stranger than friction

Posted by Phil on September 22, 2006 11:18 AM

"You might think that the enormous gulf between Bush's perceptions and reality on such a life-and-death topic would be, well, newsworthy":

BLITZER: I'll read to you what Kofi Annan said on Monday. He said, "If current patterns of alienation and violence persist much further, there is a grave danger the Iraqi state will break down, possibly in the midst of a full-scale civil war." Is this what the American people bought into?

BUSH: You know, it's interesting you quoted Kofi. I'd rather quote the people on the ground who are very close to the situation, and who live it day by day, our ambassador [Zalmay Khalizad] or General [George] Casey [the top U.S. military official in Iraq]. I ask this question all the time, tell me what it's like there, and this notion that we're in civil war is just not true according to them. These are the people that live the issue. . . .

The Iraqi government and the Iraqi military is committed to keeping this country together. And so therefore, I reject the notion that this country is in civil war based upon experts, not based upon people who are speculating. . . .

That's how I learn it. I can't learn it--I can't--frankly, can't learn it from your newscasts. What I have got to learn it from is people who are there on the ground.

"Blitzer let the issue drop. The reality check only came several hours later, as Soleded O'Brien was talking to CNN Iraq correspondent Michael Ware":

O'BRIEN: You heard what the president had to say, which is, essentially, the good news that out there is not getting reported. Have you found that to be true on the ground where you have been?

WARE: Oh, look, really, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, the fact that, when President Bush talks about those living on the ground, and he cites General Casey and Ambassador Khalilzad, I mean, these are men who could not be more divorced from the Iraqi reality. They very much live within a bubble, be it physically within the Green Zone or be it within the bubble of heavy U.S. protection. And this is true even for their advisers and for the commanders and the American soldiers. I mean, they never take the uniform off. The Iraqi people can never talk to them unless through a filter.

It's very different than living amongst them. And when people say not enough good news stories are being told, you ask an Iraqi family what it is that they're experiencing when their street--the bodies of their neighbors are showing up on their streets. Their kids can't go to school, for fear of crossing sectarian lines. And the kidnapping and killings are just going on around them.

There is no reality outside the cave shadows of American politics. Whoever tells the more compelling narrative holds the floor, and the wags and handicappers in the press cock an eyebrow and say, "Well played, Mr Rove!" Maybe they, too, dread being held accountable for their culpability when and if there's a return of honesty and responsible oversight.

All the media's lapses notwithstanding, the truth is there in plain view for anyone willing to see it. It comes down to the voters deciding, against all the political and procedural odds stacked in Bush and the Republicans' favor, that it's time for them to go; that they rise above this fog of propaganda and argument and judge things for themselves. To those still in need of convincing, the howls of the left are merely the ravings of rage-addled zealots whose hatred for Bush was somehow encoded in our DNA, and not the product of observation and reasoned analysis over the past six years.

Even the most simple statement of fact is now so contrary to administration statements that, in order for the unconvinced to believe what you say is true, they must first be convinced that Bush Is A Liar. And here we come up against the conundrum of the Big Lie. Its audacity is its greatest advantage. The right's dishonest narrative is so effective because it's so difficult to baby-walk even innocent believers backwards to its points of origin. I know: I've tried, with decent, well-meaning people. There are too many layers of things that people must be convinced are not so, and at any step, their wall may go up. In fact, even if they hear and accept everything you say, they may still remain fundamentally unchanged, because their identification is still so strong as an opponent of what you say and all the nasty people they've heard saying it. What you say may be true, but they're too invested in the conflict to just let it go.

I go dumb for long stretches here because what is there to say about Iraq that was not true in November of '02 or March of '03? What is there that was true then that hasn't grown more stark and deadly serious every month since then: the lies that took us there, the historical factors that always stood in the way of success, the blatant and seemingly willful incompetence that guaranteed failure? How have the bombings in Madrid and London, the reliable reappearances of bin Laden, even the administration's own shameless hyping of overblown and hypothetical terrorist threats FAILED TO CONVINCE PEOPLE that we are not, on Bush's terms, "winning the war on terror"?

It's breathtakingly bold politics to willfully shove the truth to the opposing side and then slander it as rhetoric, talking points, moonbattery. And what do you know, it works! Everything's possible at that point. If one side has to be lying for a conflict to be sustained, then anyone can be lying. The elevation of narrative (however dishonest yet compelling and flattering) over facts (which conveniently grow more and more difficult to confront) in the political conversation has trapped us all. It has forced us all through the looking glass. It confounds me, really, what the polticians, pundits, and bloggers of the right--and I'm talking about the supposedly reasonable ones, not the outright shit-eaters--think they will have won in the end. To them, it seems, there are no ends, only the consistently profitable means, and the more they stoke the fires of conflict and controversy--which the promotion of lies cannot fail to do--the more attention and ratings there are to be garnered, playing upon the people's easy preconceptions, biases, and desire not to be bothered. They've built a giant edifice of lies whose very existence legitimizes it. Reputations, careers, networks, whole government agencies--how can all of this be built on deception? The strength of that audacity attracts and seduces even innocent supporters, who don't just buy those lies, they invest in them. As the consequences of failure and exposure increase, so does their resolve. They don't want to look like liars, much less chumps, much less admit defeat to the corrupt or comically inept opponents they've seen vilified for so long....

Right-wing Republican control of America is a bubble, and one day it will burst. It's an old story. The only questions are how violent the explosion will be; whether there will be anything left of our government or political system; and whether that will be a good thing or a bad thing.

That's a nice sharp point to end on, but there is another possibility: That the voters are still willing and able to go to the polls, privately recant, and let the air out slowly.

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