Mark Green, AlterNetW's Reality GapSat Feb 21 10:14:05 2004184.108.40.206
http://alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=17907 W's Reality GapBy Mark Green, AlterNetFebruary 20, 2004George W. Bush is different, very different. Other presidents havemisled, deceived, even lied. When Ike was asked his worst mistake, hecandidly said, "The lie we told [about the U-2]." LBJ and the Gulf ofTonkin were examples of both deception and self-deception.The problem today is not simply that "Bush is a liar." While only heknows whether he's intentionally saying untrue things, it is a provablefact that he says untrue things, again and again, on issues large andsmall, day in and day out. The problem is not "16 words" in last year'sState of the Union but 160,000 words on stem cells, global warming, the"death tax," the Iraq-9/11 connection and the Saddam-al Qaedaconnection, the rise of deficits, cuts to Americorps, the air indowntown Manhattan after 9/11. On and on. It is beyond controversy thatW "has such a high regard for the truth," as Lincoln said of a rival,"that he uses it sparingly."Why this penchant for falsehoods?First, George W. Bush begins any policy consideration with threefundamental questions: What does the religious right want? What does bigbusiness want? What do the neo-conservatives want? If he has stood up toany of these core supporters in the past three years, examples don'tcome readily to mind. Convinced by political advisor Karl Rove that theway to a second term is to "activate the base," his policy process ismore catechismic than empiric - instead of facts leading to conclusions,conclusions lead to "facts."Second, he is openly uninterested in learning and reading - the Bushes"aren't serious, studious readers" he has said, also admitting that henow reads headlines, not articles. The point is not that he's stupid,only that he knew less about policy and the world as a presidentialcandidate than the average graduate student in government. LackingEisenhower's worldliness or JFK's intellect, however, Bush is prone tograb onto a politically useful intellectual framework like a lifepreserver and then not let go - whether it's Myron Magnet's sourinterpretation of the 60s in "The Dream and the Nightmare" or PaulWolfowitz's Pollyannaish analysis of the likely consequences of anAmerican invasion of Iraq.The result: the most radical, messianic and misleading presidency ofmodern times. Frankly, no one else comes close. It has gotten to thepoint that President Bush appears to believe that he can do almostanything if he says the opposite: hence "no child left behind," "cleanskies law," "healthy forests," and "love the poor" are mantras repeatedin the hope that he can bend reality to his will. Arthur Miller calls it"the power of audacity."Bush himself in the past has aptly called the first Tuesday in November"Reality Day" because talk ends when there's a real result. So whathappens on presidential "reality days" when the results are the oppositeof his wishful assertions - when we find neither WMD nor cheering crowdsin Iraq, when a surplus of $5 trillion becomes a deficit of $4 trillion,when there are so few stem cell lines for scientific research thatscientists leave for London, when the ice caps melt due to globalwarming, when a Supreme Court of largely Republican appointees rulesthat affirmative action is not "quotas" but desirable - and when thepopulations of even our allies regard us as a "bungling bully" (in thephrase of the Financial Times).When Presidents Reagan and Bush 41 were shown how their pie-in-the-skyeconomics were producing ruinous deficits, they enacted tax hikes tobegin to correct the economy. Not Bush 43. Hearing only applause as heshuttles between his financial base to military bases - W retreats intomessianic incompetence. "We don't second guess out of the White House,"he announces, confusing stubbornness for strength; and he tells the G-8leaders in 2001, "Look, I know what I believe and what I believe isright."Whenever President Bush is now confronted with an unacceptable reality,he either changes the subject - is steroid use really more importantthan the environment? - or expresses confidence in his certainty. "I'mabsolutely confident that..." he'll say, as if the issue is hisdetermination rather than his conclusion. One is reminded of Igor inYoung Frankenstein, who when asked about the foot-high hump on his backblithely answers, "What hump?"This is not just a credibility gap but a reality gap. An empiricallychallenged and uninformed leader in denial and governing on a (right)wing and a prayer, however, is a big problem. What if Bush werepresident during the missiles of October - would he have been able toavoid a nuclear war? That he squandered a quarter trillion dollars and4,000 American casualties attacking Iraq because al Qaeda in Afghanistanattacked us is not encouraging.Just when they're needed, the usual mechanisms to bring a president tohis senses are badly malfunctioning. A Congress of the same party nowalmost never holds adversarial hearings or holds him accountable, unlikehow the Republican Congress treated Clinton. And with noteworthyexceptions, most of the media essentially gave him a pass on hiseyebrow-raising military and business histories. The early andcontinuing storyline was that he was a charming guy who made up funnynames for reporters and was no pompous prevaricator like his 2000opponent. It was strange that, until the Niger-uranium fabrication, themedia wrote far more about the spectacular deceptions of Jayson Blairthan the more consequential deceptions of George W. Bush.Of course, adding to his immunity is the understandable impulse to rallyaround a president during a crisis - a crisis the president regularlystokes as in his recent "State of Baghdad address" to the Congress. Oras commentator E.J. Dionne put it, W's slogan might as well be "the onlything we have to fear is the loss of fear itself."So it comes down to November 2. If the public rewards W with a secondterm - and with no re-election contest to impose any possible moderatinginfluence - then W's far-right impulses will be vindicated andcorroborated. On that "reality day," which will prevail - Bush'scertainty or our reality?Mark Green, president of the New Democracy Project, is the author, withEric Alterman, of The Book On Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America(Viking 2004).
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