Opinion » Ted Rall

Tortured Logic

Bush's Propaganda Rubicon


SACRAMENTO-Pushing the limits of rhetorical credulity has proved one of the Bush Administration's most effective tactics. At a time when leftist postmodernists argue against objective truth and rightist anti-intellectuals promote proven lies as absolute truths, reality has become marginalized by legitimized frauds.

In this twisted post-objective world, White House spinners see every screw-up as a golden opportunity. Not only did he not lose the election, Bush and his media organs drone on, he won a mandate! If WMDs weren't found in Iraq, it just proves that they were moved to Syria-not that the war was based on lies. The former detainees who claim they were tortured at Gitmo? They "hate America," says Bush. Besides, they had been "trained in some instances to disassemble [sic]-that means not tell the truth." Why did the military release anti-American terrorists? They don't have an answer to that. Yet.

Purveyors of propaganda, like pushers of narcotics, seal their doom when they start partaking of their own product. The first signs that the Bushies were breaking this cardinal rule appeared earlier this year after demonstrations led Syria to withdraw troops from Lebanon. Kindly ignore the bombs blowing up scores of Iraqis and American occupation troops, the neoconmen demanded, even arguing that coverage of the carnage plays into the hands of the Iraqis-er, terrorists. Events in Lebanon, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, they declared, vindicated Bush, pre-emptive attacks, the war on terrorism-everything. "Well, who's the simpleton now?" crowed conservative columnist Max Boot in the Los Angeles Times, as if war were a game. Which it is when you wage it for fun, safely ensconced behind a computer keyboard thousands of miles away from the front lines.

In college, I had a pothead pal who liked to score in spectacularly dangerous neighborhoods. "They won't mug me," he'd say, "because they know I'm cool." His rationale mutated after he got beaten and robbed: "They're done with me now; next time, they'll go after someone else." He thus talked himself into going back, and got mugged again.

Propaganda, like any other drug, dulls the mind and destroys common sense.

Politicians live or die on their sense of what the average voter cares about and suss out their take on any given issue. Republican leaders put a thumb right on the national pulse after 9/11: Americans were willing to do just about anything in the name of fighting terrorism, including going to war against two countries that had little to nothing to do with the attacks. Working up the gay-bashing anti-abortion bigots proved equally potent in 2004. But victory wasn't the blank check for which they'd hoped. They lost touch. They believed their own hype. They overreached.

People don't want Social Security to be privatized. Nor will they accept, despite Rumsfeld's oughta-be-classic channeling of Rudyard Kipling "it's dangerous to civilize nations," an endless occupation of Iraq. Failing an increasingly elusive military victory against the Iraqi resistance, the American public is looking for any excuse to cut and run. Revelations of systemic torture of innocent civilian detainees by American troops at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram provide a perfect reason for immediate withdrawal. There are neither WMDs to find nor hearts and minds to win, so why the hell are we there?

It's American common sense at its finest, but Bush is too self-benumbed to see it.

The Pentagon released a report finding that, despite "a consistent, documented policy of respectful handling of the Koran dating back almost two and a half years," military investigators had confirmed five cases of desecration of Islam's holy text by American soldiers. But when Bush and his dogs took to the airwaves to bark "Only five! Only five!," even owners of multiple patriotic car magnets shrugged. An Amnesty International report that called Gitmo the "gulag of our time" and declared the United States the world's most influential torture state stuck. Even Fox News asked whether the GOP would suffer in the 2006 midterm elections as a result.

Standard Bush tactics of blaming the murder and torture of Muslim prisoners on "a few bad apples" like Lynndie England are falling flat. Even people who voted for Bush and supported his wars are changing their minds about torture. What's going wrong?

Where there's smoke, there's fire, and most Americans know that if the Pentagon confirms five cases of trashing the Koran, there are probably hundreds, possibly thousands more cases, unconfirmed by official channels but no less true. Ditto for the torture allegations. How often have you driven faster than the speed limit? What percent of the time did you receive a ticket? How many times have you fudged your taxes? Ever been audited? Now consider this: How often would you get caught if you had the federal government to cover up for you?

Americans know that torture is the norm and that Bush approves of it. The more they focus on what that says about America, and thus about them, the more their revulsion will grow. It will take more than the usual pooh-pooh propaganda to distract them from their growing disgust.