Isn’t it amazing, my friend asks, how the White House successfully spun the war in Iraq to win the support of the majority of Americans?
No, I am not surprised at all, I respond. Americans are malleable, like Silly Putty. Any society that can be convinced that $150 sneakers are the key to status is easily swayed by the power of suggestion. Repeat a notion often enough on television, and Americans will buy it. Or buy into it. Or kill someone to get it.
The administration has proved beyond a doubt that as long as there’s a leering bogeyman, you can even alter the pitch in mid-campaign. First it was Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. When the United Nations didn’t buy that, it became — voilà — liberation of the Iraqis.
Of course, the United Nations never debated the latter question, and neither did we Americans. It was a classic bait-and-switch made possible by the steamrolling of opposition wherever it appeared. Complicit in the effort were the putative “opposition” on Capitol Hill and the mainstream media, which were either too timid to ask competent questions or too bloodthirsty (for Yankee vengeance and huge ratings) to want to.
Now that he’s conquered Iraq, our esteemed leader has launched a campaign for a cause as nonsensical as invading far-flung Third World countries. His remedy for the loss of 2 million U.S. jobs since he took his oath is to eliminate the tax on dividend earnings.
Last week, he mobilized his monosyllabic juggernaut and invaded the great state of Ohio, whose dyed-in-the-wool conservative Republican U.S. Senator, George Voinovich, has demonstrated the temerity to derail Bush’s tax giveaway. Voinovich and Maine’s GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe are the bogeymen du jour, because they joined Senate Democrats in limiting Bush’s $726 billion subsidy for Wall Street investors to a paltry $350 billion.
Displaying his trademark eloquence, the Liberator of Baghdad told a flag-waving gallery in Ohio that a $350 billion cut was “itty bitty.”
The attempt at fiscal responsibility has earned these two Republicans the wrath of Dubya, whose braying sycophantic allies bought a six-figure TV ad campaign attacking Voinovich and Snowe. The message was ever so subtle, clumsily issued under the brand name “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
“At home, President Bush has proposed bold job-creating tax cuts to boost the economy,” the ads say. “But some so-called Republicans like [Voinovich or Snowe] stand in the way.”
In the TV spots, Voinovich and Snowe appear next to the flags of France. They’re cheese-eating traitors, though both voted to give Bush the authority to make war on Iraq.
It’s a manifestation of what some are calling a permutation of McCarthyism — the bellicose and methodical demonization of any and all who deign to oppose. Tail Gunner Joe rose to prominence by hurling frequently baseless accusations against his foes, and many in the press, fueled by Cold War fervor and the lust for a headline, unquestioningly abetted the character assassin.
Or perhaps current events evoke the memory of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, wherein liberals and intellectuals were subjected to often lethal persecution under a program of “rectification.”
The shrill vilification of artists and “celebrities” (who’ve stepped forward to fill the void of dissent created by spineless politicos) suggests a new strain of cultural coarseness and vacuity.
The fact that American forces ignored repeated warnings — and, indeed, their own occupation plan — in allowing the looting and destruction of irreplaceable artifacts and documents from Iraq’s museums and libraries only buttresses the suspicion that since Dubya don’t talk so purdy (never will), cultural history and heritage and any whiff of refinement are conveniently antithetical.
As the sacking was in progress, Bush went on TV to tell the Iraqi people in subtitles that they are “the heirs of a great civilization that contributes to all humanity.”
Rather, they were the heirs.
Meanwhile, back in Lima, Ohio, Bush continued his martial plan with a photo opportunity-pep rally at the plant that produces the M1-A1 Abrams tank, one of the stars of Bush’s TV miniseries in Iraq. Our buff prez clambered atop one of the machines to sing the praises of the vehicle and of Yankee ingenuity, to shamelessly quicken America’s atavistic pulse.
The tank maneuver, like virtually everything else orchestrated by Bush’s chickenhawk brain trust, drips with irony.
Many Americans know that the commander in chief ducked military service in Vietnam with a cushy assignment in the Texas Air National Guard. It was arranged by the speaker of the Texas House at the request of George H.W. Bush, then a congressman.
But how many know that Dubya couldn’t even be troubled to fulfill those obligations? In 1973, his two superior officers could not perform his annual evaluation because, they wrote, “Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of this report.” There is no statute of limitations on the crime of desertion.
Americans can’t put the image of Bush on a tank into objective context because they are abysmally informed. Many lack the skill to absorb — or desire to seek — diverse data. Most get their news from TV. Did you know that the entire text of a half-hour network news report would fit on a page or two of the paper you’re reading? That superficiality might help explain why half the people in this country believe Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for the terror attacks of 9-11. That’s exactly what the president wants them to think.
I wonder about the correlation between a person’s level of education and attitudes regarding the war in Iraq. I call Larry Hugick, vice president and director of political polling for Princeton Survey in New Jersey.
He laughs when I pose my question.
“There is a correlation, sure,” he says. “Sometimes the gap isn’t as large as you’d think, but yeah, of course, there is a correlation.”
Specifically, when Princeton Survey conducted a poll for Newsweek magazine on April 10-11, as the fighting was still raging, respondents were asked: “Whatever your feelings about the Iraq war now, do you think the United States should have begun military action against Iraq when it did, or do you think the United States should have waited longer to try to achieve its goals in Iraq diplomatically?”
Seventy percent of the overall sample said the war should have begun. Twenty-six percent said the United States should have waited longer.
Among college graduates, however, a lesser number, 60 percent, said the timing was right. The percentage of those approving of the invasion went up to 77 percent among respondents with a high school diploma or less.
It’s difficult to make a sweeping conclusion based on one poll. Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, whose findings mirror those of the Princeton Survey’s, attributes the disparity to the probability that highly educated people tend to be Democrats.
I wonder if it’s simpler than that — a matter of information. Or rather, the ability and desire to be informed.
Before you tar me for some foray into elitism, I must disclose that I am a statistical anomaly. I have no college degree.
And I don’t think one is required to recognize that Americans are being spun like tops. Sooner or later, equilibrium vanishes.Jeremy Voas is the editor of Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org