Robert Parry’s new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, is now available for sale, in print or electronically (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). The book’s introduction explains why the theft of key chapters of America’s historical narrative, from the Founding to Barack Obama’s presidency, have been so costly to the nation and the world.
By Robert Parry
There was always something surreal about George W. Bush’s presidency, like a science-fiction disaster movie in which an alien force seizes illegitimate control of a nation, saps its wealth, wreaks devastation on its people, but is finally dislodged and forced to depart amid human hope for a rebirth. In Bush’s case, there was even a satisfying concluding scene as a new human leader takes power amid cheers of a liberated populace. The alien flees aboard a form of air transportation (in this case, a helicopter), departing to the jeers of thousands and many wishes of good riddance.
But then the depleted country must turn to rebuilding and recovery. Many of the humans find their jobs are gone, or their stock portfolios, or their homes. They grow disillusioned and impatient. It turns out that many of the alien’s allies remain in positions of power, a stay-behind force, especially within the nation’s propaganda structure as well as at high levels of the government, courts and business. These operatives quickly get to work erasing memories of how the catastrophe occurred. They write a new narrative that shifts the blame to the new leader.
Facts are selectively presented to convince millions of the people that they should welcome another alien to rule them. Indeed, much of the population begins to accept a story line that places the alien conquest within the context of the nation’s origins. It’s all what the Founders intended. What the aliens understand – since they have studied this population for many years – is that they can direct the people by shaping the historical narrative. If the narrative can be shifted or falsified, the course of the nation can be redirected. By tinkering with the past or blacking out some key facts, the aliens can make their behavior appear normal, even admirable.
In this sci-fi metaphor, the only way for the humans to escape slavery is to rediscover and reclaim their truthful narrative, to identify and eliminate the false story lines that the aliens have inserted into the history. A truthful narrative is their only route to freedom.
On a bitterly cold day – January 20, 2009 – my youngest son, Jeff, then 20 years old, and I joined the masses of humanity that struggled against an overwhelmed mass transit system to get anywhere close to the U.S. Capitol where Barack Obama was to be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, the first African-American to hold that office.
We parked my green Chevy Prism in Pentagon City, an area of shops and restaurants near the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and pushed our way into the Metro station and onto a train that took us across the Potomac River to Washington. There, we found ourselves exiting the train into even a larger throng of people. We inched and elbowed our way to an escalator and ascended to the bright frigid weather that had settled over the U.S. capital.
Bending against the bitter cold, we maneuvered toward the Mall, confronting barriers that required special credentials to pass through. Not having those credentials, we kept bending left away from the Capitol building and its famous white dome. Finally, we found a spot on the Mall almost to 14th Street. We picked out a small opening and stood shivering among the other 1.8 million people who filled the blocks upon blocks west from the Capitol, which looked rather tiny from our perspective about a mile away. Our view of the Inauguration came mostly via the Jumbotrons that were spaced along the edges of the Mall.
Despite the freezing temperatures and the transportation woes – not to mention the devastated economy and the two unfinished wars that George W. Bush was leaving behind – the crowd was remarkably friendly and upbeat. Inauguration Day 2009 was filled with a joy that I have rarely seen on the streets of Washington, a city that even at its best is not known for spontaneous bursts of happiness.
But there was more than joy that day; there was a sense of liberation. People were not only witnessing Obama’s swearing-in, but Bush’s ushering-out. They not only cheered Obama and their other favorites, but many booed those considered responsible for the national plundering, especially Bush and his wheelchair-bound Vice President Dick Cheney.
When Bush arrived or when Cheney was wheeled into view, people shouted in anger or heckled. Bush was serenaded with the mocking lyrics, “Na-na-nah-na, na-na-nah-na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.” One group near us started singing, “Hit the road, Jack.”
Some Georgetown students next to Jeff tut-tutted the failure of the crowd to show more deference to the departing President and Vice President, but most people either laughed or joined in. To them, it seemed that taunting Bush and Cheney was the least that could be done, since the pair had been spared impeachment and any other accountability for the harm they had caused.
Eight years after Bush and Cheney were handed control of the Executive Branch thanks to five Republican partisans on the U.S. Supreme Court who had stopped the counting of votes in Florida, a fuller measure of the consequences from the Bush-Cheney administration was now apparent. Bush and Cheney were leaving behind a ballooning federal debt, an economy in freefall, unemployment skyrocketing (along with bankruptcies and foreclosures), environmental degradation, two open-ended wars that left hundreds of thousands dead, and the nation’s image around the world soiled by torture and other official crimes.
For those who followed the machinations of politics closely, it was also clear how narrowly the democratic institutions of the American Republic had dodged a possibly fatal bullet fired by Bush’s operatives who saw him as a leader to transform the U.S. political system into a kind of one-party state.
Karl Rove and other Bush political aides boasted about a “permanent Republican majority,” one that would be backed by an aggressive right-wing media. In furtherance of that goal, Rove worked to politicize the Justice Department, install ideological judges on the federal bench, and team up with media attack specialists to bully the few dissenters who got in the way.
By hyping allegations of voter fraud, the Bush team also hoped to suppress the votes of minorities and other Democratic-leaning constituencies via ballot security measures. By going after unions, the Republicans reduced the money that Democrats would need to compete in political advertising. By loosening the restrictions on donations by the super-wealthy – in part by packing the federal courts with Republican judges who opposed campaign-finance restrictions – the GOP could further stack the deck.
For those Americans who still hoped for a meaningful system of checks and balances, they were often dependent on the mainstream U.S. news media, but it had demonstrated a breathtaking degree of professional cowardice, especially after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Under Rove’s vision of a restructured Republic with a controlling Republican Party, the mainstream media could be bypassed anyway with a multi-layered right-wing media messaging machine that would influence the public through TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, books and well-funded Internet sites. Rove’s scheme would keep Democrats around for show, a cosmetic appendage necessary to sustain the fiction of a democracy, but the Democrats really wouldn’t have much chance to compete.
When Bush was at his peak of power in the early- to mid-2000s, it seemed like only the bravest Americans – whether in politics, journalism or other walks of life – would challenge this Republican juggernaut. Even entertainers who uttered critical words about Bush – like the Dixie Chicks – faced career reprisals and, in some cases, death threats. Post 9/11, there emerged a feeling of incipient totalitarianism as the Bush administration wiretapped communications and explored ways to “data-mine” the electronic records of virtually anyone who operated in the modern economy – what the Pentagon’s research arm, DARPA, called “Total Information Awareness.” The end of the old Republic was within sight.
It was only because of the courage of a small minority of Americans that this wave of Republican extremism met any resistance at all. Ultimately, however, it was Bush’s own mistakes – the disastrous turns in the Iraq War beginning in late 2003, his botched response to the Katrina hurricane disaster in 2005 and the catastrophic Wall Street collapse in 2008, partly due to Bush’s deregulatory fervor – that the tide gradually turned, making it possible for Democrats to gain a firmer foothold in the Congress in 2006 and then to surge to victory in 2008.
So, on that frigid day in early 2009, there were many cheers for President Obama when he was sworn in and gave his Inaugural Address. But some of the greatest enthusiasm was reserved for the moment when Bush boarded a helicopter for his departure, what many in the crowd viewed as his getaway.
When Bush and Cheney finally left the scene – and the vast crowd began breaking up – the masses in this post-Bush/Cheney America actually had the look of bedraggled survivors in a sci-fi disaster movie, dressed mostly in ragtag clothing – ski caps, parkas, boots and blankets – bent against the cold and trudging through streets largely devoid of traffic. Jeff and I were among them. Knowing the impossibility of using the Metro, we set off by foot, shuffling back toward Arlington, our feet numb, our bodies shivering.
We trudged south toward the Potomac River and picked our way past car barriers onto the 14th Street Bridge, part of the normally busy Interstate 395, except that only buses and official vehicles were using it on Inauguration Day. The bridge became an impromptu walkway with clumps of half-frozen pedestrians straggling across it, over the icy Potomac with a biting wind forcing people to tighten up their mufflers, tug down their ski caps and wrap themselves more firmly in their blankets.
After traversing the bridge, which seemed much, much longer than when I would cross it so often by car, Jeff and I found an exit ramp near the Pentagon, clambered over some road dividers, and worked our way down to Pentagon City and to my car. After driving home and sitting before a fire, it took much of the afternoon and evening for the cold to work its way out of our bodies.
Yet, as we were thawing – and Obama’s supporters were celebrating at Inaugural parties – the Republicans were already contemplating how to ensure the failure of the new President. Obama may have talked about his hope for a post-partisan politics and a nation coming together to confront a devastating financial crisis, but that is not what he would get.
The Republicans had a playbook dating back to the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, when they displayed their new tactics of total political warfare and deployed their extraordinary media clout to challenge Clinton’s “legitimacy.” They kept him constantly on the defensive with investigations, allegations and suspicions. That playbook would now be dusted off for President Obama, except in the intervening 16 years, the Right had buttressed its media power with Fox News and many top-of-the-line Internet sites.
Obama might have wanted political peace but he would get ideological war. The Republican Party, which barely two years earlier had been contemplating a permanent majority, was not about to accept the legitimacy of this child of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya.
Yes, the Republicans recognized that their past leader, George W. Bush, had messed up. But they had come too far to simply sit down with Obama, this mixed-race interloper, and work on some compromises. It didn’t matter that the country was facing the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. Even if some old-time Republicans – the few remaining “moderates” – would consider that possibility, the right-wing infrastructure that had grown with the Republican Party over the past three decades would not allow it.
The Right’s media machinery had its own imperatives. It fed on anger toward “lib-rhuls” and thrived on right-wing conspiracy theories. Like a voracious predator, this right-wing organism sized up Obama as prey. Politically speaking, he would be swarmed upon and torn limb from limb. He would be just a temporary obstacle to the grander Republican plan. Peace? There would be no peace.
Arguably, President Obama’s biggest political misjudgment after his election was to give too much weight to his own rhetoric about a post-partisan Washington, one where the magnitude of the various crises would force the two sides to work together constructively. Or perhaps he simply had to behave that way because he had made so many promises on the campaign trail about how he would reach across the aisle.
If he didn’t at least make the effort, he would stand accused of reneging on his pledges and reigniting the partisan wars. Of course, he could not avoid that outcome, nor could he avert the blame. Mainstream news outlets, like CNN, would frame the story as Obama’s “failure” to end the partisan battles.
Even before taking office, Obama had signaled an eagerness for more continuity with the Bush administration than change, especially on national security and the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He kept in place Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates and retained Bush’s senior military command structure, including the high-profile Gen. David Petraeus.
Both Gates and Petraeus were closely associated with Bush’s 2007 “surge” of U.S. troops in Iraq, which received great credit from the Washington press corps for supposedly salvaging the Iraq disaster from defeat (although the actual reasons for the decline in violence in Iraq were much more complicated and, according to some military analysts, had little to do with adding 30,000 U.S. reinforcements).
Obama also selected for his Secretary of State the relatively hawkish Hillary Clinton, his rival for the Democratic nomination in 2008. When Obama faced early decisions about what to do with the worsening security situation in Afghanistan, these choices would insure that he would be boxed in with recommendations for a similar “surge” there.
But a bigger miscalculation may have been made less by Obama than by many of Obama’s supporters on the Left who unrealistically thought that his election would somehow fix things overnight, that the systemic political changes that the Right had engineered over four decades would just reverse themselves.
On that front, Obama could be blamed for raising hopes too much, but the simple fact was that American politics had been transformed by two elections in particular, one in 1968 when Richard Nixon defeated Vice President Hubert Humphrey and the other in 1980 when Ronald Reagan crushed President Jimmy Carter. Nixon’s victory began the transformation of the Republican DNA, instilling a conscience-less ruthlessness focused only on getting and keeping political power. Reagan’s victory added the ideological component that “government is the problem.”
Combined with those two key victories came clever right-wing messaging, whether the exploitation of racial resentments among working-class whites or the alteration of the founding national narrative into a story of free-market selfishness. The GOP and its right-wing allies also set to work investing billions of dollars in a media out-reach infrastructure. Soon, the Right’s angry messages were everywhere, about how “big guv-mint” programs favored lazy minorities over hard-working “regular” people, i.e. whites. Other messaging blamed the nation’s problems on the interference of “bureaucrats” with the “free market.”
Especially given the failure of progressives to invest seriously in their own media infrastructure to counter these reactionary messages, the Right succeeded in setting the national agenda and rewriting the founding narrative. Again, the Left was caught flat-footed as the Right invested in “scholars” who delved back into the Revolutionary War era and cherry-picked quotes from key Founders that put the “free-market” extremism of the late 20th and early 21st centuries into a seamless context of America’s founding struggle. Unregulated capitalism was made synonymous with the Founders’ concept of “liberty.”
Beyond rewriting the founding narrative, the Right had great success in framing the story of recent American history. From the days of Richard Nixon, the Republicans had grown more and more ruthless in how they grabbed for political power but they also displayed greater and greater skill at concealing some of their more outrageous tactics, even ones that bordered on treason, going behind the backs of sitting Democratic presidents to sabotage their foreign policies.
In 1968, Nixon’s campaign disrupted President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks while a half-million U.S. soldiers sat in the war zone. In 1980, the overwhelming evidence now indicates that Ronald Reagan’s campaign pulled a similar stunt to sink President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to free 52 American hostages then held in Iran. These parallel operations exploited the perceived weaknesses of the two Democratic administrations, that Johnson had no serious plan to end the Vietnam War and that Carter had made America weak before its enemies.
The one big Republican miscalculation over this four-decade-plus era had been the Watergate break-in in 1972 and the botched cover-up which led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974. But even that political disaster taught the Republicans valuable lessons about how to contain potential scandals. Indeed, the failure of Official Washington to fully comprehend the context of Watergate, especially its links to Nixon’s earlier sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks, enshrined a dubious conventional wisdom that Watergate had been a one-off affair traceable to Nixon’s personal paranoia.
The prevailing view after Nixon’s resignation was that the national institutions – the press, Congress and the courts – had protected the Republic from a uniquely dangerous president, but that was only partly true. A misguided lesson from Watergate became a favorite Washington saying, that “the cover-up is worse than the crime.” Yet, if the full Watergate story were understood, it would have been clear that the broader crime encapsulated in Watergate was far worse than the cover-up.
As a setback for Republicans, the messy Watergate scandal was just a blip in a continuum that could be traced from Nixon’s torpedoing Johnson’s Vietnam peace process in 1968 through Reagan’s similar tactics regarding Carter’s Iran-hostage talks in 1980 to the readiness of the Republicans during Obama’s presidency to hold the entire U.S. economy hostage, blocking legislation to reduce unemployment and then blaming Obama for the high unemployment.
Along the way, the Right constructed a media propaganda system that shielded Republicans from much of the accountability that they deserved, making sure there would be no repeat of the Watergate debacle, no future GOP president would be forced out of office by getting caught in a scandal. The mainstream Democrats also played their part in this national tragedy by looking the other way when evidence surfaced about serious Republican misconduct.
Through this era – from Nixon’s 1968 sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks to Obama’s determination to “look forward, not backward” regarding torture and other crimes of George W. Bush’s presidency – a recurring refrain from the Democrats was that a thorough airing of the dirty Republican laundry would not be “good for the country,” an approach that only encouraged the Republicans to be more audacious.
And, as the U.S. press corps became more careerist and less committed to the best principles of journalism, another important check disappeared. If the Founders were right that a functioning democracy required an informed electorate, then they also understood the corollary, that a system with a thoroughly misinformed population would be something quite different, something closer to a form of totalitarianism. It might retain the trappings of a democratic Republic but it would no longer be one.
In such a system, propaganda would systematically manipulate the voters, not just with an occasional lie or some ad hoc spin but with a consistent and unrelenting pattern of deception. A manufactured false history wouldn’t just trick people from time to time; it would be inserted in their minds to control their future political judgments.
This nightmarish end result can be averted – the Republic can be saved – but only if the national narrative is corrected and repaired, if the real story is known. Such an undertaking – to fix the broken American narrative – obviously is a larger task than any one book or any one author can achieve. I don’t pretend to be an expert on every facet of U.S. history. In that sense, I’m sure this book (and this author) will disappoint some readers because some issue – some false narrative that is deserving of correction – is not addressed in these pages. For that, I apologize in advance.
I have addressed other false narratives in my previous books: Fooling America, Trick or Treason, Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege, and Neck Deep (the last written with two of my sons, Sam and Nat). In those books, you can find more about the actual history of America, both the good and the bad. But I believe that the historical accounts that are examined here represent important forks in the road for the American narrative. Straightening out these twisted pathways will give the people a better chance to find their way to a better place.
You can buy America’s Stolen Narrative either in print or electronically (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). If you buy a hard copy of the book through the Consortiumnews.com Web site, you will not only get free shipping but for only a nickel more you can get one of the companion books, Secrecy & Privilege or Neck Deep.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. He founded Consortiumnews.com in 1995 as the Internet’s first investigative magazine. He saw it as a way to combine modern technology and old-fashioned journalism to counter the increasing triviality of the mainstream U.S. news media.