Bush: Beyond Reason
By Robert Parry
October 19, 2004
Journalist Ron Suskind relates a chilling conversation he had in 2002 with a senior aide to George W. Bush, who taunted Suskind for being a person from what we call the reality-based community.
The Bush aide said this reality-based community consists of people who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. Suskind nodded in agreement and muttered something favorable about the principles of the Enlightenment, only to be cut off by the aide.
Thats not the way the world really works anymore, the Bush aide told the journalist. Were an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while youre studying that reality judiciously, as you will well act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and thats how things will sort out. Were historys actors and you, all of you, will be left to study what we do.
In many ways, that quote cited in Suskind's New York Times Magazine article about Bushs faith-based presidency sums up the anti-rational arrogance that has become the hallmark of Bushs inner circle, a group that apparently thinks that its actions transcend both law and reason. [See Without a Doubt, New York Times Magazine, Oct. 17, 2004]
Suskind, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, quotes other Republicans who have concluded that Bush believes or at least gives the impression he believes that his judgments are directed by God.
I think a light has gone off for people whove spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct hes always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do, said Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a Treasury official in the first Bush administration. He truly believes hes on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.
Because Bush is convinced of his rightness, he often snaps and snarls at aides who question his gut judgments, according to Republicans who have watched Bush in action. This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts, Bartlett told Suskind.
In an earlier book, The Price of Loyalty, Suskind recounted the internal battles that led to the forced resignation of Treasury Secretary Paul ONeill, who then became one of the first Bush insiders to sound the alarm about Bushs hostility toward reality.
ONeill described a host of administration policies from Bushs preemptive wars to the budget deficit that were impenetrable by facts. ONeill, who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations and later ran Alcoa, was startled by the contrast in Bushs administration where major decisions were made with little deliberation beyond Bushs tendency to embrace ideological certainties.
ONeill said Bush was clearly signing on to strong ideological positions that had not been fully thought through. But, of course, thats the nature of ideology. Thinking it through is the last thing an ideologue wants to do. [For more on Bushs view toward reality, see Consortiumnews.coms A Political Battle for Planet Earth.]
Yet, while it may be troubling that Bush runs the worlds sole superpower on gut instinct that he may think is divinely inspired, it is perhaps even more troubling that large numbers of Americans are ready even determined to endorse this approach in granting Bush a second term.
What appears to have happened is that a significant swath of the U.S. population has embraced a political mysticism which accepts Bush as a kind of cult leader. For these Bush supporters, it doesnt matter that he has big gaps in his knowledge of the world or that he sometimes invents his own reality. They have come to see Bush as a messenger from God, an impression that Bushs handlers and Bush himself have cultivated.
In the third presidential debate, for instance, Bush said one part of my foreign policy is that I believe that God wants everybody to be free. In other words, Bush was justifying the invasion of Iraq, at least partly, on the basis that it was what God wanted.
This notion that God has adopted a foreign policy that involves killing tens of thousands of Iraqis and imprisoning thousands more in the name of bringing them freedom may strike some theologians as bizarre, even grotesque.
But Bushs comment had a pop religiosity that resonates with his fundamentalist Christian base. Many of these same conservative Christians also are fascinated by apocalyptic interpretations of the Book of Revelation and have made the end-time left-behind series major best-sellers. Reality at least as the Age of Reason understood empiricism has little place in this thinking.
Still, the political mysticism that is lifting George W. Bush's candidacy is only part of what has happened in the United States.
Others in Bush's support network are cold-blooded professionals, part of a powerful conservative/Republican infrastructure that has been built over three decades with the goal of ensuring that conservative politicians control the U.S. government. These political operatives and media personalities have little regard for empirical fact either, though it's less personal than professional, when they spin words and events in ways that work to Bushs advantage.
In my new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, I chronicle how this remarkable conservative infrastructure of think tanks, news outlets and attack groups developed since the mid-1970s as a reaction to Richard Nixons ouster over the Watergate scandal and as a response to the student unrest that contributed to the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.
While the two George Bushes ended up as the chief beneficiaries of this Right-Wing Machine, the infrastructure had broader goals for transforming American politics and preventing another Watergate-style debacle or another anti-war movement. It's watchword was the intelligence concept of "perception management."
George W. Bush's administration also has found it easier to manipulate information because two of the checks on government deception came under extraordinary pressure during the 1980s. In Secrecy & Privilege, I show how the Reagan-Bush administration made great strides in taming both the CIAs analytical division and the national press corps.
The purging of many dedicated intelligence analysts in the 1980s caused lasting damage to the CIAs analytical division, which became a shell of its former self. By the second Bush administration, the once-proud division was acting as little more than a conveyor belt for politicized intelligence, including the hyped and bogus warnings about Iraqs non-existent weapons of mass destruction.
Similarly, the national press corps having seen careers of many independent-minded journalists shattered shirked its duty to skeptically examine the governments case for war with Iraq.
Some blame also must fall on Democrats and liberals who failed to counter the rising threat posed by this three-decade assault on the nations information base. As Republicans and conservatives poured hundreds of millions of dollars into building a permanent media/political infrastructure, Democrats and liberals mostly sat on the sidelines or made excuses why they couldnt match up in this war of ideas.
Though some prominent liberals say they now get the need to battle over information, their hesitancy continues. In a new book, The Road to Air America, one of the liberal radio networks founders, Sheldon Drobny, describes the resistance he encountered from limousine liberals in California and elsewhere while trying to raise money for Air America. It was too risky an investment for most peoples taste, Drobny wrote.
The cash-strapped network featuring programs by comedians Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo staggered onto the air on March 31, 2004, but its success has been limited by lack of resources and limited distribution around the country. A major investment of money by wealthy liberals might have ensured that talk radio, countering Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives, was reaching most Americans, not just those in scattered cities.
When liberals have spent money on media in recent years, it was often to buy ads on network TV, rather than to build dedicated outlets as the conservatives have done with the likes of Rupert Murdochs Fox News and Sun Myung Moons Washington Times.
So what can Americans who are part of the reality-based community do?
First, they must understand the nature of the challenge. What is at stake on Nov. 2 is not just the election of a President, it is whether facts should matter in deciding how the U.S. government functions at home and abroad.
George W. Bush has signaled repeatedly that he is a gut player who eschews detailed analysis in favor of action that he may believe is inspired by God. John Kerry believes that U.S. policies must be anchored in a thoughtful, even nuanced, assessment of the facts an approach that has opened him to criticism for lacking Bushs decisiveness.
Second, reality-based Americans must realize that when Bushs team talks about a war of ideas, they are not speaking metaphorically. To reverse Karl von Clausewitzs famous dictum, one might say that the Bush team views the war of ideas as an extension of violent conflict by other means. They are not simply seeking to win a debate; they are determined to destroy or at least marginalize their adversaries.
Third, the defense of the reality-based community will be expensive. A great amount of time, talent and money will be required to produce solid information on important topics and to build outlets TV, radio, print, Internet that can put the facts before the American people, regardless of what the mainstream news media wants.
Fourth, this will be a long conflict, extending well beyond the Nov. 2 election regardless of which candidate wins.
If Bush gains a second term, the reality-based community can expect to come under a virtual siege with Bushs victory cited as proof that Americans want single-minded leadership, not complicated analyses of the challenges ahead. The cult around Bush will strengthen and might grow even more intolerant of dissent.
If Kerry manages to pull off an upset, the conservative/Republican infrastructure will target him as it did Bill Clinton in the 1990s. A counter-infrastructure will be needed to offset any unfairness.
If Bush loses, immediate steps also should be taken to reverse his executive orders that have kept historical records from the 1980s and early 1990s out of the public domain. The Democrats must not follow the precedent set by Bill Clinton, who in 1993 sidetracked investigations into Reagan-Bush policies out of wishful thinking that his forgive-and-forget approach would meet with some Republican reciprocity. [For the grim results of Clintons approach, see Secrecy & Privilege.]
As readers of Consortiumnews.com know, we have tried for nearly a decade to use this Web site as a way to collect and piece together important parts of the nation's recent historical record what we have called lost history. But these types of efforts must be multiplied many times over in the future.
Americas reality-based community must commit itself to building a full and honest record of both historical and current events facts that can serve as a foundation for a healthy American democracy based on truth, not fantasy.
Award-winning investigative reporter Robert Parry's latest book is Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. It can be purchased at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com.
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