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Bill Grigsby: With Bush, Every Day Is Opposite Day

With Bush, Every Day Is Opposite Day


By Bill Grigsby

If you have children, and you've been searching desperately for a way to explain the twisted logic of contemporary U.S. politics to them, you should document the process when they begin therapy, any notes you might have will come in handy.

Moreover, if you perchance take John Ashcroft or President Bush at their words, you might be a candidate therapy yourself. It's not easy pleasing the thought police. Ashcroft is the answer to the question, "why do you need civil liberties if you've got nothing to hide?"

But don't assume you've gone off the deep end if it seems the White House's media strategy is aimed at people with the attention spans and intellectual sophistication of a toddler.

The strategies of Karl Rove and his PR swat team triggered in me flashbacks to early parenting, when nap management was a religion, and distraction and diversion, simplistic reduction, and moral superiority were tools of convenience.

In fact, Children's games can be useful in translating White House PR swill.

Because children are so important to the White House electoral strategy (in the sense that white suburban moms tend to have them), it seems fitting to use a child's game to interpret their policy statements.

While kids don't have much use for contorted grownup logic, they do like playing the opposite game. If it's "opposite day", everything you say is backwards.

Kids probably like it because when it's opposite day, logic gets stood on its head, communication turned into a game, with sudden license to say things you normally couldn't get away with. Much like White House PR machine.

Of course, one can't just summarily dismiss everything the White House says as linguistic backmasking. For instance, when our President says he wants to squash Saddam Hussein like a scurrying roach, I think he means it.

We can only hope that he's bluffing when it comes to the pre-emptive use of "nuke-yewler" weapons, and not swigging grain alcohol and rainwater cocktails in the Oval Office.

In the opposite game, if the president says he's for "Medicare choice", he really means that he wants to force elderly citizens who need prescription drug coverage into an HMO.

When he says he wants long-term "Medicaid reform", he really means he plans to gut Medicaid and dump the fiscal and humanitarian mess completely onto the states.

When Bush says "compassion", things get tricky. True, he's shown contempt for the poor, he's trying to cut food stamps, school lunch programs, surplus commodity programs, he's forcing welfare recipients to work full-time with reduced benefits (without creating any living wage jobs), decreasing rent subsidies for the poorest, and denying legal immigrants public assistance.

No, compassion is reserved for predatory low-wage employers, investors who've endured the oppressive injustices of double taxation on their stock dividends, and faith-based organizations run by the likes of Pat Robertson, who has seen the light and is now praising the virtues of federally subsidized welfare privatization.

On with opposite day. If the President says that "this White House Doesn't govern from polls", alluding to the Clinton Administration's obsession with public opinion polling, guess what he really means?

As Joshua Green has noted, Bush spends as much as Clinton did on polling, but it's done in secret, probably because instead of using it to formulate popular policies, it's used to market unpopular ones.

But the opposite game is not as simple as it seems. Karl Rove didn't get to be Bush's Brain by guessing zodiac signs at the mall.

For instance, when the President calls for more responsibility from welfare recipients, it doesn't mean he wants them to be less responsible. It could mean he's diverting attention from his own office's reckless and deceptive management of the budget.

When the president says Iraq's leader Saddam Hussein has shown "utter contempt" for U.N. Security Council resolutions, it may mean that Bush is the one who's shown utter Contempt for international law, multilateral treaties, indispensable allies, democratic process, the constitutional separation of powers.

And, perhaps, the truth. When he mentions his "clear skies" program, it doesn't necessarily mean "dirty skies". It means "clean enough" skies, that is, dirtier air than we would have under current law.

And your antennae should be on full red alert when you hear the President preach increasing U.S. "energy independence", since White House energy policy would make the U.S. increasingly dependent on fossil fuels, and on stability in a region we seem determined to destabilize.

The $1.2 billion giveaway he promised Detroit to produce a hydrogen fuel cell car is a tribute to inefficiency, market dysfunction and oil consumption. One of my favourite opposites is the White House's " Governing with Accountability" initiative

It has little to do with accountability, and everything to do with circumventing rules and "competitive sourcing" (translated = privatizing) of federal jobs, since we know from the last year how efficient and accountable large private corporations are.

What the White House is of course doing is the opposite of holding itself accountable, it is shielding itself from any accountability, by making records secret, resisting requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act, accusing critics of aiding terrorists, deferring the most disastrous effects of policy until he is long gone from office, and shielding the President from risky, unscripted interactions with the press that might require Ari Fleischer's special brand of expertise.

And there's "the war", which began months ago in the mainstream press. When the president says we're a peace-loving people, keep in mind he has threatened daily to massacre a wretchedly poor, but oil-rich, country that hasn't attacked us, and poses dubious threat to Americans.

He has called Ariel Sharon a "man of peace", which must mean he isn't, a notion suggested by Sharon's bulldozing of Palestinian communities, and past misdeeds that define atrocity.

And when you hear someone in the White House talk about reducing the risks of terrorism, keep in mind that most everyone outside Fox News ("the Official News Agency of the White House"), conservative think tanks, talk radio and the White House - including Osama bin Laden, CIA chief George Tenet and many U.S. military leaders - thinks an attack against Iraq will greatly increase risk for Americans at home and abroad, will only perpetuate the so-called war on terrorism, and will intensify anti-Americanism among Arab and Islamic groups.

This, as sociologist Charles Tilly once wrote in describing the nation-state, is what racketeers do - increase threats and then offer protection.

These days trusting a press release from the White House is like putting your faith in TV evangelists. True it is partly a matter of perspective - Dubyaspeak may well be comforting code for major corporate donors and conservative Christian groups.

Bush and Rove's short-term personal political victories should be weighed against the longer-term loss of trust in the institution, both at home and abroad, and the fouled nest that awaits future administrations.

Perhaps greater mistrust in government is an investment in the future - it likely means less voters, less scrutiny, lowered expectations, and less pretense about adhering to democratic principles.

At least until the point when policy begins to choke off the life support systems of the most vulnerable (which is happening in my state).

Comparisons of Bush with Churchill smell of right wing PR - his incompetence in the deteriorating domestic arena conjures up comparisons with Herbert Hoover.

The opposite game isn't perfect, but it does help bridge the gaping chasm between what the White House says and what it does.

It's a simple trick that will help you understand what Bush, Rove and Wolfowitz are really up to.

What they do these days is either cloaked in secrecy under a phony security blanket, or merely ignored by commercial media, whose embedded correspondents, in between commercial breaks and boot camps, are eagerly waiting for the rest of us to catch up to their pronouncements of war.

So let us not disappoint them. Give the President his war. I'm sure he knows what he is doing. Besides, today is opposite day.

**********

© 2003, Bill Grigsby

Bill Grigsby Assistant Professor of Sociology Eastern Oregon University bgrigsby@eou.edu


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