Bill Grigsby: The NeoCon
By Bill Grigsby
Why the fuss that the President lied to the American public about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein? There were so many reasons to get rid of him. We’ve seen pictures of the mass graves, right? The man was a monster, a murderous dictator. He tortured political opponents, plundered the treasury, lavished and killed to maintain discipline among the inner ranks, squandered massive oil wealth building a state-funded personal feifdom while his people embraced the few material advantages afforded by fear and deprivation.
But it seems to me President Bush did say that Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction—so primitive, so barbaric, so Desert Storm —posed an imminent threat to Americans on American soil.
That phraseology is no longer operative. To paraphrase Dan Quayle, "The American people would not want to know of any misquotes that George W. Bush may or may not make." Just watch the pictures. The war-affirming scenes of selected Iraqis participating in a spontaneous demonstration of statue-toppling. Major networks fighting over the rights to the Private Jessica Lynch rescue myth. The daring laptop landing on the USS Testosterone, clearly demonstrating what a studmuffin the President is now that (30 years later) he wants to wear the padded flight suit. So give up.
‘Republican pollster’ Frank Luntz sez resistance to the White House’s television show is futile, because the producers of this spectacle will just bombard us with more pictures of Iraqi children hugging American soldiers, and we know what that does to approval ratings. Give in.
What counts is what The President says today. As the official spokesmodel for NeoConservatives’ infomercial, he’s got the most lines to read in the script, which occasionally calls for him to reluctantly confess his deep piety, do a few fist pumps for the floor cameras, remind people how vulnerable they are and offer to protect them, and say ‘nucular’ whenever south of the Mason-Dixon line.
So why does the White House need a script? As philospher Harry Frankfurt wrote, "Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about." Scripting reduces uncertainty. McDonald’s, sociologist George Ritzer shows, was quite successful applying this logic to food preparation—more control over employees, greater uniformity of product. While scripting a presidency does to spontaneity and sincerity what a black hole does to light, in the case of a misunderestimated President, Bush’s handlers have determined it’s a necessary evil.
Sure, there will be times when 3-alarm fires interrupt the scheduled message. When the White House was accused of lying about its WMD evidence, the script change called for:
1) adding the word
‘programs’ and hoping no one would notice;
2) poking fun at those wacky revisionist historians, which must have hit too close to Irony Ground Zero because that didn’t last;
3) subtly shifting from the latest missing tyrant (LMT) to the liberated Iraqis, and we know how well that’s going, and
4) reminding us we just need some patience (and what better role model for patience than this President?), and
5) claiming a war endorsement from God, garnished with a side dish of gag orders for any insufficiently patriotic relief agencies getting funding from the State Department.
Sometimes one wonders whether they’ve forgotten that the commercial media’s memory holes are emptied weekly, or if they’re just pushing the BS envelope to see what they can get away with.
Government-by-script may not inspire public confidence, nor seem democratic, but if you were paying millions to conservative republicans’ campaigns for access and favors worth billions, would you want your investments riding on the whim of the people or a president who last month said:
"First, let me make it very clear, poor people aren't necessarily killers. Just because you happen to be not rich doesn't mean you're willing to kill."
Well? Not if you happen to be not wanting to decrease your odds of winning. Whether it’s bait-and-switch campaigning, budget fudging, welfare sabotage, war and commerce, or most important, re-election, the ends justify the means. And therein lies one of the problems: a certain amount of improvising becomes necessary when attempting to communicate a fundamentally dishonest message.
But why the sudden fuss in the mainstream press about the President deceiving the public to get his war? Deception has been the BushCo Modus Operandi since before the Supreme Court elected GW Bush president.
The message has since been refined. War is peace. Ineptitude is leadership. Words are actions. Security is freedom. Failure is victory.
But God forbid the press would bite the hand that twists the choke collar and suggest that the President’s Men might have told a fib or two, much less a world-pissing whopper. Or that such a clever president ought to be able to speak for himself, without a script, and have the courage to answer hard questions, more than once or twice in a four-year term.
The official conundrum used to explain the latter would be that the President abhors a media circus. The White House the public sees is a media circus. The acts are heavily produced, the spotlight makes it easier to know which ring to watch, the scenes are scripted and sprinkled with enough code and commercials to keep investors and advertisers happy.
So if the NeoConservative view of the world truly lives up to its billing as an engine for generating wealth, why would its marketing require such sophisticated, organized and well-funded deception, just to maintain an electoral balance? Why would it need marketing at all?
Does Karl Rove think the public might have a problem with auctioning off bundles of public property, interests and assets to the republicans’ corporate bankrollers? What’s wrong with using public office to secure long-term advantages for your political party? Apparently nothing, because the President’s all-important approval ratings haven’t suffered, and the NeoCon faithful are ‘keeping the charge.’
Of course, in the latest poll 30% of respondents thought Martin Sheen was president, and who could blame them for mixing up TV shows?
So the recent fuss in the mainstream press may merely be an intermittent sign of a pulse in corporate journalism. Or maybe an effort to gain ratings by recycling some of the news they ignored the first time around. It will pass. Besides, the Bush White House deceiving the public isn’t news if the big networks don’t report it. Right?
And it’s not NeoConservatism if there isn’t a ‘Con’ in there somewhere.
Bill Grigsby is Assistant Professor of
Sociology, Eastern Oregon