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William Rivers Pitt: The Absurd Season

The Absurd Season

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Friday 15 September 2006

The period before any significant election has been called "the silly season" for years now, and for good reason. Take the run-up to the 2004 election, for one recent example. The occupation of Iraq was spiraling into chaos, American soldiers and Iraqi civilians were dying in ever-escalating numbers, the nightmare of Abu Ghraib had stained us all, and what did that election turn on? The Vietnam War and gay marriage.

That was just silly, but in many ways, what is happening as we creep toward the 2006 midterms goes beyond silly into the realm of the astonishingly absurd.

Republican officeholders and pundits get on the television day after day and ask the single dumbest question one can ask regarding Iraq: "What is the Democrat's plan for fixing the occupation?" This isn't a dumb question on the surface, because of course the Democrats absolutely must have a plan. This is a dumb question because, as things stand today, it doesn't matter a whit what the Democrat's plan is.

The Democrat's plan could involve pulling the entire nation of Iraq up by the roots - sand, trees, buildings and everything else - and transporting it to the moon. The Democrat's plan could be to paint the whole place red before burning it to the ground like Clint Eastwood in "High Plains Drifter." The Democrat's plan could be to stay there forever, or it could be to leave tomorrow bag and baggage.

The Democrats do have a plan, finally, and it seems a good one on the surface. But it doesn't matter, because the Democrats do not control the government. There is not one corner of this federal government, not one aspect of foreign, domestic or economic policy that a Democrat can manipulate or change. The Democrats are in the minority. They hold no chairmanship in either the House or Senate, they are nowhere to be found inside the White House. No cameras or reporters follow them around, because the DC news cares only for people who have power.

This government belongs to the Republicans today, as does the occupation of Iraq. Asking the Democrats for their plan is like asking someone sitting in the nosebleed seats at a football game to send in plays to the quarterback. But we hear this dumb question anyway, because we have sailed past silly and into absurd.

This absurdity expands when we actually sit down and listen to the people who do wield power in this government. George W. Bush, for one, has been running around the country at a manic pace, trying to conflate Iraq with the attacks of September 11. It doesn't matter that none other than George himself has stated without equivocation that Iraq had nothing to do with those attacks. The Senate came out last week with a report shattering the last lingering myths about this so-called connection. Newsweek on Wednesday drove a final stake through the heart of the "Atta met Iraqi agents in Prague" story line, which Dick Cheney has continued to bring up for almost five years now.

It doesn't matter, because facts don't matter. If George has his way, these elections will once again be about fearmongering passed off as patriotism. Anyone disagreeing with our course in Iraq is abetting terrorists, according to Dick Cheney, or is the moral equivalent of Nazi appeasers, according to Don Rumsfeld, or is a disservice to the memory of those lost on 9/11, according to Bush.

Herein lies the absurdity. It was bad enough in 2004 to have an entire national election turn on issues that had nothing to do with what the country was facing. Today, there appear to be a number of serious issues on the table - Iraq, torture, national security - but these issues are being transmogrified by the GOP into debates that bear no relationship to reality.

The tea leaves appear to indicate that the GOP is in significant trouble with these upcoming midterms. The number of races that are up for grabs have doubled in recent weeks, and the poll numbers are all trending against the majority. In the end, however, this means absolutely nothing. If the GOP is allowed to successfully alter the conversation regarding these issues, or if their idiotic straw-man premises are accepted as part of a legitimate debate, it won't be long before people start doubting whether water is actually wet.

The Democrats do not control this government, but they do have a say in their own fate. Entering into one of these facile debates - How much torture is acceptable? How is Iraq the "central front" of the War on Terror? - is a mistake on its face. Democrats must begin using a simple four-word phrase over the coming days and weeks. "I reject the premise" should be their mantra, and keeping the absurdity to an absolute minimum must be their ultimate cause.

The Republicans are terrible at governing but excellent at winning elections (with a little help from friends). One of their main points of success has been to forcefully define the parameters of any political conversation, and they do this by foisting utterly meaningless false premises on the populace. If this election season is to be saved from another bout of absurdity, the Democrats must thwart this trend every single time they see it.


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.

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