Confuse, Inveigle, Obfuscate
Metroland, Nov 14, 2002
By Glenn Weiser

Written after the 2002 midterm elections. - GW

Honest Abe Lincoln famously said that you can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time. So if you're a political party out for the good of the wealthy few versus the good of the not-so-wealthy many-"reverse Robin Hood," as the late Sen. Paul Wellstone put it-and enough voters realize it, you're not going to get elected. What you need to do to get into the political catbird seat, then, is fool most of the people most of the time. And that is how the party of Lincoln just swept Congress.
At the core of the Republican party, as I see it, is an alliance of big business and the religious right, who make up about a quarter of the nation's populace, and are the voting base of the GOP on whom White House political strategist Karl Rove has persuaded George W. to keep his chips. We'll give you what you want if you give us what we want, says an administration backed by big business to Christian conservatives. That means the Republicans will appoint activist anti-abortion judges to the federal bench, funnel taxpayer money to faith-based charities, further batter the barriers between church and state by introducing a bill in Congress allowing electioneering from the pulpits of churches, and more, if the religious right gives it what it wants: votes. What big business then wants is a tax schedule tilted to favor the wealthiest, the elimination of the estate tax so that the rich can pass on every cent of their money to their kids, and the relaxation of environmental regulations to make their businesses more profitable. And even though Jesus said it's harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, the religious right says done deal, you got our vote.

But the GOP's problem is that the upper class and the religious right by themselves do not constitute the requisite majority. The real trick for them is convincing enough voters from the political mainstream that right-wing extremists do not control the Republican party, and that the GOP actually cares about the average working family. That's where deception becomes vital, and that's why Bush masqueraded as a moderate in his run for the presidency.

After Enron's demise, the stock market sank and pundits predicted the Democrats would keep the Senate and get the House back in the wake of the accounting scandal. Republican strategists huddled, and although we were not privy to their deliberations, it seems someone must have suggested the idea of life imitating art, in this case the movie Wag the Dog.

Time to bring on Saddam Hussein. The United States had been voting to keep United Nations sanctions in place ever since the end of the Gulf War, but nobody was seriously considering invading Iraq and overthrowing him before now. The conventional wisdom was that the power vacuum produced by his fall could be destabilizing to the region. The Kurds in the north and in parts of Turkey might declare their own state, inviting a military reaction from Turkey. Better the devil you knew than the devil you didn't.

But faced with growing concern over the economy, the administration realized the melancholy sound of bear-market ticker-tape machines needed to be drowned out, and started banging the war drum. We know Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, they said. How do you know?, asked the skeptics. What proof do you have? We can't tell you that, the Bushies said. Revealing what we know may endanger the lives of our spies in Iraq, so you'll just have to trust us. This raises serious questions of deception.

But the "weapon of mass distraction" worked (a recent Newsweek poll showed exactly that: The voters liked the president's handling of the Iraq "crisis") and the GOP got the Senate back. Meanwhile, former Marine and U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter has been speaking out against the rush to war by pointing out that, no, it is not known what Saddam has and what he doesn't have. There is no pressing need to invade now, says Ritter, who counsels going in with inspectors and holding our fire. Ritter also accuses the administration of deception.

In addition to withholding their alleged evidence of Saddam's weapons program, the administration has also less-than-credibly claimed that Al Qaeda and Saddam are working together, even though the CIA doesn't agree. According to a recent New York Times report, the story about 9/11 bomber Mohammed Atta meeting Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague in July of last year has been debunked. Think about it: If Saddam gave Bin Laden weapons of mass destruction, he might use them on Saddam, because Saddam heads the kind of secular regime Bin Laden opposes. Saddam isn't that stupid. So what does the administration do about the CIA's findings? Not wanting to hear what the agency is saying, they announced a couple of weeks ago that they are setting up their own intelligence shop within the Department of Defense, which will analyze data and perhaps, they say, draw different conclusions regarding an Al Qaeda-Iraqi connection. Critics immediately saw the potential for the manufacture of false information and yet more deception.

Now, as a part of the latest Security Council resolution, Saddam has to submit a list of his illicit weapons, or face war. If Saddam accepts the terms of the resolution and his list doesn't match ours, the administration may have a pretext for an attack, even though Syria in particular was given an assurance that this would not occur. But nobody outside of the administration has seen this list. What if Saddam denies having any weapons and invites inspectors back without conditions? That may not good enough. Worse, White House chief of staff Andrew Card said Sunday on Meet the Press that the United States needs no further permission from the United Nations to act unilaterally against Iraq. It appears that systematic deception is being used to sell the public on a military strike on Iraq.

And the purpose of this war, if it comes, will be to distract us again, this time from the hard right legislation Bush will try to push through a Republican-controlled Congress. How much blood will be spilled and how many innocent people could suffer for this crass end is anyone's guess.

List of Metroland Stories by Glenn Weiser                          2002 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.

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