“Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,” the title of Al Franken’s book on the American right, is starting to look less like a cartoon and more like a description that could filter into the mainstream. Last week Senator Edward M. Kennedy surprised his Senate colleagues by accusing the Bush team of going to war in Iraq for domestic political reasons, and deliberately deceiving the American public.
“There was no imminent threat. This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that [the war] was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy’s remarks were not the least bit shocking to the tens of millions of Americans who have seen through the fraud from the very beginning. Back in August of 2002, the Democrats were outpolling Republicans on the economy, the budget, Social Security, and almost all of the biggest election issues except “national security and terrorism.” Millions of Americans had lost much of their retirement savings in a wave of corporate crime.
Then came the war talk, and soon all of these issues were out of the headlines. It worked: the Republicans went on to win both houses of Congress in November.
The timing was perfect and the reasons offered for the war turned out to be fraudulent — no weapons of mass destruction, no links between Iraq and September 11. What more evidence would anyone need as to why they did it?
Yet Kennedy is the first political leader with full access to the national media to state the obvious. Hence the swift and shrill response from the Republicans, with House majority leader Tom Delay accusing Democrats of having “spewed more hateful rhetoric at President Bush than they ever did at Saddam Hussein.”
The Republicans have reason to be scared. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll last week asked voters whether they would “probably vote for President Bush or probably vote for the Democratic candidate” next year: 42 percent chose Bush versus 40 percent for the Democrat. This difference is statistically insignificant, and was down from a 52 to 24 percent lead for Bush in April.
Politicians are schooled in the art of compromise and cautious speech, especially in the United States. They often forget that the unvarnished truth can at times be a powerful weapon. And this is one of those times.
There is a part of the electorate, probably about a third, that already knows that the Bush team lied about Iraq and dragged us into this mess for the most unconscionable of political motives. These include people who read Paul Krugman in the New York Times, or use the Internet to find dozens of other well-informed, even well-established writers who have made these arguments persuasively. According to the New York Times, about 38 percent of the public have consistently told pollsters they do not believe that George W. Bush was legitimately elected president.
Another part, also roughly a third, is solidly in Bush’s corner. These are people who get their information from Fox News and actually believe that it is “fair and balanced.” They would support the President if he invaded Sweden to liberate its people from the oppression of their welfare state.
It’s that other third — the swing voters — that the Bush team is worried about. According to the most recent polls, their support for the war is slipping and their skepticism about President Bush is growing.
Many of these people do not get much news outside of the major broadcast media, and therefore have not been exposed to the strong arguments that Kennedy brought them last week. If more political leaders with Kennedy’s level of access to the media were to pick up on these themes, it could seriously undermine President Bush’s credibility.
Still, the biggest group of swing voters will probably make their decision on the basis of the economy. But President Bush is at least as vulnerable on that front, as he is poised to become the first president since Herbert Hoover to preside over a net loss of jobs during his term.
It’s still very early in the game and the Democrats don’t have a candidate yet, but it seems that this presidential election will be theirs for the taking. If they have the courage to take it.
Mark Weisbrot is co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, DC (www.cepr.net).