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“Bush Wins on Security”


When it comes to the arrogant, elitist science of political and media spin, there’s no place quite like the United States. A recent opinion piece by Republican strategist Rich Tafel on the front page of the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday “Perspectives” section is an excellent case in point. Titled “Secure in Office,” Tafel’s commentary is accompanied by a picture of the US Presidential Seal on the chest of a medieval knight dressed in full battle gear (available online [without the picture and for 3 more days] at www. Chicago tribune . com/news/ opinion/perspective/chi-0311230258 nov23, 1,7387196.story) – an image certain to warm the hearts of modern democrats.


Tafel’s thesis is that George W. Bush’s re-election next year is “a lock.” He comes to this conclusion from what he calls “a social science perspective.” The “social science” he cites is the famous late psychologist Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” formula, whereby, in Tafel’s words, “most people prioritize their basic needs along a consistent ladder. The highest need is survival, defined by the realities of life at the time,” followed by, in order of significance (by Tafel’s account), the needs for “safety,” “sense-of-belonging,” and “self-esteem.” In peacetime,” Tafel elaborates, “survival is largely economic. But in wartime, no matter what else can be factored in, it is about fighting and winning the war, almost at any cost.”


“The reason Bush will win in 2004,” Tafel proclaims, “is that he dominates on survival and safety…He wins on the highest needs.” The Democrats lose on those needs, Tafel argues, because “many Americans recognize that our unwillingness to confront danger abroad in previous years” – he means to say “under the Democratic Clinton administration” – “brought it to our shores in dramatic fashion on September 11.” “The Bush campaign,” Tafel adds, “will have about $200 million to spend on reminding voters of this point, which seems to ensure a Bush ensure a Bush victory NO MATTER WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON IN THE COUNTY [emphasis added].” Tafel might have added that the Republican convention is being held in New York City to further identification Bush, the Republicans and terrorism’s threat to Americans’ survival.


Democratic presidential candidates are making a big mistake, Tafel feels, by opposing “Bush’s War policy.” This is because the critical mass of moderate swing voters link that policy positively to their upper-rung Maslovian needs. If anything, Tafel argues, Democrats should “pray” for Bush to enjoy rapid, overwhelming triumph in the “war on terrorism.” Such triumph would shift the swing voters back to their lower-rung needs, where the Democrats are more “competitive.” The Republicans, Tafel claims, would be hurt by “a major breakthrough in the war,” such as “a major shift of responsibility in Iraq to multilateral institutions” or “the capture or death of Hussein or bin-Laden.”



A Performance the Nazis Would Envy


This is an astonishingly disturbing argument on numerous levels. There’s the seemingly undisturbed ease with which Tafel, who earns a [probably comfortable] living as a Republican spin doctor, admits that American politics is largely about the Big-Money-financed manipulation of public opinion ” no mater what” is really “going on” in the real world.


There’s Tafel’s candid admission that Bush’s political team has a vested interest in maintaining a perpetual sense of imminent danger amongst the US populace. There’s Tafel over-easy projection of multilateral intervention in Iraq as a victory for the pathologically unilateralist Bush administration.


There’s Tafel’s faux-gullible willingness to refer to the Bush administration’s shifting, one-sided campaign of endless imperial expansion – a crusade that involves direct engagement in massive illegal state terrorism (e.g. the invasion of Iraq) and alliance with numerous state-terrorist client regimes (including but not limited to Indonesia, Columbia and Israel) – as a clearly defined “war” between equals.


There’s the curious and perverse contradiction between Tafel’s notion of waging “the war” “at any cost” and the fact that his party has used “the war” as cover for a richly regressive policy agenda that transfers massive sums to the coffers of the already super-rich in the industrialized world’s most unequal, wealth-top-top-heavy society.


Then there’s Tafel’s refusal to extend his understanding of the power of Bush’s well-funded spin machinery to the question of where the American population’s exaggerated Republican-friendly fear of terrorist attack comes from in the first place. No other national populace is even as remotely afraid of other nations and peoples as the relatively safe and sheltered people of the US. Serious analysts know that fear has been systematically stoked and fed by the Bush administration and “an ultra-compliant media” (Edward S. Herman) that has since 9/11 performed what professor Lance Bennett calls “a near-perfect journalistic participation in government propaganda operations” (quoted in Edward S. Herman, “Bush vs. Security,” Z Magazine, available online at http://memes.org/modules.php?op = modload&name= News&file-article&sid=2163). This fear is a monument to the power of propaganda, one that would be appreciated by Hitler and Goebbels, who envied American public relations and used fear and demonization of manufactured threats at home and abroad to mobilize the German populace in support of fascist dictatorship.



“Bush vs. Security”


The most repellent thing about Tafel’s argument, however, is the passive facility with which it accepts and advances an absurd identification between the Bush administration and the security interests of the American people. In an excellent recent Z Magazine article titled “Bush vs. Security,” the venerable left propaganda critic Edward S. Herman shows the utter craziness of the notion that Bush is “the person who the citizenry can rely on to protect their security interests.” Bush, Herman shows, has been a “calamitous failure on security issues.”


The Bush administration ignored abundant and widely available evidence, including stark warnings from the Clinton administration, that al Qaeda was poised to strike before 9/11. It refused to act on very specific indications of what was to transpire on that fateful day and submitted (on September 10 2001) a Justice Department budget that would have significantly reduced federal, state, and local counterterrorism capacities. It has gone to great lengths to obstruct, delay, and censor congressional investigation of its monumental 9/11 security failure, possibly due in part to concern over possibly embarrassing connections between the Bush White House, the bin-Laden family and Saudi oil interests.


In the wake of 9/11, it implemented a series of silly efforts seemingly designed to do little more than scare the Hell out of the US populace while falsely identifying the White House as the nation’s protector. Among the most moronic actions: the sending of naval vessels to New York Harbor, months of continuous Air Force flights over New York City and other major cities, the introduction of the color-coded terror alert system, and the repeated melodramatic announcement of terror threats and related arrests (e.g. Padilla’s “dirty bomb” conspiracy).


At the same time, Bush used 9/11 to advance hugely expensive pet military projects (e.g. National Missile Defense) that have nothing to do with making the American people safer from terrorism and everything to do with feeding the insatiable profit lust of the high-tech corporate sector. These expenditures combined with huge, regressive, and plutocratic tax cuts (also implemented under the cover of “the war”) to held undercut the public sector’s ability to pay for effective homeland security.


To top it all off, the Bush administration implemented policies and carried out actions that seem designed to generate more and bigger terrorist actions against Americans and their perceived allies and clients at home and abroad. It has dangerously combined unconditional support for Israel’s illegal, racist, and state-terrorist occupation of Palestine with indifference to Israel’s massive WMD (including nuclear, chemical and biological) arsenal, the killing and injuring of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi and Afghan civilians, the mass criminalization, harassment, incarceration, and mistreatment of countless Arabs, the murder of (Taliban) prisoners and the general open humiliation of Arab and Southwest Asian people. These searing, hate-generating actions have been a recruiting bonanza for al Qaeda and other terror networks. They have led to a significant escalation in terrorist activity against the US, its allies and its proxies and they are turning Iraq into precisely the terrorist hotbed it was falsely accused of being before the US invasion. (Herman, “Bush vs. Security”). All of this is perversely consistent with Tafel’s notion that the Republicans benefit from the “war” being perceived as unresolved.


What about Americans’ domestic economic, social, environmental, legal/civil-libertarian, medical, educational, and old-age security? All of these are under ruthless assault from the Bush administration and the Republican’s savagely regressive homeland policy agenda. That agenda is dedicated to “starving” those parts of government – what leading Republican strategists call (following Alexander Hamilton’s famous description of the American population, “the Beast”) – that protect the populace from the excesses of unbridled state-capitalist greed.


The final problem with Tafel’s spin on contemporary US politics is his inability to see anything more than partisan advantage behind the White House’s interest in prolonging “the war.” The reality is darker, deeper and more bi-partisan than that. Dangerously counter-productive though it may be when it comes to protecting American people, the post-9/11 “war on terrorism” is enormously useful for those who seek to turn policymakers of all political affiliations into abject servants of the powerful. “The war” has been a heaven-sent windfall for highly concentrated wealth and power, creating a context in which it has become all too easy for government to cut taxes on business, give resources away to the corporate community, slash environmental controls, cutback social welfare programs, obstruct labor organizations, transfer enormous public subsidies to massive high-tech and other strategically placed “private” firms, and to paint out those who oppose such polices and actions as insufficiently patriotic. This agenda reflects the perceived needs and interests of leading segments of a corporate and financial ruling class that exercises major influence on politicians and policymakers from both wings (Republicans and Democrats) of America’s ruling Imperial Chamber of Commerce Party.


Survival as the anti-Bush Argument

For my part, Maslovian survival and security needs would seem to mandate voting Bush (and as many other Republicans as possible) out of office in 2004. Under the United States’ rigidly controlled narrow-spectrum electoral, party, and policy system, this means supporting Democrats. This might be a bit contrary to my “self-esteem” needs, given the sad fact that Democrats have generally enabled Bush’s terrible terrorist “war on terrorism,” but to struggle for justice and peace, it’s useful to survive, and chances for survival would appear to be considerably greater with the nationalist right wing out of power.



Paul Street ([email protected] [email protected]>) is a regular Z Net Commentator. He writes on race, class, imperialism and thought control. [email protected]>

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