New Uses for Duct Tape
Whatâ€™s the old saying – “a picture is worth a thousands words?” Iâ€™ve always been a little skeptical about that phrase, but it was born out last Wednesday when George W. Bushâ€™s “Boxgate” incident hit the airwaves. There was Bush extolling “free trade” (corporate globalization) and his latest regressive tax cut in a St. Louis trucking company warehouse. He huffed and sneered about the superiority of the American System in front of “a printed canvas backdrop of faux cardboard boxes, which featured â€˜Made in Americaâ€™ in large black letters” (New York Times, January 23, 2003). The canvass read “STRENGTHENING THE AMERICAN ECONOMY.” A handful of warehouse officials applauded in the background, framed by two American flags.
The only problem had to do with the only real warehouse boxes that White House “volunteers” could find to arrange in front of Bush. Each box had large pieces of dark brown duct tape placed on their lower left corner. When reporters peeled the tape off, they found three magic words the White House wished to hide: “Made in China.” It was difficult, the “volunteers” knew, to square such evidence (however anecdotal) of corporate Americaâ€™s reliance on cheap overseas labor with the pro-”globalization” and “Made in America” message intended by Bushâ€™s political mastermind Karl Rove. As a young man Rove, it is worth recalling, idolized Richard Nixon. He was reported by the Washington Post to have conducted training sessions for College Republicans in the art of Nixon-style dirty tricks (See Lou Dubose, Jan Reid and Carl Cannon, Boy Genius: Karl Rove, The Brains Behind the Remarkable Political Triumph of George W. Bush, 2003).
The corporate electro-”journalists” (CNN newscasters) who reported the version of “Boxgate” story that I first encountered handled it an interesting way – with a smile. They thought it wasâ€¦ funny. They read the story, showed the clip, chuckled and moved on to the next item. One suspects, however, that the bumbling little White House deception in St. Louis is no laughing matter to the millions of Americans who have lost manufacturing and other jobs to corporate globalization in recent decades. It is no laughing matter, either, to those concerned about the nationâ€™s costly trade and balance of payments deficit or “corporate Americaâ€™s” attraction to low-wage authoritarian states that deny elementary rights to their workers. It is no laughing matter to those who think that elected public officials in “a democracy” are supposed to speak honestly to the people rather than deceive them.
A Chronic “Disconnect Between Message and Reality”
“Boxgate” would be funnier if it wasnâ€™t just a minor part of a much larger and chronic pattern of disinformation and dishonesty in the Bush White House. Two years into the Bush-Rove Presidency, the best question that a journalist could ask White House spokesman Ari Fleischer right now is something along the lines of the following: “Mr. Fleischer, would you care to tell the American people just how unbelievably fucking stupid the White House takes them to be?” Itâ€™s a question that wonâ€™t be asked in quite those terms by the Washington press corps, which speaks in more polite terms, noting at its leftmost margins the “the disconnect between [White House] message and reality.”
By any reasonable standard, however, the scale of that “disconnect” under the current regime at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is exceptional. Letâ€™s examine just four examples of the “disconnect.”
Message: George W. Bush is a “populist” who sides with the “little guy” against Wall Street, is deeply concerned about the plight of the nationâ€™s poor, and seeks balanced economic growth that serves the entire US population.
Reality: Bush has consistently supported the interests of his class brethren in the corporate plutocracy. He has enacted and advocates further tax cuts that give the lionâ€™s share of benefits to the top ten percent of “earners,” do nothing to stimulate economic growth (as even conservative economists acknowledge), and undermine social programs needed by the nationâ€™s rising number of poor.
Message: As “a uniter, not a divider,” George W. Bush is strongly committed to racial justice in America and seeks to heal the racial rift in this nation. In line with Martin Luther Kingâ€™s belief in color-blind equality, he is opposed to the use of race for political purposes.
Reality: Bush appointed a Confederacy enthusiast as Attorney General and refuses to apologize to African-Americans for the crime and continuing legacy of slavery. He has needlessly antagonized African-Americans by making racist federal judiciary nominations and filing a White House brief in the Supreme Court case against the University of Michiganâ€™s affirmative action program, which he falsely accuses of mandating racial “quotas.” His regressive domestic and imperial foreign policy agendas inflict disproportionate pain on African-Americans and people of color at home and abroad. The White House routinely uses race for political purposes, spinning the presence of two African Americans in key foreign policy positions as proof of its racial sensitivity
Message: The likely perpetrators of the September 2001 terror attacks (al Qaeda) attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon because they hate the “freedoms” enjoyed by people in American and Western “civilization.”
Reality: The likely perpetrators are largely indifferent to domestic US society. Their real issues with America relate fundamentally to Americaâ€™s intrusive, imperial and oil-driven foreign policy in the Middle East, which is why European nations (with the possible exception of American lapdog Britain) are much less likely to be targeted by terrorists. Their real goals are to spark jihad within the Middle East and to overthrow Arab regimes they see as insufficiently Muslim. Interestingly, the Bush administration has used 9-11 to roll back the very freedoms that it falsely accuses the terrorists of targeting.
Message: The Iraq regime and its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) present a clear, present and highly significant danger to the American people, making a new American “war” for regime change necessary in Iraq. Iraq is the single greatest threat to world peace and the American people by far.
Reality: The Iraqi regime is effectively disarmed and possesses little if any threat to its own neighbors, much less the US. Its “leader” Saddam is a vicious dictator but thereâ€™s nothing in his past record to indicate that he is suicidal, which he would have to be to use weapons of mass destruction against Americans or his neighbors. North Koreaâ€™s declared intention to begin mass production of nuclear weapons is a much greater threat to world peace and American security. The single most important such threat at present is the bellicose imperial unilateralism of the worldâ€™s leading manufacturer, possessor and distributor of WMDs – the United States, led by the arch-imperialist Bush gang.
The list of the Bush gangâ€™s deceptions, including the bizarre notion of the “Evil-Axis” and Roveâ€™s recent description of Bush as an “environmentalist,” goes on and on. It should be fully compiled and juxtaposed against the Bush administrationâ€™s forthcoming publication of Saddamâ€™s propaganda campaigns of 1990-2003. Surely the White Houseâ€™s effort to turn 9-11 and fear of al Qaeda into rationale for war on Iraq and fear of Saddam should be counted as one of the most remarkable top-down propaganda operations in the modern record. In the meantime, we look forward to elaboration on the above and other forms message-reality “disconnect” tonight, as George W. Orwell delivers what promises to be the most deceptive State of the Union address in memory.
Bush II likes to give his associates knick names. Rove, for example, has received the clever moniker “Boy Genius.” Hereâ€™s one we ought to consider for our President: “Pinocchio.” Unless he actually believes the stuff his handlers have him saying to the people. In which case good old “Dubya” seem as appropriate as ever
We Can See Through Your Lies
Fortunately, there is growing evidence that the American people are on to Bushâ€™s lies. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC polls reports that a 49 percent plurality of Americans now disapprove of the way that Bush is “handling the economy.” Fully 61 percent doubt that Bushâ€™s “economic stimulus package” will do much to stimulate economic growth. Bushâ€™s proposal to eliminate taxes on corporate dividends, the centerpiece of his package, is rated by poll respondents as the least productive among a set of potential actions the government might take to restore growth. By a 59 to 31 percent margin, respondents agree that the package would “benefit the most wealthy” rather than “all Americans equally” – a judgment that Bush has dismissed as “typical class warfare rhetoric.”
Also interesting, the approval rating for Bushâ€™s handling of foreign policy has taken a considerable dive – from 75 to 52 percent – in the last three months, something that cannot but disturb White House strategists as the Bush administration enters its “endgame” in Iraq. Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs notes that “public opinion in the United States and Europe is closer to the French position” – opposition to early military action on Iraq – “than the U.S. [well, White House] position” [emphasis added].
Not surprisingly, Bushâ€™s overall approval rating is falling. It currently rests at 54 percent, down from 82 percent one year ago and 62 percent one month ago. The portion of Americans who express disapproval of Bushâ€™s job performance has risen to 40 percent.
“The Fetters Imposed on Liberty At Homeâ€¦.”
The bad news is that this data probably speeds up the war timetable in the Bush-Rove White House. The conventional political wisdom holds that the people will rally around the president once it becomes clear that “our boys” are entering combat. The Machiavellian counsel of Rove argues that saber-ratting against foreign Evil Others is a serviceable antidote to the domestic populationâ€™s growing unrest over issues of socioeconomic homeland insecurity and related deep inequality. As James Madisonâ€™s once noted, that “the fetters imposed on liberty at home have ever been forged out of the weapons provided for defense against real, pretended, or imaginary dangers from abroad.”
Americans would do well to keep these and other pieces of wisdom from the nationâ€™s revolutionary generation in mind as they try to separate fact and reality from fiction and message in Mad King Georgeâ€™s imperial State of Deception address.
Paul L. Street ([email protected]) writes on history and politics in Chicago, Illinois