Seduced by the promise of spring and economic upswing, (my cat stepped on the TV remote and I inadvertently fell asleep to Fox news) I misplaced all good judgment and went car shopping. Akin to Alice who gingerly stepped into the upside down world of the looking glass, I, with due precautions from friends, relatives and a recovered car salesman walked boldly into the underworld of auto dealerships–by myself.
Immediately, upon entering the dealership, I became disoriented. Up was down, down was up and no rap was too slick nor sales pitch too seductive. They smiled, cajoled and fraternized while surreptitiously sweeping up the psychological breadcrumbs I dropped behind me as I meandered through the dealer parking lot. The trail to my firm resolve not to spend more than my self-prescribed budget was whisked away with jokes, flattery, and fear inducing parables.
Like George Bush promising a better America, the car salesman maintained an ear-to-ear grin and guaranteed me a fair deal.
I didn’t just need a car, I needed protection against my enemies–everyone else on the freeway–they cautioned me. And I needed fiscal protection in the event my enemies totaled my new car. For a mere $500 extra, I was guaranteed full reimbursement for the full value of the loan should the unfortunate but obviously inevitable tragedy occur. Clutching my breast in fear, I rationalized that was a small price to pay for that kind of security–budget or no budget.
By the time I drove off the lot I had procured my first brand new car and absorbed the sales rep’s line of thinking. Never mind that it was several thousand dollars more than I could afford or that my payments spread over 6 years would cost me several thousand dollars more. It was new and it was mine. Well, almost.
Several days after honeymooning with my new vehicle, I received a call from a rather brusque finance rep at the dealership inviting me to sign the final paperwork. The lenders had rendered their decision and “by the way, the interest rate is double what you agreed to”. I was stunned. Apparently the single blemish on my extensive and otherwise untarnished credit history was sufficient to double my rate. In addition, I discovered after reviewing the original documents, I had actually paid nearly $500 over the list price of the car. So much for that great deal. All the promises and good faith handshakes evaporated into queasy feelings of gullibility followed by violation. At that moment I felt like a Florida voter.
Sound Familiar? In many ways the car shopping experience epitomizes what millions of Americans feel since the last election–dazed, confused and deceived. Even though the sales techniques are similar, the sleight of hand practiced at a car dealership withers in comparison to the hucksters selling war and fear–at retail prices in the White House.
According to Congressional Budget Office projections, defense military spending will exceed 451 billion while the federal projected budget deficit grows towards 470 billion this year. This explains why the White House launched a massive public relations campaign aimed at convincing the American public–and the rest of the world–that freedom and security are justifiably expensive and worth paying retail. Just ask Haliburton.
Over a year has passed since America forced its war placebo down the collective throats of the entire world. Bombarded with the fast-talking and fear engendering rhetoric by the White House, many U.S. citizens were swept up in the reverie and unquestioningly took their medication. For most of the globe it was a bitter pill. But the refusal to fully swallow the discourse of terror and weapons of mass destruction or liberty and democracy for Iraqis resulted in a global regurgitation that exposed the truth. And now, the White House points fingers at Richard Clarke, the Democrats, Congress–it changes daily– and anyone else brave enough to speak truth to power. Unfortunately until recently they were few and far between.
Back at the dealership I, became a caricature of a car consumer lapping up pithy sales slogans like a thirsty hyena in a stark desert. Like many Americans wanting to convince themselves of an altruistic war, I longed to believe I deserved a new car–regardless of the price. And we, the American people, drunk with promise and denial, desperately needed to believe bombing Iraq was a noble gesture. It wasn’t and it isn’t.
What I didn’t understand about the upside down world of a car dealership was that none of the conventional rules of logic, math or decency apply. The bottom line is: do whatever it takes to get what you deserve–which is determined by what you desire. In the upside down world I deserve more than I can afford regardless of my finances as long as my material appetites are satiated while the salesman does whatever it takes to make the sale.
Just as the lines between necessity and affordability were temporarily blurred by a relentless salesperson, Americans were hoodwinked by an ingenious public relations campaign that inhibited any discernment of truth. We bought a war that no one could humanely, monetarily or politically justify or afford and now our military, the world and especially the Iraqis are paying the price of increased volatility, hostility and mistrust.
If I ever decide to buy another car in future, I will avoid being hoodwinked by doing my own calculations and making better choices. Next fall the entire country will have the opportunity to do the same. By doing the math together we can ensure that Bush is re-defeated in November.
Molly Secours is a writer/speaker filmmaker and television host of “The Not Just Talk Show” in Nashville TN firstname.lastname@example.org