September 15, 2005
The Man in the Flaming Britches
commentary by Mary Wildfire
Some people think Bush's lies may be catching up to him -- that his supporters are finally beginning to see through that long list of fabrications, falsehoods, prevarications, fibs, equivocations, untruths and other abuses of factual speech. Since most of these supporters rate integrity very highly
-- should you ask them -- this should be a very serious matter. But I predict that even the most undeniable evidence of lying on the part of this President will cost him very little support among that large minority which has put him where he is
-- because in some very important respects, they like Bush because he lies.
At a Gridiron Club dinner in March of 2001, Bush said jokingly, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on." Yes, it was a joke. But it also seems to be a key Bush policy, and it has worked well -- so well that many wonder if there's something in the air or water causing Americans to be amazingly stupid. But I'm arguing that the problem isn't really stupidity-that Bush's willingness to lie to his followers is a key part of his success.
Consider the alternatives.
He could tell us something like this: "We are all going to have to make some very big sacrifices, because the world is beginning to run low on oil. We still have quite a bit of coal in this country, but coal is the worst offender on the problem of global climate change, and we're going to have to deal with that. We've delayed too long
-- if we are to avoid passing on a terribly impoverished world to our children, we must take drastic action now. So we've got to tighten our belts; we'll have to drive small, efficient cars or use public transportation. At three dollars a gallon, gas is still too cheap.
We need to take off the subsidies. We've got to stop demanding that our homes and workplaces be exactly seventy degrees all the time. We've got to stop consuming a quarter of the world's resources with four percent of the world's people."
Instead, Bush starts with the assumption that "the American way of life is not negotiable." (It was his father who said that.) Unfortunately, this assumption is based on fact
-- the fact that whenever a politician starts talking in the vein of the above paragraph, the voters reject him or her. Sacrifice is not fashionable in the US.
Alternatively, Bush might say something like this: "We know you want to keep driving that SUV, and running across town on a whim; we know you like your homes and cars toasty in the winter and chilly in the summer. We know how you love to shop. But the oil is beginning to run low, and with India and China sucking up a lot more of it now, so we can see a crisis ahead. We can't move too quickly to renewable energy, because our main campaign
contributors and allies are the big oil companies, and they would lose too much revenue if we used much wind power or solar power. So we've decided we're just going to have to grab any oil we can get from our own land, no matter how high the environmental cost, and of course we also have to keep taking the lion's share of what the Middle East produces. The only way we'll get away with
that beyond the next year or two is to have military control over the region; so that's our goal. We figured out that the best place to start is Iraq, because it's got the second biggest reserves and it's the weakest. Next in line is Iran. For now, it looks like we've got the powers that be in Saudi Arabia in our pocket, so we won't have to use military force there, although that could change in the long run. This Iraq conquest will cost a few thousand American lives and who knows (or cares) how many Iraqis-not to mention more than a few billions of dollars
-- but that's okay as long as we still have cheap gasoline, right?"
This would not go over well either. People may feel that the sacrifice is worth it, that a few thousand American lives are a small price to pay as long as they can keep their lifestyle. But they would be extremely uncomfortable if those at the top put it bluntly and openly like this. So, Bush tells them there's a big threat from weapons of mass destruction
-- and when that story fizzles, he says we're liberating Iraq from the evil Saddam Hussein. He talks endlessly about "nine-eleven" and suggests that Iraq was behind it
-- and it doesn't matter that he has no evidence whatsoever. What matters is that voters who are stressed by an economy diverting more and more of our national wealth to the rich, voters who are in debt and don't have enough time for their kids, can go on a little longer pretending that the world hasn't changed
-- can go on hoping that soon they can live the American Dream. What matters is that the lies spare these tired people from having to confront the ugly moral choice they have made; the pretense lets them avoid the requirement they face as citizens, to take action to correct a national government that has become thoroughly criminal.
Some people say Bush lies like other people breathe. If he didn't, he wouldn't have gotten this far.