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Bush: Beyond Reason

By Robert Parry
October 19, 2004

Journalist Ron Suskind relates a chilling conversation he had in 2002 with a senior aide to George W. Bush, who taunted Suskind for being a person from “what we call the reality-based community.”

The Bush aide said this “reality-based community” consists of people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” Suskind nodded in agreement and muttered something favorable about the principles of the Enlightenment, only to be cut off by the aide.

“That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” the Bush aide told the journalist. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to study what we do.”

In many ways, that quote – cited in Suskind's New York Times Magazine article about Bush’s “faith-based presidency” – sums up the anti-rational arrogance that has become the hallmark of Bush’s inner circle, a group that apparently thinks that its actions transcend both law and reason. [See “Without a DoubtNew York Times Magazine, Oct. 17, 2004]

Channeling God

Suskind, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, quotes other Republicans who have concluded that Bush believes – or at least gives the impression he believes – that his judgments are directed by God.

“I think a light has gone off for people who’ve spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he’s always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do,” said Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a Treasury official in the first Bush administration. “He truly believes he’s on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.”

Because Bush is convinced of his rightness, he often snaps and snarls at aides who question his “gut” judgments, according to Republicans who have watched Bush in action. “This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts,” Bartlett told Suskind.

In an earlier book, The Price of Loyalty, Suskind recounted the internal battles that led to the forced resignation of Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, who then became one of the first Bush insiders to sound the alarm about Bush’s hostility toward reality.

O’Neill described a host of administration policies – from Bush’s “preemptive wars” to the budget deficit – that “were impenetrable by facts.” O’Neill, who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations and later ran Alcoa, was startled by the contrast in Bush’s administration where major decisions were made with little deliberation beyond Bush’s tendency to embrace ideological certainties.

O’Neill said Bush was “clearly signing on to strong ideological positions that had not been fully thought through. But, of course, that’s the nature of ideology. Thinking it through is the last thing an ideologue wants to do.” [For more on Bush’s view toward reality, see Consortiumnews.com’s “A Political Battle for Planet Earth.”]

Second Term

Yet, while it may be troubling that Bush runs the world’s sole superpower on “gut” instinct that he may think is divinely inspired, it is perhaps even more troubling that large numbers of Americans are ready – even determined – to endorse this approach in granting Bush a second term.

What appears to have happened is that a significant swath of the U.S. population has embraced a political mysticism which accepts Bush as a kind of cult leader. For these Bush supporters, it doesn’t matter that he has big gaps in his knowledge of the world or that he sometimes invents his own reality. They have come to see Bush as a messenger from God, an impression that Bush’s handlers – and Bush himself – have cultivated.

In the third presidential debate, for instance, Bush said “one part of my foreign policy” is that “I believe that God wants everybody to be free.” In other words, Bush was justifying the invasion of Iraq, at least partly, on the basis that it was what God wanted.

This notion that God has adopted a foreign policy that involves killing tens of thousands of Iraqis and imprisoning thousands more – in the name of bringing them freedom – may strike some theologians as bizarre, even grotesque.

But Bush’s comment had a pop religiosity that resonates with his fundamentalist Christian base. Many of these same conservative Christians also are fascinated by apocalyptic interpretations of the Book of Revelation and have made the end-time “left-behind” series major best-sellers. Reality – at least as the Age of Reason understood empiricism – has little place in this thinking.

Political Professionals

Still, the political mysticism that is lifting George W. Bush's candidacy is only part of what has happened in the United States.

Others in Bush's support network are cold-blooded professionals, part of a powerful conservative/Republican infrastructure that has been built over three decades with the goal of ensuring that conservative politicians control the U.S. government. These political operatives and media personalities have little regard for empirical fact either, though it's less personal than professional, when they spin words and events in ways that work to Bush’s advantage.

In my new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, I chronicle how this remarkable conservative infrastructure of think tanks, news outlets and attack groups developed since the mid-1970s as a reaction to Richard Nixon’s ouster over the Watergate scandal and as a response to the student unrest that contributed to the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.

While the two George Bushes ended up as the chief beneficiaries of this Right-Wing Machine, the infrastructure had broader goals for transforming American politics and preventing another Watergate-style debacle or another anti-war movement. It's watchword was the intelligence concept of "perception management."

George W. Bush's administration also has found it easier to manipulate information because two of the checks on government deception came under extraordinary pressure during the 1980s. In Secrecy & Privilege, I show how the Reagan-Bush administration made great strides in taming both the CIA’s analytical division and the national press corps.

The purging of many dedicated intelligence analysts in the 1980s caused lasting damage to the CIA’s analytical division, which became a shell of its former self. By the second Bush administration, the once-proud division was acting as little more than a conveyor belt for “politicized” intelligence, including the hyped and bogus warnings about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Similarly, the national press corps – having seen careers of many independent-minded journalists shattered – shirked its duty to skeptically examine the government’s case for war with Iraq.

Democratic Complicity

Some blame also must fall on Democrats and liberals who failed to counter the rising threat posed by this three-decade assault on the nation’s information base. As Republicans and conservatives poured hundreds of millions of dollars into building a permanent media/political infrastructure, Democrats and liberals mostly sat on the sidelines or made excuses why they couldn’t match up in this “war of ideas.”

Though some prominent liberals say they now “get” the need to battle over information, their hesitancy continues. In a new book, The Road to Air America, one of the liberal radio network’s founders, Sheldon Drobny, describes the resistance he encountered from “limousine liberals” in California and elsewhere while trying to raise money for Air America. “It was too risky an investment for most people’s taste,” Drobny wrote.

The cash-strapped network – featuring programs by comedians Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo – staggered onto the air on March 31, 2004, but its success has been limited by lack of resources and limited distribution around the country. A major investment of money by wealthy liberals might have ensured that talk radio, countering Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives, was reaching most Americans, not just those in scattered cities.

When liberals have spent money on media in recent years, it was often to buy ads on network TV, rather than to build dedicated outlets as the conservatives have done with the likes of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times.

Future Needs

So what can Americans who are part of the “reality-based community” do?

First, they must understand the nature of the challenge. What is at stake on Nov. 2 is not just the election of a President, it is whether facts should matter in deciding how the U.S. government functions at home and abroad.

George W. Bush has signaled repeatedly that he is a “gut” player who eschews detailed analysis in favor of action that he may believe is inspired by God. John Kerry believes that U.S. policies must be anchored in a thoughtful, even nuanced, assessment of the facts – an approach that has opened him to criticism for lacking Bush’s “decisiveness.”

Second, “reality-based” Americans must realize that when Bush’s team talks about a “war of ideas,” they are not speaking metaphorically. To reverse Karl von Clausewitz’s famous dictum, one might say that the Bush team views the “war of ideas” as an extension of violent conflict by other means. They are not simply seeking to win a debate; they are determined to destroy or at least marginalize their adversaries.

Third, the defense of the “reality-based community” will be expensive. A great amount of time, talent and money will be required to produce solid information on important topics and to build outlets – TV, radio, print, Internet – that can put the facts before the American people, regardless of what the mainstream news media wants.

Fourth, this will be a long conflict, extending well beyond the Nov. 2 election regardless of which candidate wins.

If Bush gains a second term, the “reality-based community” can expect to come under a virtual siege with Bush’s victory cited as proof that Americans want single-minded leadership, not complicated analyses of the challenges ahead. The cult around Bush will strengthen and might grow even more intolerant of dissent.

If Kerry manages to pull off an upset, the conservative/Republican infrastructure will target him as it did Bill Clinton in the 1990s. A counter-infrastructure will be needed to offset any unfairness.

If Bush loses, immediate steps also should be taken to reverse his executive orders that have kept historical records from the 1980s and early 1990s out of the public domain. The Democrats must not follow the precedent set by Bill Clinton, who in 1993 sidetracked investigations into Reagan-Bush policies out of wishful thinking that his forgive-and-forget approach would meet with some Republican reciprocity. [For the grim results of Clinton’s approach, see Secrecy & Privilege.]

As readers of Consortiumnews.com know, we have tried for nearly a decade to use this Web site as a way to collect and piece together important parts of the nation's recent historical record – what we have called “lost history.” But these types of efforts must be multiplied many times over in the future.

America’s “reality-based community” must commit itself to building a full and honest record of both historical and current events – facts that can serve as a foundation for a healthy American democracy based on truth, not fantasy.

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Award-winning investigative reporter Robert Parry's latest book is Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. It can be purchased at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com.

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