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Chuck the Facts, Ma’am

Maybe Karl Rove has moved his office into the Matrix. Maybe Laurence Fishburne is auditioning for Ari Fleischer’s job. Maybe it’s all just a bad dream: The White House Reloaded.

I’ve been racking my brain, trying to reconcile the ever-widening chasm between what the White House claims to be true and what is actually true. After all, we know the president and his men are not stupid. And despite the tidal wave of misinformation pouring out of their mouths, I don’t believe they are consciously lying.

The best explanation I can come up with for the growing gap between their rhetoric and reality is that we are being governed by a gang of out-and-out fanatics.

The defining trait of the fanatic—be it a Marxist, a fascist, or, gulp, a Wolfowitz—is the utter refusal to allow anything as piddling as evidence to get in the way of an unshakable belief. Bush and his fellow fanatics are the political equivalent of those yogis who can hold their breath and go without air for hours. Such is their mental control, they can go without truth for, well, years. Because, in their minds, they’re always right. Oopso facto.

That pretty much sums up the White House m.o. on everything, from the status of Al Qaeda to the condition of postwar Iraq to the magical job-producing virtues of the latest round of tax cuts.

Who else but a fanatic would have made the outrageous claim, as the president did last Friday, just four days after the deadly reemergence of Al Qaeda in Riyadh, that “the United States people are more secure, the world is going to be more peaceful”? More peaceful than what? The West Bank?

In the weeks before the attacks in Riyadh, the president had repeatedly maintained that “we are winning the war on terror,” and that Al Qaeda was “on the run . . . slowly, but surely, being decimated.” So he clearly wasn’t going to let a little fact like 34 dead bodies—the result of three closely coordinated suicide-bomb attacks—change his mind.

He was similarly unperturbed by that troubling new report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, an influential and nonpartisan British think tank—released a day after the Riyadh bombings and three days before the president proclaimed us “more secure”—which found that Al Qaeda was “just as dangerous” and “even harder to identify and neutralize” than it was prior to 9/11.

And just four hours after the president strapped on his trusty blinders and delivered his rosy vision of a more peaceful world, the tranquility was shattered by the five simultaneous suicide blasts in Casablanca. Oh well, at least we still have the upcoming Jessica Lynch TV movie to make us feel good about ourselves—give or take a few last-minute rewrites by the BBC.

The president’s evidence-be-damned fanaticism is equally apparent when it comes to the state of postwar Iraq. “Life is returning to normal,” he proclaimed just two weeks after the fall of Baghdad. “Things have settled down inside the country.”

Really? Just who is preparing his morning briefing papers? Pollyandy Card? Little Condoleezza Sunshine? Did he bother consulting any Iraqis about “normal life” there? Probably not. One of the keys to being a flourishing fanatic is to surround yourself with those of a shared—and equally deluded—mindset.

And according to that mindset, the definition of “settling down” can be expanded to include rampant looting, sporadic water and electrical service, hospitals in disastrous condition, outbreaks of cholera and dysentery, streets filled with uncollected garbage and raw sewage, half a dozen ransacked nuclear facilities, missing barrels of radioactive material, growing anti-American sentiment, and disparate ethnic and religious groups arming themselves. No wonder Don Rumsfeld called the media’s reporting of all this “an overstatement.” It’s just another “normal” weekend at Camp David.

And don’t bother trying to make the case that everything isn’t hunky-dory in Baghdad to rabid acolytes such as Jay Garner. Like the president, the demoted viceroy doesn’t care what the facts indicate—to him even a looted and punctured glass can be half-full. “We ought to be beating our chests every day,” he said, dismissing the notion that any of us should feel bad about the problems besetting Iraq. “We ought to look in a mirror and get proud. We ought to stick out our chests and suck in our bellies and say, ‘Damn, we’re Americans.’ ” That’s sure to win us some more goodwill around the world. Hoo-rah, and pass the Kool-Aid, General Jay!

And if you think the president is saving his fanaticism only for the international sector, think again. His dogged devotion to selling his latest round of tax cuts for the wealthy as a “jobs-creation plan”—despite an avalanche of evidence that it will do nothing of the sort—proves that he can be just as fervent on the home front.

“Jobs are on the line,” said Bush after the Senate passed its version of the tax cut. “I call on Congress to resolve their differences quickly so I can sign a bill that will help create jobs, boost take-home pay and spur economic growth.” And for those with “. . . illionaire” as part of their economic description, it probably will.

It obviously makes no difference to the president that 10 Nobel Prize-winning economists have condemned his tax cuts as “not the answer” to high unemployment, or that a new Congressional Budget Office study found that the “jobs and growth package” will actually have very little effect on long-term growth. Not interested. Not listening. The 1.4 million jobs the White House repeatedly says the tax cuts will create are more a matter of a fanatic’s faith than of dispassionate forecasting.

The fact is there are now 2.1 million more unemployed Americans than when Bush took office—the vast majority of them having lost their jobs after the president’s initial $1.3 trillion tax cut was passed in 2001. Difficult evidence to ignore—unless “ignore the evidence” is your 11th commandment.

A popular definition of insanity is: doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. Well, that seems to be the White House theory on the power of tax cuts to produce new jobs: It didn’t work before; let’s try it again.

Welcome to the D.C. Matrix.

—Arianna Huffington


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