|November 17, 2004|
Why Bush's America Feels Like Orwell's 1984
As President Bush moves to implement what he proclaims to be his "mandate," millions of Americans find ourselves baffled that so many of our fellow citizens could have voted for a leader whose tenure has been marked by a series of failures and deceptions. For an answer, I suggest that we look to George Orwell's 1984, and to the triumph, this election season, of a little known but essential component of the Republican right agenda known as 'perception management."
Perception management, in short, operates under the principle that truth is unessential. Truth simply becomes what the Party is able to convince the electorate is true. During Bush's first term, the President and senior Administration officials practiced perception management every time they announced their certainty that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, as well as connections to Al Q'aeda and the September 11 attacks.
In the end, there were far more Bush voters who believed these widely-televised deceptions than those who understood the facts. A CNN exit poll found that 81% of Bush voters believed that the Iraq war was part of the war on terrorism, even though after exhaustive research, Iraq has never been found to have sponsored a single act of international terrorism.
The closest thing to an admission of a "perception management" strategy came from a recent New York Times Magazine article, in which a senior advisor of the Bush Administration scoffed at Americans who exist in 'the reality based community," who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernable reality. That's not the way the world works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."
A government that creates its own realities is frightening. But even more alarming -- and more mystifying to American voters who don't buy into this reality -- is that 59 million of our fellow citizens voted to re-elect George Bush, despite overwhelming evidence of what could politely be called contradictory truths.
George Orwell provides a ready answer.
A central premise of the Big Brother world of 1984 was what Orwell called "Doublethink," defined in the book as "the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them."
In the mythical empire of Oceania in 1984, citizenship meant "not thinking -- not needing to think." The government of Big Brother alternates between war and alliance with two competing empires. At one point, the enemy changes in the middle of a patriotic speech, and the audience immediately accepts the new reality. They have no choice. In 1984, according to Orwell, "The heresy of heresies was common sense."
The Bush Administration has been tremendously successful at convincing its supporters to suspend common sense. Last month, a survey by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes found that 72% of Bush supporters believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47%) or a major program for producing them (25%). This survey was done after the widely-reported results of the CIA's "Duelfer Report," an exhaustive $1 billion investigation, which concluded that Hussein had dismantled all of his WMD programs shortly after the 1991 Gulf War and never tried to reconstitute them. The Duelfer Report also found that Saddam Hussein did not support Al-Qaeda terrorists.
When asked whether the U.S. should have gone to war without evidence of a WMD program or support to Al-Qaeda, 58% of Bush supporters polled said no. Yet these same voters support the war, suggesting an inability, or refusal, to accept "discernable reality."
This is no accident. For three years, the President and his Administration have used every opportunity to manage the perceptions of the public by distorting facts. Even after the conclusive CIA report, Bush and Cheney deliberately fused the war in Iraq with the war on those who caused the September 11 attacks. And who can forget the certainty with which the President declared, a few months after the Iraq war began, that "We found the weapons of mass destruction."
We have all heard the litany of assertions by this Administration that Hussein posed an imminent threat to the United States, that the United Nations inspection program to disarm Hussein of weapons of mass destruction had failed, and that the Iraq War was necessary to prevent terrorist acts on American soil. Not one of these assertions was true. The truth, as former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil revealed last year, was that at their first cabinet meeting in January, 2001, the Administration was planning to go to war against Saddam Hussein -- nine months before the September 11 attacks.
Even the Administration's pursuit of Al Q'aeda could have been culled from Orwell's 1984, where 'Ignorance is Strength" was another key Big Brother slogan. Right after September 11, the President swore that he would stop at nothing to get the perpetrators of the attack. This was right after his Administration allowed a plane full of Saudi Arabians, including bin Laden's relatives, to fly out of the U.S. without being questioned by the F.B.I. Then, six months later, while laying the ground work to divert most of our country's military resources to a war against Iraq, Bush said of bin Laden, "He's a person who's now been marginalized...I just don't spend that much time on him...I truly am not that concerned about him." By April, 2002, Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Myers followed that with: "The goal has never been to get bin Laden."
When Orwell created Doublethink and the dark world of 1984, he was satirizing the future of Stalin's Soviet Union. It is a sad time for America when his message applies most fittingly to our own country.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Jonathan Greenberg is an investigative journalist and author of "America 2014: An Orwellian Tale."
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