Topic: Reality-Based Woes
Truth and Authenticity: More on the Power of Narrative
As mentioned elsewhere in passing, will people, angry over the high price of gasoline these days, put two and two together and figure out that if you go to war with a major oil producing country you take maybe thirty percent of the world's oil out of production for a time, and in this case the time has stretched to over three years. That might make for tight supplies and, as a result, high prices. World demand is high and the insurgents keep blowing up the pipelines in Iraq, and making the rebuilding of the refineries and ports damned hard - and the contactor doing that work, the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg-Brown-Root, is charging the government a fortune and not much is getting done, given the security problems.
The Iraqis were supposed to greet us as liberators and we'd be out in six months, as Rumsfeld said, with Ahmed Chalabi running the place for us, as Cheney had arranged, with Chalabi's old University of Chicago buddies Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. But what should have happened just didn't happen.
So, if people start to think about the crude removed from the market, as the result of "the long war," as they're now calling it, and see the enormous profits from Exxon-Mobile and the rest, and think about the president and vice president coming from the oil industry... this could be trouble. Who to blame for paying a hundred dollars to fill up the SUV? The guys who started the war, or at least these same guys who gambled it would be six months and out, with our Chalabi in charge there.
Blame the war?
Well, the administration has another view. It's not the war. It's Bill Clinton's fault, or at the fault of the environmentalists he seemed to like, and Clinton's vice president, Gore, writing books on global warming, and now with that new film (see this discussion). These were the folks, Democrats and global warming chicken-little types, who opposed opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling a decade ago. That's what the president say here, without naming Clinton or Gore directly. But the implication is there.
It's another "it's not my fault" argument, of course. And the Clinton-Gore administration is still wonderfully useful - "How can you blame us when they did that?" That actually does seem to almost always work. It must be that Clinton fellow, or his oh-so-earnest sidekick, Al Gore. After Clinton got caught with his pants actually down, and fudged his response to the nation and the courts, it only seems fair to most people to think there may be something to what the Bush-Cheney administration claims. Clinton must be at the root of the problem, whatever the problem is. It's sort of ingrained in the national myth that explains everything.
Do you question conventional wisdom, what everyone understands to be so? As Josh Marshall finds here, someone was dumb enough to do that. It seems a reporter cornered Al Hubbard, the director of the president's National Economic Council, and Keith Hennessey, deputy assistant to the president for economic policy, and asked about the oil thing. What about it? Would the oil from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) have offset the oil we cannot seem to get from Iraq at the moment?
The transcript is here -
They never expected anyone would put two and two together and ask. They just didn't expect the question.
Tim Grieve here helps out, but not in a nice way -
Oh. Facts. They're awful things.
Luckily for the administration, the American public doesn't much like facts. We like a good narrative and what feels right - that "gut feeling," our instincts. That's why we elected a "I go with my gut" president who doesn't much care for detail. He's one of us.
So the facts don't matter much. Of course Grieve lays out some others. Our death toll in Iraq is approaching two thousand four hundred, and a new report from the Congressional Research Service estimates that if Congress approves the supplemental spending bill now before it, a total of three hundred twenty billion dollars will have been appropriated for the war, so far. And the Congressional Research Service looks at the Pentagon's "burn rate" of about six and half billion a month, so you see where this is going. And of there's the other study suggesting that the total cost of the war, including the long-term care that will be required for its veterans, could reach around two trillion dollars.
But that's beside the point. People don't think about such things when you're talking about the grand narrative of the noble good guys (us) fighting pure evil (them). They're just facts.
But some facts do intrude. And that messes things up. Thursday, April 27, filling the twenty-gallon of your Ford here in Los Angeles would cost you about sixty-five dollars, and next week will be higher, and every week after that. When you have to drive a lot of miles a week, as you do in Los Angeles and so many other places, sixty-five dollars means a lot more to you than this two trillion dollars, or the forty grand every man woman and child will carry as their share of the national debt for the next three or four generations. The sixty-five dollars is kind of immediate. The other figures are for policy wonks and eggheads.
But the senate Republicans have the answer, with this - "Most American taxpayers would get $100 rebate checks to offset the pain of higher pump prices for gasoline, under an amendment Senate Republicans hope to bring to a vote Thursday... 'Our plan would give taxpayers a hundred dollar gas tax holiday rebate check to help ease the pain that they're feeling at the pump,' Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist announced Thursday."
Right. In another two weeks that's about one tank of gas.
Note this from Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly -
Yeah, right. Drum can be sarcastic if he wishes, but it is an attempt to recapture the narrative, and a pretty good one. A check in the mail is something you can cash, It's real, not this two trillion dollars for the war, or the forty grand every man woman and child will carry as their share of the national debt for the next three or four generations. You can take it to the bank. It's not abstract. And it "feels" good.
Just don't think about the more than three years of war taking all that Iraqi crude off the market, creating scarcity in a time of high demand here and new demand from China and India, driving prices up. Economists think about those kinds of things, as do Democrats. Ordinary folks think of the check in the mail buying one more tank of gas.
And Thursday, April 27, brought another tussle for control of the national narrative with this -
Well, symbols matter, and no one likes a "symbol of a bumbling bureaucracy."
Drum again here - "This is truly remarkable. FEMA was a fine organization for eight years under Bill Clinton, widely recognized as one of the best run agencies in the federal government. But after a mere five years of George Bush's stewardship there's now a bipartisan consensus that it's so rundown that the only choice is to get rid of it and build a completely new agency in its place. Astonishing."
Well, maybe so, but it fits the narrative as Avedon Carol notes here - "So first you wreck the program, then you claim its failures are the result of the fact that 'government programs don't work' - relying on amnesia about the fact that it worked just fine before they started 'fixing' it - and then they decide we need to abolish it rather than putting it back the way it was when it used to work."
It is part of the Reagan narrative - government is bad, and there should be less of it, and private for-profit enterprise is good, and there should be more of that. Carol's long rant, from which that one snippet is quoted, notes the same thing happened with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and so many other government functions. Wreck them and then point to the wreckage as proof that government is not the answer to anything. It's a pretty neat trick. And it advances the Reagan narrative. Very clever.
And there's the other narrative that's getting a lot of play these days. That would be the "man of the people" narrative - some public figures are just "straight shooters" and flat-out authentic.
This had been built up around George Bush, the plain-spoken uncomplicated cowboy-type who likes to clear brush on his Texas ranch, even if he was born in Connecticut, went to Yale, got his Harvard MBA, and the ranch dates from 1999 when he bought the spread from a pig farmer just before the first election. Yeah, he did spend lots of years in Texas in his twenties and thirties, so he must really be an authentic Texan.
John McCain is another riding the same wave, the narrative that has him as a "straight shooter" war hero, even if what he shoots is often inconsistent and muddled. He was a hero, no question about that, given all those years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, so when he says something pandering or befuddling, it must be us. It's the power of the narrative. The narrative trumps logic and facts.
The third example of a rider on the same wave came up in the New Republic profile of Senator George Allen of Virginia, who may very well be the Republican candidate for president in the 2008 elections. This profile, released Thursday, April 27, but from the May 8 issue of the magazine, by Ryan Lizza, is here, but you have to be a paying subscriber to read beyond the first paragraph that opens with this - "Senator George Allen is the only person in Virginia who wears cowboy boots."
Ah, another Texan, except he grew up out here in Palos Verdes Estates while his father was with the Los Angeles Rams, and his mother is French -
And we learn about lots of things - his red mustang he drove to the local high school with its confederate license plate on the front, the white-supremacist racial pranks, the senior photo where he wear a confederate flag pin, the confederate flags in his office now, and the little noose hanging in a potted plant there, reminding everyone he was one of the ones who voted against the senate statement apologizing for all the blacks who had been lynched in the south form the end of the Civil War to the late forties. Charming. He's a good ol' boy, from Palos Verdes. His friends and classmates found him creepy, and not very bright.
And now, in Virginia? Try this, from a recent political rally -
And there you have it. The rich red-neck wannabe from one of the most exclusive communities in La-La Land struts his stuff.
What does an actual Southerner say? Ed Kilgore here -
No Texans say that of Bush.
Other views? Ezra Klein here -
But to read it you need a subscription, until May when you can read the hard copy. On the other hand there are big chucks of excerpts here, where Digby at Hullabaloo fills in the details.
And he adds this -
Well, actually, the problem may be the press, as Kevin Drum notes here -
But it won't be. It's the power of the narrative. The narrative trumps logic and facts, and boosts circulation and market share, and that's your advertising revenue.
The Democrats who wish to stop this madness really don't need any more facts. They don't need them. No one cares. They need a counter-narrative.