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February 8, 2004 - Is our leader dumb as a post, a liar, or mad as a hatter?

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Things we really don't want to think about...



Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of The Nation has always been direct.  When I see her on talk shows she seems for the most part exasperated and inpatient, and usually for good reason, being paired up with Ann Coulter or some other less-than-accurate talking head from the right.  Of course, balanced panels do give each side heartburn. 

Left to herself she can be pretty devastating. 

And I didn't know that domocrats. com last summer launched a website petition to declare Bush insane under the 25th amendment.  Cool. 

Here is the woman at full throttle. 

See Liar, Incompetent or Space Cadet?   
The Nation 02/04/2004 @ 8:29pm

The set-up ...


Is he incompetent, clueless, lying?   Why has President Bush - once again - asserted that he went to war because Iraq refused to allow weapons inspectors into the country?   Last Wednesday, Bush went on about how "it was [Saddam's] choice to make, and he did not let us in."

Bush made the same false statement, last July, with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at his side.  "We gave [Saddam] a chance to allow the inspectors in," Bush declared, "and he wouldn't let them in.  And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power."

These statements defy rational explanation.  As Democrats.com observed last summer - after launching a website petition to declare Bush insane under the 25th amendment - "everyone in the world knows that Hussein allowed a fully-equipped team of UN inspectors to comb every inch of his country...  The only conclusion we can draw is that Bush has lost touch with reality.  In other words, he has gone mad."


Many of us have suggested this.  The topic came up here last week in February 1, 2004 Sidebars.  But many of us were joking. 

Katrina vanden Heuvel goes on to speculate these statements - that do not at all correspond to any actual events in the real world as we know it - are perhaps not indicators of madness as it is possible Bush just doesn't know what happened.


Is that possible?  Clearly so.  I wrote about it in The Epistemology of the News.  See October 26, 2003 Opinion. 

She again reminds everyone that last September on Fox News Bush did say he had his own source for news.  Not newspapers or television or anything else: "The best way to get the news is from objective sources.  And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world. "

Yeah, that might explain it.  He just doesn't know. 


That is not a comforting thought.  Of course, many would argue that because Bush is really not making any decisions, that Dick Cheney and Karl Rove are the ones who actually tell Bush what to say and what to do, one should feel a bit better.  They do read papers and closely follow events - and the latest news, and polls, and trends.


I believe that's what might be called "cold comfort."

Then she raises another alternative - the question of whether Bush was just lying. 

That is a good question.  She says her personal view is that "Bush doesn't have the fullblown Nixonian character to blatantly lie on issues of war...".

Maybe so. 

But people will believe most anything if it's said firmly and often by an authority figure.  Hey, it works for entrepreneurial doctors selling diet plans. 

And one could, if inclined to think of these things in terms of evil Orwellian conspiracies, argue that, yes, Bush knows what he is saying is flat out wrong.  Of course he does.  What he said happened did not happen at all, and anyone who glanced at the news in the last year knows that.  But if he says it often enough, and others pick up on it, then people will forget what the saw and heard with their own eyes and ears and feel just fine with Bush's version of events. 

And that is useful.  It becomes the virtual history of the war, not the real history - a kind of shorthand.  Yes, it seemed evil in 1984 - but in the real world, not Orwell's, it does provide a kind of comfort.  No one wants to think his or her president tricked us into this war, or that we elected someone who is jerking us around for his own ends.  What would we then think of ourselves?   That we're suckers and rubes?   That's not acceptable. 

Katrina vanden Heuvel raises the issue of the responsibility of the press.  Is it not the duty of the press to call those in power on their foolishness and lies?   Well, that is somewhat idealistic. 


Tim Russert's show "Meet the Press" this Sunday will feature an interview with George Bush.  Russert's reportedly going to ask Bush about his somewhat vague military service record - was Bush AWOL or whatever?   I doubt it will be very probing.  Russert has a reputation for hard, persistent embarrassing questions.  But he'll take a dive.  Or to change the sports metaphor, he'll toss only softballs to George.  The network has advertisers.  And the FCC can be unfriendly in the future.  And you don't mess with the most powerful man in the world. 

Katrina vanden Heuvel quotes the former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee appropriately - "Even the very best newspapers have never learned how to handle public figures who lie with a straight face."



But she does also quote Paul Waldman of the Post saying that, "when politicians or government officials lie, reporters have an obligation not only to include the truth somewhere in the story or let opponents make a counter-charge, but to say forthrightly that the official has lied.  When a politician gets away with a lie, he or she becomes more likely to lie again.  If the lie is exposed by vigilant reporters, the official will think twice before repeating it."

Yeah?   I doubt that.  Not when the lies, even if exposed, make people comfortable. 


But do we have vigilant reporters? 


In the New York Review of Books (Volume 51, Number 3 February 26, 2004, Feature: Now They Tell Us) Michael Massing discusses that, and hits on the New York Times.


The Times's Judith Miller has been the subject of harsh criticism.  Slate, The Nation, Editor & Publisher, the American Journalism Review, and the Columbia Journalism Review have all run articles accusing her of being too eager to accept official claims before the war and too eager to report the discovery of banned weapons after it.  Especially controversial has been Miller's alleged reliance on Chalabi and the defectors who were in touch with him.  Last May, Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post wrote of an e-mail exchange between Miller and John Burns, then the Times bureau chief in Baghdad, in which Burns rebuked Miller for writing an article about Chalabi without informing him.  Miller replied that she had been covering Chalabi for about ten years and had "done most of the stories about him for our paper."  Chalabi, she added, "has provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD to our paper."


Asked about this, Miller said that as an investigative reporter in the intelligence area, "my job isn't to assess the government's information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself.  My job is to tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought about Iraq's arsenal."  Many journalists would disagree with this; instead, they would consider offering an independent evaluation of official claims one of their chief responsibilities.


Perhaps, but we have moved from the age of Bob Woodward (the earlier Watergate version) to the age of Judith Miller.


So the press isn't going to help us.  Not their job, it seems.


And after all, we don't want to think we freely and willing elected a manipulative liar who is jerking us around and sneering about it when we're not looking.  And we certainly don't want to think of that other alternative, that we elected a madman who is detached from reality.  Either would mean we are real fools. 

Tell us that and it more likely we'll turn on the media and say they are trying to cause trouble. 

Thus Fox News. 


That leaves the idea Bush just doesn't know much, and doesn't want to know much - that he's an incurious fellow who doesn't like details. 


Folks like that.  Makes him seem like one of us.