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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 28 September 2004

Topic: Political Theory

Logic Bombs: Why Bush Will Win the Debates

William Saletan is at the top of his game. Check this out.

Catastrophic Success
The worse Iraq gets, the more we must be winning.
Posted Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2004, at 2:53 PM PT - SLATE.COM

The opening is cool, even if my spell-checker tells me unfalsifiable isn't really a word at all -
In 1999, George W. Bush said we needed to cut taxes because the economy was doing so well that the U.S. Treasury was taking in too much money, and we could afford to give some back to the people who earned it. In 2001, Bush said we needed the same tax cuts because the economy was doing poorly, and we had to return the money so that people would spend and invest it.

Bush's arguments made the wisdom of cutting taxes unfalsifiable. In good times, tax cuts were affordable. In bad times, they were necessary. Whatever happened proved that tax cuts were good policy. When Congress approved the tax cuts, Bush said they would revive the economy. You'd know that the tax cuts had worked, because more people would be working. Three years later, more people aren't working. But in Bush's view, that, too, proves he was right. If more people aren't working, we just need more tax cuts.
So how do you counter this kind of logic? Is it possible? When you are proved wrong that only proves you were really right. Do you just heave a sigh of exasperation, as Gore did in the presidential debates four years ago, and thus come off as a pretentious and condescending intellectual snob and alienate everyone by making fun of a simple man with a clear vision.

How do you respond? Is a giggle appropriate? No, that also would come off as condescension.

This kind of logic is a pretty effective trap, and Saletan argues Bush and his handlers are carefully setting the trap again. But this time this issue in the current state of affairs in Iraq - and Saletan points out that when violence there was subsiding, Bush said that clearly proved that he was on the right track. Violence is increasing there now, pretty obviously, and Bush says this, too, proves he's on the right track. Argh!

The examples cited?
On July 23, 2003, three months into the occupation, Bush scoffed that Iraqi insurgents were confined to "a few areas of the country. And wherever they operate, they are being hunted, and they will be defeated. ... Now, more than ever, all Iraqis can know that the former regime is gone and will not be coming back." A week later, he assured reporters, "Conditions in most of Iraq are growing more peaceful. ... As the blanket of fear is lifted, as Iraqis gain confidence that the former regime is gone forever, we will gain more cooperation." Bush warned that failure to stick with his policies "would only invite further and bolder attacks."

A year later, the insurgents are not defeated, conditions are not more peaceful, the blanket of fear is spreading, cooperation is fraying, and attacks on U.S. personnel are growing bolder. Does this prove Bush is failing? No. It proves he's succeeding.

When the violence increased this spring, Bush, Vice President Cheney, and White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said insurgents were growing "desperate" in their efforts to "derail the transition" - the handover of sovereignty scheduled for June 30. "This is precisely what our enemies want," Bush argued. The violence proved Bush was on the right track, and the handover would soon be complete, demoralizing the enemy. The insurgents would be crushed. "In Fallujah, Marines of Operation Vigilant Resolve are taking control of the city, block by block," Bush bragged.
Well, that didn't work out. Fallujah, and the Sadr City portion of Baghdad, and so many other places are now "no go zones" where our troops will not operate (see this from September 14 in the New York Times and a discussion here in these pages) - and the elections scheduled for January are in question, and so on and so forth. We turned over sovereignty in June, and things went sour.

A problem? Not really. The new logic is that the new spike in resistance just proves we're right - this sovereignty business ticked off the evil-doers in June, and now, because we're doing the right thing and pushing forward with a partial election in January, in the few areas that are relatively safe (as Rumsfeld said, probably thinking of the 2000 election in Florida, nothing's perfect), this demonstrates our essential rightness.

Does it? Maybe a lot of folks just don't want us there. Which proves we're right, right?

The trap for any critic of all this is clear -
If the situation in Iraq improves in the coming weeks, Bush will take credit. If it deteriorates, he'll take credit for that, too. "Terrorist violence may well escalate as the January elections draw near," he warned Thursday. "The terrorists know that events in Iraq are reaching a decisive moment. If elections go forward, democracy in Iraq will put down permanent roots, and terrorists will suffer a dramatic defeat." So take heart. We've got 'em right where we want 'em.
We do?

I see no way for any opponent of the administration to attack this logic. It's not unfalsifiable. It is impenetrable.

Currently polls show the Bush-Cheney ticket will win in November, as their numbers are strong and getting stronger by the day. And this seems to be a demonstration that people like being told that successes mean we were right and we are winning, and setbacks show, even more clearly, that we were right and we are winning. That makes folks comfortable. There's no downside. Either way we're right, and we're winning. Cool.

As for what Kerry and Edwards can say in the debates? There is little that works against this. Suggesting things are complicated and we need to think about this all makes people uncomfortable - and we can't have that. Asking voters to think about all this stuff is the kiss of death, as people prefer action to analysis. People who think don't get things done - the basic theme of the Bush-Cheney campaign. We cannot afford a thinker now - not in this dangerous world. We have to do things, whatever they are, no matter how much they seem to make things worse. And by golly, worse is better, if you think about it the right way.

Here's a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon that's been going around the web (reprinted without permission as no one else seems to have asked either) that speaks to the basic dilemma - two ways of looking at things.

Posted by Alan at 16:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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