Thursday, September 28, 2006

In an excellent piece on Dick Cheney in the current New York Review of Books, Joan Didion wriites of the great stone face that "His every instinct is to withhold information, hide, let surrogates speak for him... His own official spoken remarks so defy syntactical analysis as to suggest that his only intention in speaking is to further obscure what he thinks." It's east to fall into the trap of thinking that that kind of smokescreen has been thrown up to conceal something mysterious and complex and multilayered. The truth is, if your next door neighbor was in the habit of repeating an obvious lie (such as, "I poisoned your dog because I had evidence that he had broken into my house and shredded my sofa cushions, and he was planning to do it again") and also in the habit of periodically denying that he'd ever told that lie ("I never attempted to force a connection between the death of your dog and the sofa-cushion shredding incident"), after which he'd tell the lie again, you'd just think he was an asshole. If some people want to think that Cheney is something more, even if they just mean a more interesting species of evil, than a world class lout remarkable chiefly for his lack of shame, it may be because it doesn't seem right that we should wake up every day for the better part of a decade in a world where a world-class lout is in charge of our shared desires. Whoever fed Ron Suskind that quote about the Bushies' superiority to "the reality-based community" was trying to base a life philosophy on the simple fact that assholes would rather stonewall and bluff than admit they were wrong, even when they've obviously screwed the pooch.

At least Cheney would never put you in the embarrassing position of seeing him as human enough to maybe feel sorry for him. A hardened, veteran Bush-hater of my acquaintance admitted to me today that she saw Pres on the TV the other day and caught herself feeling a twinge of pity for the clueless devil, and though it's tempting to wonder if she'd have felt the same way if she had a son in Iraq or owned property in New Orleans, I can kind of imagine how she feels. Bush's handling of the news about that pessimistic intelligence report seems to me to underline the fact that the man himself is in deep denial, unable to admit to himself just what he's done, assuming that he has the mental equipment to even grasp the scale of the debacle. When Richard Nixon set up a commission to investigate pornography, and then that commission came out with a report that came to a conclusion--that there was no serious correlation between porn and violent crime--that was the exact opposite of the one that Nixon had wanted them to reach, he simply broke up the party and publically disowned his own commissioned study. By contrast, Bush doesn't disown the intelligence report, as he would if he were merely cynical and hoping to change the subject; he actually points to the sections that serve as the sternest rebuke to his policies, and then insists, pathetically, that they actually support him, if you'll just take into the larger context. Apparently, that still-unclassified part of the report is the sentence that must follow every conclusion in it, the one that goes, "Despite this, we're sure that everything will somehow turn out just great in the end."

The New York Times points out that the "most remarkable [thing] about the intelligence estimate...was the unremarkable nature of its conclusions." Well, yeah. The report doesn't say anything that knowledgeable people haven't been saying for...God, years now. (Fun rainy day project: think back to when the bombs were falling on Iraq in spring of 2003 and a triumphant mood was prevelent in the country, and try to imagine the reaction you'd have gotten from people if you'd confidentally predicted that this would not be over, not nearly, years further on down the road. Of course, the people who'd have reacted the worst to this idea are the same ones who today will tell you that nobody ever thought that winning the War on Terra was going to be some quick in-and-out operation.) The thing is, the people who've been saying it have tended to be retired military men or worried congressmen singing the blues while "off the record." Because everyone understands that it's still too early to call the failed war a failure, let alone one that's strengthened the hand of al-Qaeda and made us less safe. Thirty years ago, Russell Baker wrote that the congressmen who had lost their seats in the mid-sixties because they had been right about Vietnam would never, in the eyes of their former colleagues, be proven right; they would always be wrong, not because they weren't prescient, but because of a fluke of timing. They'd been right about Vietnam before it was acceptable to be right, so they were wrong. I don't know when it will be "the right time" to be right about Iraq; you can't guess at something like that, you can only make your stand and pay the price if it turns out that you're right prematurely, as Howard Dean found out. When will people, the mass of average, everyday people and the people whose opinions fill the editorial pages, be ready to talk about the failure of America's policy in Iraq? When they're good and ready, and not a minute before.Until then, we can only continue to speak in code while hoping for the best.

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