Janet's Conner

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Monday, July 10, 2006


Faced with policy failure, Republicans will try to tell compelling stories about themselves and the war in order to win elections.

Ira Chernus
July 7, 2006

Introduction by Tom Engelhardt

Here's how a Washington Post piece soon after the Supreme Court's smack-down of the Bush administration's Guantanamo policies began:

"Republicans yesterday looked to wrest a political victory from a legal defeat in the Supreme Court, serving notice to the Democrats that they must back President Bush on how to try suspects at Guantanamo Bay or risk being branded as weak on terrorism...As the White House and lawmakers weighed next steps, House GOP leaders signaled they are ready to use this week's turn of events as a political weapon."

So what's new? The single greatest skill of the Bush administration---and especially of its presideing political strategist Karl Rove---has been turning potential disasters (of which there has been so many) into successful attacks on the Democrats, while, against all odds, briefly elevating the President's approval ratings. This talent for fashioning tall tales and going for the political jugular has, as in the presidential race of 2004 (aided and abetted by the Democrats), proven just enough to get the Republicans past the voters in reasonable shape. The ever-devolving catastrophe in Iraq has been but the latest candidate fro such treatment---as, in the wake of the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the President announced that "the tide" was again turning in that country, congressional Republicans launched fierce attacks on Democratic cut-and-runners, and the already astronomical numbers of dead bodies flooding into Baghdad's central morgue rose, post-Zarqawi, by 16%.

As religion professor Ira Chernus suggests below, Rove regularly manages to do his work in part by calling on that oldest of American stories, the one about fighting the savages on a distant frontier in order to make the world safe for settlers. Chernus, a professor of religion, canny guy, and regular Tomdispatch, explains just how this process works (over and over and over again).

Of course, sooner or later, all good (and bad) things must end. The question is: Will November 2006 be the start of that moment or simply more of the same old, same old?


Karl Rove has a simple rule, they say: When you are falling behind, attack your opponents at their strongest point. In the upcoming election, the Democrats' strongest point should obviously be Iraq. With the spotlight eternally focused on the disastrous war there, Rove has to figure out how to turn its dazzling beam to his party's advantage.

So he's borrowing a page from the ancient Iranian storybook and imitating Scheherazade, the maiden whose husband's policy was "wed 'em, bed 'em, and kill 'em at dawn." Rove is telling Republican candidates to follow Scheherazade's rule: When policy dooms you, you start telling stories---stories so fabulous, so gripping, so spellbinding that the king (or, in this case, the American citizen who theoretically rules our country) forgets all about a lethal policy.

The GOP stories are the same ones white people have been telling each other ever since they first set foot on North America shores: If you want to be safe, go to the frontier and wipe out the Indians. As former State Department official John Brown has noted, our Indian wars are not over yet.

Now Rove and his President are trying to sell the Iraq war as a frontier conflict, too. They want us to see U.S. troops as the cavalry putting down the "Injuns." Or better yet, as pioneers creating small enclaves of civilization (in Iraq they're called Green Zones) in the midst of a vast wilderness full of savages.

What strength, what courage it takes to survive. But they have a job to do: They must teach the savages how to be free. And above all, like their pioneering forebears, they must have the guts to stick it out until the job is done.

How do we know our military in Iraq has such beneficent motives? The answer is simple---they are Americans, by definition, the good guys. Everytime they kill a bad guy like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, they only prove once again what good guys they are. (In a recent Washington Post-ABC poll, 68% of Americans said that the U.S. war against Iraq has "helped to improve the lives of the Iraqi people.")

Naturally, they hope, one day, to be able to go home to their loved ones and live the peaceable lives they long for.

But they aren't quitters like those (Democratic) schoolmarms back East in the halls of Congress. They are real frontiersmen, with the will and the resolve to stay the course. They won't be scared off by suffering or bloodshed; sometimes---let's be honest---it takes bloodshed for life to get better.


George W. Bush is already out on the congressional campaign trail riffing on this old yarn. At a fundraiser for one Senate candidate he laid it out in all its marvelous simplicity: "There's an Almighty; a great gift of the Almighty is freedom for every man, woman, and child. ...The American people expect the government to protect them. It's our most important job. ...Iraq is now the central front, and we've got a plan to succeed. ...There's a group in the opposition party who are willing to retreat before the mission is done. They're willing to wave the white flag of surrender."

***If the Bush administration has a plan to succeed, I wish they would tell us what it is. And as most of you already know, the Democrats are not ready to put up the white flag of surrender. They just think that Bush's course isn't working and we need to find a new way! See what storytellers these Republicns are!!!!!

And there, my friends, is the real choice we're being offered by Rovian rhetoric: weak-willed cowardly Democrats against Republicans who tough it out, whatever the cost, because---above all---they are real men.

***Real men my a--! A majority of them has never spent a day in the military. They were too busy getting themselves deferments! And let's face it, Bush has never proven his story that he completed his time in the Guard! The Republicans think that they are above all of this. They like to tell our kids that they have to go and fight for this country, but when it came to them.............Hell No, they wouldn't go!!!!! Real frontiersmen, huh? It is so easy for them to talk the talk, but when it came to walking the walk, they said no, deferment, please!

The urge to prove manhood is central to the story. It may be what got us into Iraq in the first place. For four decades now, neoconservatives have bewailed the feminization of America. A nation where women can wear suits and men can have long flowing hair, even in corporate suits, drives them crazy. Since the 1970s they've touted belligerent policies, swaggering talk, and massive military budgets as the only way to stop liberals from imposing spinelessness on the nation.

The neocons want to turn a nation of soft, lazy, mall-shopping, morally squishy "relativists" back to the manly "strenuous life" that Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan preached. That's one big reason they worked so hard to send "our boys" (and girls") off to the batlefields of Iraq. Karl Rove himself may not be a neocon (***Oh...but he is!) but he's betting that the voters will be mesmerized by John-Wayne-style tales of "real men" fighting evil on the frontier---at least enough Americans to avoid the death sentence that the voters might otherwise pronounce on the party that brought us the disaster in Iraq.

The frontier tales may sound trite and hackneyed to some, but they won't go away. You probably know them by heart. In fact, without a second thought, you probably put them together intuitively and unconsciously to form a single unified narrative, doing the Republicans' work for them. Many of your fellow Americans still take that grand narrative as the tried-and-true tale about the virtues that made America great.

***You know, up until this administration, I used to think like that too! But now, I don't think that way anymore. I don't know why the American people listen to such liars. They have brought this country down. Bush isn't intelligent enough to run a company let alone a country. He has proven that. Everything he touched turned to crap, including this nation! WAKE UP PEOPLE!

Will women as well as men fall for these fairy tales of heroic masculinity? There is still a gender gap in U.S. politics. But since 9/11 it has narrowed considerably. Plenty of female voters now choose the candidate who best embodies the "manly virtues," because it isn't really about sex or gender. It's about an age-old cultural bias that says males make clear distinctions between good and evil and then do whatever it takes to destroy evil, while females offer dangerously tender-hearted understanding to everyone.

***So then why is Bush president? He is one of the wimpiest men I have yet to encounter!

This gets us to the heart of the Scheherazade strategy. It plays on the insecurity of Americans who feel that their lives are out of control. Karl Rove knows that (as Gary Bauer, a religious right politico, once put it) "Joe Six-Pack doesn't understand why the world and his culture are changing and why he doesn't have a say in it." So Rove constantly invents simplistic good-against-evil stories for his candidates to tell. He tries to turn every election into a moral drama, a contest a Republican moral clarity versus Democratic moral confusion.

***But the Republicans have proven that they have no morals!

Rove wants every vote for a Republican to be a symbolic statement: I am not merely a feather blown around by what George W. Bush has called "the winds of change." My vote anchors me in the Republican Party---solid as a rock, tough as the toughest pioneer, willing and able to bring the savage wilderness of this terroristic planet under firm American control.

***Boy, am I glad that I won't be voting Republican! I don't want to be the blame for when this country goes further into hell! Especially by listening to these blown out stories that the Republicans have been telling. They are a joke!

This is the end of Part I


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