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Monday, July 10, 2006

KARL ROVE'S SCHEHERAZADE STRATEGY---PART II




The Scheherazade strategy is a great scam, built on the illsuion that simple ,oralistic tales can mke us feel secure, not matter what's actually going on out there in the world. Though it never fulfills its promise, too many Americans keep on falling for it. Why? Here are some clues from scholars who trace it bac to its roots in American Christianity: Catherine Albanese of the University of California at Santa Barbara writes: "Ordered conduct of foreign policy will, according to the conservative ethic, keep evil ay bay and erect the safeguards that protect Christian life. Thus, containment for conservatives means the management of evil."

But the management of evil is a lifetime task. Far from relieving anxiety, it is bound to create more of it---and, Rove assumedly hopes, more people who crave the manly certitude that is supposed to relieve anxiety.

Princeton's John F. Wilson explains why. The obsession with managing evil comes from "a concern, often exaggerated, to achieve control over those aspects of life experienced as uncertain. "From the Puritans to the present, people bent on controlling their lives have by haunted by the inescapable fear that they might lose that very control. When they find that they can't control themselves or their lives or surroundings as completely as they might fervently wish, they feel like failures; and, Albanese adds, if they happen to think they are part of God's chosen people, they might also feel a powerful obligation to live up to God's expectation of perfect self-control. So they end up not just feeling like failures but like guilty sinners.

***But we are not God's chosen people. They are in a whole different country! Rove and his Republican buddies want to make you feel inadequate, like you can't control you lives so you let them do it. That's just crazy! If you give them the power, then what you should be afraid of is giving up on what all of your relatives before you fought so hard for. Your giving away your freedom! Wake up people! I can control my life and will. If you are that weak, then you deserve to have your freedoms taken from you and then you'll be sorry!

Who wants to shoulder such a heavy burden? "To admit that too much was wrong could jeopardize America's belief in its status as a chosen nation," Albanese says. "American could not admit the deepest sources of their guilt without destroying their sense of who they were." So, instead, they went (and still go) looking for other people to control and blame them for their troubles. Our most recent candidates are, of course, the terrorists.

Before you know it, you have, in Wilson's scholarly words, "essentially bipolar frameworks for conceiving of the world: good versus bad, us versus them. The puritan American while tightly disciplined (***not anymore!) is prone to be uncritical of self and hypercritical of others...[This] presupposes a fundamentally authoritorian pattern of relationships within the world and reinforces that pattern." In other words, when the U.S. military tries to impose a made-in-America order upon Iraq (or anywhere else), it lets us avoid facing up to abundant ills, evils, and insecurities here at home.

***Insecurities that this administration has brought upon the people. Rove and his Republican cronies need to blame everyone else but themselves!


SCHEHERAZADE FANTASIES AND FRONTIER REALITIES

These are certainly deeply rooted, complex, and real feelings. Rove's scam works because the bipolar framework seems so believable. There is always more American insecurity to feed our appetite for "staying the course" in Iraq. The U.S. presence there spawns more Iraqi "insurgents" who make the whole story look all too believable on the evening news. The cycle is endless, because the old frontier story that is supposed to ease our insecurity actually fuels it.

But what about the innocent Iraqi people that are going through this? This is what makes Bush look like the eveil one, doesn't it? Keeping the Middle East destabilized is what Bush wants to do so that they can keep up their perpetual war. Don't sit back and think that there won't be a draft somewhere in our future!

It's certainly making the public insecure about the war. In that Washington Post-ABC poll, only 37% of Americans approved of the way Bush is handling it. So Rove's strategy may be an act of desperation. But it's also a shrewd trick---some might call it genius---because it plays on the growing fear that Iraq represents something truly awry in the American universe. It links the Democratic party to the chaos of Iraq by turning both into symbols of American weakness, wilderness, and instability.

***The only evil that is out there right now, is this administration and anyone that goes along with them.

The Republican Scherazades say, in effect, "Things may seem out of control now, but they're bound to be far worse under the Democrats, who are completely incapable of keeping our fragile lives sheltered from the winds of violent change." They tell the old familiar tales to plant seeds of doubt, to send the voter into the booth asking one big question: "Even if the Republicans are obviously not in control of this perilous world, do I dare to take a chance on those weak-willed flip-flop Democrats? If a vote against the Democrats becomes a vote against uncontrollable change---then the Republicans are likely to have another election in their pockets.

Though the frontier story and its twisted offspring have deep roots in puritan Christianity, don't just blame the Chrisitans for them. Long ago these tales became the common property of secular American culture, too. And don't just blame the Republicans. These are the same stories that led Democrats from Woodrow Wilson to Bill Clinton to places like The Somme, My Lai, and Mogadishu, promising wars to end war or communism or terrorism.

Yet ever since Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter, the Republicans have managed to make the old stories their own private property. When Democrats try to tell them, they don't just sound unbelievable anymore. Right now, in fact, nothing that most mainstream Democrats have to say seems to have the ring of believability---or the Scheherazade strategy wouldn't have a chance of saving the Republicans' political life in November. So what's a Democrat to do?

A Dem can start by seeing the risks in the Scheherazade strategy. For one thing, Rove's story depends on believable images of American strength. If U.S. forces in Iraq keep suffering disasters between now and election day, voters going into the booth will have a harder time hanging on to the image of the Republicans as their manly saviors.

It also depends on voters letting fairy tales, not logical thinking about policies, determine their vote. The Democrats should not assume that most voters will fall prey to alluring but absurd tales, as the king in Scheherazade did. They cn tell the coters---and themselves---a frontier story about another traditional American virtue; the courage to trust that ordinary people will use hard-headed common sense to seperate fact from fiction.

The old stories tell us that the actual pioneers, not the ones who so ling inhabitaed our movie screens, had to confront life honestly. They couldn't afford to "stay the course" just for the sake of saving face. And they couldn't afford to play politics with matters of life and death. When things went wrong, they were brave enough to admit it and use good old American ingenuity to set things right. They were true democrats, expecting everyone to shoulder their share of responsibility and giving their neighbors the right to express their own opinions. They didn't call disagreement "disloyalty." They knew even the humblest guy or gal might have the vest idea for fixing things.

Out on the frontier, pioneers needed that kind of courage and common sense to make sure they and their families survived. It may be just what the Democrats need to survive, too---trusting ordinary people, even Iraqis, to find practical solutions to practical problems. If the Republican candidates want to play Scheherazade, they have to recognize that the democrats might have a more honest, compelling story to tell. And we, the voters, are the king. We get to decide who remains alive at dawn on November 9 and who ends up a political corpse.

KARL ROVE'S SCHEHERAZADE STRATEGY---PART I




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'S SCHEHERAZADE STRATEGY

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.


REPUBLICAN FAIRY TALES OF HEROIC MASCULINITY

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