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How to Change the Subject
September 18, 2002
By mjjoe

I must admit, I'm very impressed with the Bush administration's ability to change the subject.

I'm not sure if you can call it "wagging the dog". That's a phrase typically used when a government goes to war or launches an airstrike to distract the public from more pressing issues. If we were to torture the analogy a little, maybe we could call this "giving the dog a new tail."

Whatever you want to call it, the administration has merely talked about going to war with Iraq and has successfully altered the focus of public discourse and coverage by our mass media. The hot topics are no longer corporate greed, the lousy economy and the ballooning budget deficit.

What particularly impresses me is how the administration has managed to look conciliatory without actually stepping away from its original intentions. To date, the Bush administration has advocated the unilateral invasion of a country based on flimsy, subjective evidence of a direct threat to the United States. By simply "consulting" the United Nations and the US Congress, the administration appears to have responded to critics of its intent to invade Iraq without asking for support from the world or the legislative branch.

That "consultation" has been the one sticking point in what appears to be public support in the US for an invasion of Iraq. Appearing before the UN and asking Congress for a resolution of support has helped George W. Bush clear this hurdle of opinion. Don't let it fool you though - Bush has still made clear he is willing to plan and execute the invasion even if these "consultations" don't result in support for further US action.

Returning to the big picture, Bush has taken away the big points the Democrats have been pushing in their efforts to take control of Congress. Administration supporters and detractors alike are now talking about Iraq.

Worse yet, the administration has taken advantage of public opinion polls to determine the scope of that topic. The question up for debate isn't "should we do it?" It's "should Bush get support first?" And though he intends to act regardless of opinions from the UN or from Congress, Bush asked for support anyway to appear responsive to concerns from those bodies.

So to review: Bush has changed the subject, given no ground, and won the debate.

Bush's goals are two-fold: accomplish his foreign policy goals and help his party in November. Simply by changing the subject, the administration has done more for GOP Congressional candidates than any military action could accomplish. It's far less expensive and doesn't result in US casualties just before an election.

The strategy is somewhat risky because nobody knows how long it will work. It's only a temporary measure in any case. If the economy remains weak the focus of debate will creep back to unemployment and bankruptcy. One more WorldCom-like scandal and the focus will quickly shift back to corporate greed.

The GOP can ill-afford either of these. That's why Bush suggested the UN give Saddam Hussein only weeks to disarm. The administration knows time is the enemy, especially since changing the subject to war has only one logical conclusion. Impressive politics aside, eventually Bush will be forced to wag the dog.

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