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The Poisoned Well
March 25, 2004
By Ernest Partridge, The Crisis Papers

The Bush gang has dropped the keys to the White House into the laps of John Kerry and the Democrats.

Is it possible that the Kerry campaign will simply not notice this opportunity and will pass it by? Unfortunately, the Democrats have a deplorable habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and it appears altogether likely that they are about to do it again.

The "keys" are the Bush administration's open and incontrovertable record of lies, a record documented repeatedly by a steady succession of best-selling books - books by Al Franken, David Corn, and Joe Conason, among others, with several more in press and soon to be released. (Among them, Big Bush Lies edited by Jerry Barrett, with three chapters by The Crisis Papers editors - due for release within two weeks).

Credibility is the wellspring from which flows all the weight and substance of political persuasion. If that well is corrupted, and is known by the public to be corrupted, the prospects of that party and of the candidate drawing from that well will be seriously, and perhaps fatally, damaged.

Bush and the GOP propaganda machine have polluted that well, and thus have given Kerry and the Democrats an outstanding opportunity - if only they can succeed in making the mendacity of the Bush regime the fundamental issue of the coming campaign.

In short, credibility is the keystone issue which, if skillfully and effectively exploited, is quite capable of bringing down the House of Bush - despite, and perhaps even due to, the formidable campaign "war chest" accumulated by the Bushistas.

The Bush lies are well known to the American public. Bush lied about Saddam's alleged "weapons of mass destruction." He lied about the budget and the deficits, about his educational and environmental policies, about his personal military service, and on and on. And most significantly and conspicuously, he lied about his justifications for the Iraq war.

"But all politicians lie," reply Bush's die-hard defenders. And indeed, they do. But rarely at such a scale. Bush seems incapable of admitting to any mistakes or personal flaws, and will fib without a second thought, to avoid embarrassment or admission of fallibility. Witness Bush's feeble attempts to explain away his unauthorized absence from the Air National Guard, and the Bush boosters' claim that the sailors of the Abraham Lincoln put together, at their own initiative, the "Mission Accomplished" banner.

Credibility, as many have quipped, is like virginity: once lost, it is impossible to regain. And the America people, while all too easily duped, will, once they come to realize they have been suckered, turn with fury upon those who have lied to them. And so, once the message finally gets through to the public at large that a politician can't be trusted, he is finished. This was the fate of Senator Joe McCarthy and of Richard Nixon. If the Democrats exploit Bush's public record of lies, both skillfully and relentlessly, this can be the fate of George Bush as well. God only knows, he has given his political foes and abundance of ammunition.

And now, the mighty $150 million GOP bandwagon has begun to roll, as the woefully underfunded Democrats dread the imminent onslaught, like the unfortunate Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima.

That dread may not be warranted - not if the GOP propaganda machine is countered with skillful responses and, still better, anticipatory "pre-sponses."

Consider: in 2000, we all heard, over and over, the slanders that Al Gore had claimed to have "invented the internet" and to have "discovered Love Canal" - in general, that Gore was a "serial exaggerator" and shameless self-promoter. These false charges and caricatures were repeated so often, that they soon were widely accepted as truths. (The Goebbels "Big Lie" technique).

But note: never did we hear such embarrassments come out of the mouth of Al Gore himself, for in fact he never said these things.

And there's the difference. With the Bushistas, there is no need to simply "report" their lies to the public - far better, because they have been recorded, they can be seen and heard issuing from the lips of the Bushista liars themselves:

For example:

• "There is no question we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical." (Bush, March 17, 2003)

• "We found the weapons of mass destruction. . . . [F]or those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them." (Bush)

• "[W]e do know, with absolute certainty, that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon." (Cheney)

• "Saddam Hussein 'had an established relationship with al Qaeda.'" (Cheney)

• "I'm absolutely sure that there are weapons of mass destruction there and the evidence will be forthcoming. We're just getting it just now." (Powell)

These lies, and many more, can be found and validated in Rep. Henry Waxman's excellent database, "Iraq on the Record."

All the above assertions have been shown to be demonstrably false - i.e., lies. But there is no need to merely report these lies. Far better to show the liars on the TV screen, "caught in the act."

And they should be shown, over and over and over again - a "Big Truth" whereby it will finally sink into the public consciousness, that nothing that issues from the propaganda "wells" of the White House or the Bush campaign can or should be taken at face value. The Mighty GOP Campaign Wurlitzer will be fatally disabled, and the way will be cleared for the Democrats to get their message to the public.

Impossible? Not at all. We've seen it happen in our own time. When the organs of Soviet propaganda, Pravda, Izvestiya and Gostelradio, lost their credibility with the Russian public, that public looked to foreign sources for their news and information. Neither state monopoly of the media, nor suppression of "unofficial" sources, could restore that credibility.

It can happen here to the lavishly funded GOP campaign. But if that is to happen, the Democrats must strike forcefully and immediately. Sadly, they are not.

In the New York Times last week, Jim Rutenberg wrote an account of a "90-day Media Strategy by Bush's Aides to Define Kerry."

The Democrats believe they can weather this storm, and then fight back. As Rutenberg writes:

This early drive by the Bush campaign is in marked contrast to the approach of the Kerry organization, whose strategists say they believe the period before June is important but not as crucial as Mr. Bush's team asserts. Calling the Bush campaign's depictions of their candidate "distortions," Mr. Kerry's strategists said the labels would not stick. Mr. Kerry is on vacation in Idaho this week.

"The notion that you have a one-sided definition that takes hold five months before an election is ridiculous," said Bob Shrum, a senior advisor to Mr. Kerry. "I don't think the Bush campaign's caricatures are going to stand up to the reality. Voters are smarter than that."

Apparently Mr. Shrum and his associates have forgotten that wise old maxim: "There is no second chance to make a first impression." Karl Rove and his seasoned GOP campaign fully appreciate that the first public image of John Kerry is the one most likely to "stick," and so they are, at this very moment, hard at work constructing that image. Amazingly, the Democrats are allowing their opponents to draw, unopposed, that image of their candidate.

Unless the Democrats get off their butts and Mr. Kerry gets off the Idaho ski slopes and back to work, post haste, historians may note that the 2004 election was lost to the Democrats at the outset of the campaign.

That's how it happened in 2000. Just ask Al Gore.

When will they every learn?


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He publishes the website, The Online Gadfly and co-edits the progressive website, The Crisis Papers.

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