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If Bush Is So Weak, Why Is He So Strong?
April 9, 2004
By Ernest Partridge, The Crisis Papers

The primary rule in any contest is "know your adversary." Study his strengths and his weaknesses. Strengths can, judo-like, be turned against the foe. Weaknesses, if skillfully exploited, can subdue the enemy. This is especially true when the enemy is himself unaware of his own weaknesses.

All these are elementary precepts of gamesmanship and military science. And yet, the Kerry/Democratic strategists appear to be disregarding these basic rules, as they take on old habits and tactics that have failed them in the past.

"On the merits," the Bush candidacy should be one of the weakest and most vulnerable in historical memory. Through a constant stream of demonstrable lies, he has hoodwinked the public, impoverished their social services, mortgaged their future, and besmirched the reputation of our country among the community of nations, as he has sacrificed the lives of hundreds of our soldiers, and thousands of Iraqi civilians, to his delusions and folly. Yet, somehow, he remains a formidable contender in the pending election.

This should not, and need not, be so.

The strength of the Bush candidacy is supported by a "tripod" of factors: (1) a huge "war chest" of campaign funds, (2) a compliant media, and (3) a failure of the Democrats to exploit the weaknesses of Bush and his associates. There is little that the Democrats can do about the financial resources of the GOP except to make an issue of that very opulence, and the corporate sellouts of the public interest that enabled the party to accumulate those funds. Similarly, the corporate media has been solidly enlisted into the Bush camp. Defections will be difficult to obtain, but not impossible. If the media find that they are losing their audience, their partisanship may be muted. Even now, there is an erosion of media credibility with the public, as awareness of the betrayals, iniquities and lies of the Bush administration seeps through the media curtain and into the public awareness. Read the public opinion polls: the sleeping giant is beginning to stir.

The best means for the Democrats and the progressive opposition to topple the Bush regime, is to cut off the third leg of the tripod: recognize and exploit the intellectual incapacities and moral turpitude of the Bush administration. Space will allow little more than an enumeration. I hope to spell out these deficiencies in more detail in later essays.

Dogmatic and fixated thinking. The Bushistas have a tenuous "reality principle." Instead of being open and adaptive to incoming data, they project their dogmas outward. The world is what they "know" it to be, a priori. Evidence be damned!

Budget surpluses? Cut taxes. Budget deficits? Cut taxes. Has "trickle-down" economics failed under Reagan, and was it refuted by the Clinton prosperity? No way! Try it again! The CIA tells them Saddam is no threat? Then they install the Office of Special Plans - their own in-house intelligence group that will supply the answers they want. What, you can't find WMDs in Iraq? No matter: "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" (Rumsfeld). In general: "that's the wrong answer! Don't come back to us until you have the answer we want."

Accordingly, Bushistas are arrogant and supremely sure of themselves. It is an unusually myopic opponent who fails to recognize these qualities as acute vulnerabilities. Arrogant and inflexible individuals can be led to their downfall. "Pride goeth before the fall."

An inability to publicly admit error, combined with a readiness to blame others. Remember Bush's mangled aphorism: "fool me once, shame on you - fool me... you can't get fooled again." The correct completion, of course, is "fool me twice, shame on me." Mark Crispin Miller suggests that this flub reveals a deep moral defect in George Bush: an inability to acknowledge, and thus to articulate, personal error. Instead, blame is attached to any available individual - such as Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill, and perpetually, Bill and Hillary Clinton. The buck flows unimpeded through and past the Oval Office. Buck-passing is not an endearing quality among the general public, which appreciates heart-felt apologies. Witness the public response to Richard Clarke's apology before the 9/11 Commission.

Unscrupulous lying. All politicians lie, or at least distort and mislead - everyone knows that. What is truly remarkable about this pack of politicians, is both the quantity of the lies and their disposition to lie about trivial matters, and about matters that can readily reveal the lying. For example, the Bush team insisted that the "Mission Accomplished" banner was spontaneously put up by the ship's crew. That was readily shown to be false. And now we have the "Letterman Lie." When David Letterman showed the hilarious footage of the yawning kid at a Bush speech, the White House shot back with a charge that the footage was faked. And when Letterman held his ground, the White House compounded their lie by then denying that they ever suggested that the footage was faked - it was CNN's fault (buck-passing again). The plot thickens: the latest word is that Letterman has countered by citing an "indisputable" and "highly placed" (if anonymous) source that verifies that the White House did, in fact, contact CNN. (Farrell - search "Letterman").

What's remarkable about both the banner and Letterman incidents is their triviality - both could be dealt with by simply asserting the plain truth, with little harm done. But no, the first impulse was to lie, and so they did. And that kind of disposition is not trivial, for it reveals a fundamental moral flaw. For if the Busheviks lie without qualm about such trivial matters, they are all the more capable of lying about portentous matters. And, of course, there is abundant evidence that they have done just that. As for these more serious lies, space constraints forbid elaboration. But elaboration is not necessary, since several books have been written exposing hundreds of authenticated Bushista lies.

The Bush gang lies and passes the buck because they are thin-skinned and ruthless. They are readily provoked to anger and retaliation. Witness the abuse and personal injury piled upon such dissenters as Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill, and most acutely, upon Joseph Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame. The blind spite and viciousness of the Bush gang can be counter-productive. As Marc Cooper points out, when Richard Clarke's book was published:

All the White House had to do ... was say that Dick Clarke - who had been named crisis manager the morning of September 11 - was a great guy, a loyal public servant, that he has, indeed, a few policy differences with the president, but his critique enriches the public debate. Thank you very much and, gosh, all of us, like our old friend Dickie, are sorry we didn't better anticipate al Qaeda's attacks.

Instead, the Republican attack machine went on tilt. The always execrable Dick Cheney went so low as to use the Limbaugh show as a venue to discredit Clarke. Majority Leader Bill Frist made an ass out of himself on the Senate floor, hysterically calling for Clarke to be busted for perjury (though he admitted he had not read his book). The White House vehemently denied the decisive post-9/11 meeting between Rice and Clarke (and later had to recant).

Bush and his coterie have a grotesque and cruel sense of humor. Consider Bush's performance while Governor of Texas, as he mimicked the pleas of the condemned Karla Faye Tucker: "Please don't kill me!" Consider too his skit this past month at the Correspondents Association dinner, at which he pretended to look under the desk and chairs of the Oval Office for the missing WMDs. At that dinner, The Nation correspondent, David Corn, reflected: "Over 500 Americans and literally countless Iraqis are dead because of a war that was supposedly fought to find weapons of mass destruction, and Bush is joking about it." Yet Bush, and astonishingly, most of the correspondents, somehow felt that this performance was funny.

Finally, the Bush regime displays traits that border on the sociopathic; they appear incapable of recognizing, much less caring about, the humanity of others, or of the pain that they cause these other human beings: the impoverished, the wage-earners who lose their jobs, the investors who lose their savings to corporate criminals . They will not count Iraqi casualties. Bush will not attend military funerals. The Bush policies betray little thought about the human costs of cutbacks in social services, or burdens placed upon future generations. Furthermore, the Bushistas apparently have a "tin ear" when it comes to anticipating the moral responses of others. Somehow, they failed to perceive the inappropriateness of using for political advantage an advertisement depicting scenes of the 9/11 Ground Zero, including an image of a flag-draped body being carried out from the wreckage. When most of the public was properly offended, that political ad fell with a thud and was promptly withdrawn.

The above account describes the personal qualities of a group of individuals intellectually and morally unfit to lead a great nation. That unfitness is borne out by the disasters that have befallen and will yet befall this country and the unfortunate nations it has dealt with, as a consequence of the policies adopted and enacted by this regime.

How, then, does an opposing party and an opposing candidate respond?

It must draw public attention to these unsavory qualities and make the unscrupulous campaign methods of the Bush gang a campaign issue. If the public's moral sense is effectively addressed, it will not respond favorably to the ruthlessness and bullying of Bush and his associates.

The arrogance, dogmatism and cruelty of the Bush gang could prove to be their undoing. The Democrats might be well advised to tease, taunt and provoke the Bushistas to extreme and self- defeating behavior. More by accident than by design, arrogant excesses led to the downfall of Senator Joe McCarthy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon. The decline and fall of these three were facilitated by the initiative of courageous individuals such as Edward R. Murrow, Daniel Ellsberg, and John Dean. Similarly, George Bush is not invulnerable, for Johnson and Nixon were both far more capable and intelligent politicians than Bush.

Finally, Kerry and the Democrats must make abundantly clear to the public that the stakes in this election transcend partisanship. The libertarians recognize that the emerging theocracy and moral police state violates their most fundamental principles. The business community must appreciate that when the economy collapses, as it surely will if these policies persist, no one will escape the devastation which follows. Where the Bush Administration leads, no American aware and appreciative of his political heritage, should want to follow.

An opposition party and candidate, sufficiently intelligent and creative to recognize and exploit the opportunities afforded by the weaknesses of the Bush regime, and sufficiently inspired and inspiring to revive in the public our traditional American sense of justice and devotion to liberty, would, by so doing, display precisely those leadership qualities so desperately needed in these difficult times.

By recognizing the intellectual and moral failings of the Bush administration, and utilizing these traits as weapons against that administration, the Democrats can disarm their opulently funded GOP propaganda machine and then direct the voters' attention to essential public issues: education, health care, jobs, equitable taxation, the environment, political reform, international peace and security, etc.

The Bush-Cheney team regards the American public as an unorganized aggregate of passive dolts who can be led to believe whatever misinformation they are fed, and thereafter may be exploited as the privileged few gather wealth and power from the labor and skill of the rest of us.

There is another view: that the American nation is a community whose domestic tranquility and economic product arises from a foundation of cooperation, trust, mutual respect, and shared civic values. This view, the traditional American view, is articulated in our founding document which affirms that "governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." And so we have established, in Lincoln's words, a government "of the people, by the people and for the people."

The behavior of the American public during next eight months will determine which view of America will prevail.


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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