Coup in Venezuela in progress.
Tue, 23 Apr 2002 09:35:23 -0300
I love this quote:
"...And National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice joined in to tell the
Venezuelan president not to be so "high-handed." Who could blame the man for
thinking, "Only one of us was elected president by majority vote-and it
isn't you, George."
Lying in Style
What you can learn about a president from how he chooses to deceive you.
By Michael Kinsley
Posted Thursday, April 18, 2002, at 11:09 AM PT
Honest administrations are all alike, but each dishonest administration is
dishonest in its own way.
Actually, there are no honest administrations. But each presidency does
bring its own unique style to the task of deceiving the citizenry. And at
least you can derive some truths about a president from the way he chooses
to lie to you. Consider the latest three.
The characteristic lying style of George Bush the Elder derived from his
core belief that politics and real life are separate realms. This derived in
turn from the cherished preppy-snob distinction between life and games. In
life one must be decent and honest and must not seem to be trying too hard.
But in games-including politics-one must be ruthless, and one must win. One
is not really misbehaving because it's only a game. So the memorable
dishonesties of Bush I were highly original artifices on novel or obscure
topics, such as Massachusetts prison-furlough policy or teachers who won't
pledge allegiance to the flag or how many times Bill Clinton raised taxes as
governor of Arkansas. The great ones were often technically true and
essentially false at the same time, and the complete performance always
included wave upon wave of follow-up obfuscation.
Bush the Elder didn't actually do a lot of the heavy lying himself. He had
people for that sort of thing. For Bill Clinton, by contrast, a lie was a
seduction-and a personal challenge. Clinton's biggest lie-will it ever be
topped?-was a daredevil triple back-flip off the high board. It concerned
Topic A on everyone's mind, not some issue invented in the campaign
laboratory. It gave him no help in the plausibility department. And yet he
offered it boldly, fearlessly, with an actual intention to persuade. And
many of us were persuaded.
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If the truth was too precious to waste on politics for Bush I and a
challenge to overcome for Clinton, for our current George Bush it is simply
boring and uncool. Bush II administration lies are often so laughably
obvious that you wonder why they bother. Until you realize: They haven't
bothered. If telling the truth was less bother, they'd try that too. The
characteristic Bush II form of dishonesty is to construct an alternative
reality on some topic and to regard anyone who objects to it as a sniveling
dweeb obsessed with "nuance," which the president of this class, I mean of
the United States, has more important things to do than worry about.
You can just see Bush rolling his eyes at the fuss-small as it is-over his
administration's role in the recent military coup in Venezuela. It is
unclear what exactly Bush administration officials said to the coup planners
in meetings over the past few months. Conflicting anonymous quotes mean that
there is some lying of the conventional sort going on. But a simple "Just
don't do it: The United States believes in democracy" was obviously not the
message or the coup would not have gone ahead.
One problem with reality of the traditional sort is that the pieces have to
fit together. In alternative reality there is no such tedious restraint. We
brag about our devotion to spreading democracy, especially in Latin America,
but we don't care at all for this pesky left-winger these fools in Venezuela
seem to have elected. Oh, him? "He resigned," said White House spokesman Ari
Fleischer with no basis and no twinkle in his eye. It would be convenient if
he had resigned and so: He resigned.
And then two days later the coup fizzled and the elected president was back.
I mean, how embarrassing is that? Not very, if you just stick to your story.
"The people have sent a clear message . that they want both democracy and
reform," Fleischer revealed. He went on to lecture the restored
president-whose overthrow we at least tacitly supported-about "governing in
a fully democratic manner." And National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice
joined in to tell the Venezuelan president not to be so "high-handed." Who
could blame the man for thinking, "Only one of us was elected president by
majority vote-and it isn't you, George."
Alternative reality can be simple and sleek. That's one thing our Bush du
jour likes about it. And simplicity is a genuine virtue in, for example,
mobilizing a nation for war. It was quite effective for a while when Bush
declared, after Sept. 11, that we were engaged in a Manichaean struggle with
a single overarching enemy called terrorism. If anyone had told him it might
be more complicated than that, Bush would have smelled nuance and sent the
fellow on his way.
But then Reality Classic intrudes. Ariel Sharon says: Hey, I'm fighting an
all-out war against terrorism, too. You got a problem with that? And the
answer is, yes, we do. But it's hard to say what our problem is without
admitting that we're not engaged in a Manichaean struggle with terrorism.
American interests and values are more varied and complicated than that.
Another inconvenience of traditional reality is that there can only be one
of them at a time. There is no such limit on alternative realities. You can
stash them around the house for use as needed, like six-packs in the good
old days. So Bush can have one reality where battling terrorism is paramount
and another reality where Israel must negotiate and compromise with the
sponsors of suicide bombers.
And if he can really juggle all these realities in his head without their
bumping up against each other (in a condition known as "irony"), maybe it
doesn't even count as dishonest.