Conservative Republicans boast of freedom, which they equate with tax cuts and a government strong on military power and weak on social services. They demand accountability from everyone but themselves. This is not new, but the mass media and the Bush administration seem to be carrying it to extremes that combine Julius Caesar with Sid Caesar.
Sammy Sosa, a great baseball player, breaks a bat with cork in it and the mass media pounces. Baseball has been besmirched, and national honor threatened. Meanwhile, Sosa explains this as a mistake, takes full responsibility and is vindicated when X-rays of all his other bats prove negative.
Still, punishment must be meted out, the pundits howl, if the honor of the national pastime, and the belief system of children of all ages, are to be preserved.
A society based on collective responsibility and honor, a socialist society, would take Sammy at his word, respect him and move on, since he is the greatest player in the history of the Cubs, a player who is most responsible for the Cubs’ greatest fame since it won its last World Series in 1908.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration is caught in a massive series of lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the ostensible reason for fighting the war before “Iraqi freedom” became the main spin line.
But no one is talking about the besmirching of national honor and the imposition of penalties on the administration (maybe a suspension for Bush, Powell and Rumsfeld).
The administration, out of one side of its mouth (Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld), suggests that the weapons were probably destroyed before the invasion and, out of the other side of its mouth, perks up at the sight of any possible microbe in Iraq.
No one in the administration has stepped forward and taken responsibility “like a man,” as Sammy Sosa said and did about his bat incident.
American presidents have been caught in big international lies before, but have at least admitted culpability when the evidence against them was overwhelming. In 1960, when a U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union, President Dwight Eisenhower initially denied U.S. involvement. The CIA told Eisenhower that the pilot, Frances Gary Powers, had to be dead and carried nothing incriminating with him, and that the plane wreckage could be labeled “Communist propaganda.” When Powers turned up alive in Moscow and made a full confession, Eisenhower sheepishly changed his story.
A year later, as the CIA carried forward its scheme to invade Cuba with a battalion of counter-revolutionaries trained in Central America, CIA pilots pretending to be Cuban Air Force defectors bombed Cuban installations. President Kennedy and United Nations ambassador Adlai Stevenson hotly denied U.S. involvement in the attack, which they attributed to independent Cuban “freedom fighters.” However, the Cubans had proof. The planes the CIA pilots were flying were the same make and model as Cuban Air Force planes the Batista dictatorship had bought from the U.S. in the 1950s, but Batista had bought cheap planes with Plexiglas noses – he was probably saving his money for the gambling dens and bordellos of Havana – while the CIA planes had solid nose cones. Stevenson particularly was humiliated, and Kennedy was compelled to admit responsibility after the invasion turned into a disastrous defeat.
But Bush is admitting nothing, while Iraqis and U.S. troops continue to die.
In Britain, members of parliament who opposed the Iraq war are putting pressure on Tony Blair, who is responding with pledges to “prove” the existence of weapons of mass destruction. But there are no “no confidence” votes leading to new elections.
The Bush and Blair administrations believe that they can lie with impunity, going from one lie to the next, with media running interference for them if the lies are big enough. The assumption seems to be that most people will think what you want them to think in a specific situation, and then forget when the lies are exposed, because you will be hitting them with new lies. A distinguished journalist, analyzing Sen. Joe McCarthy’s methods in the 1950s, called this tactic “the multiple untruth.”
If we are to prove Bush wrong, we must begin the campaign to defeat him with a serious candidate like Dennis Kucinich, who opposed Bush’s war policies in a principled way and has stuck to his guns while others in the Democratic Party have waffled and scattered.
Norman Markowitz is a history professor at Rutgers University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org