Implication for the Long Run: Developments Last Week

John Turner

Monday: In the early years of the 19th century, Thomas Jefferson, well past the time when he had any official duties, told John Adams that he tried to read as much as he could but that he found it impossible to get through more than forty volumes in a year. Now we hear from George Bush that he has already read fifty-three books this year, including works by Albert Camus and William Shakespeare. Those who believe this should form a club with those who think that Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction and that he was behind the attacks in September of 2001. I'll go on record that I don't believe George Bush has read fifty-three books in his entire life. It's precisely the ignorance of a non-book reading man who would think he could score a public relations victory by claiming unrealistic reading totals. The president has doubtless been told that the average voter doesn't know what it is is to read a single book and, therefore, is gullible enough to fall for a tale designed to counter the widespread notion that he is an ignoramus. It would be interesting to know which of the president's staff came up with this gambit. Might Tony Snow have something to do with it? He's widely advertised as having discussed Camus's novel with Mr. Bush and is probably one of the few members of the Bush circle who, prior to this latest publicity stunt, had ever heard of the French thinker

Tuesday:  Does access to oil in other countries help shape American foreign policy? Every sensible person in the world knows it does. Yet, somehow, there is a pretense among politicians, and also among mainstream journalists, that oil has nothing to do with where U.S. military forces are deployed, or which nations we invade and occupy. Spencer Ackerman noted recently that "there's  a certain ridiculous tap dance in politics and in the media about talking about oil, as if the simple recognition that oil influences foreign policy is somehow a gauche or extreme statement." Reticence about oil is, indeed, ridiculous from one point of view. But there's a clear reason for it. The genuine motives of American foreign policy have been concealed for so long the people in power fear that any crack in the veneer might lead to a ripping away of the whole cover. They can't concede anything, even if it's obvious, because one admission of less than noble aims would lead on to another, and another, and so on until the American people would understand why the rest of the world views us as it does. And that for the political power structure would be disastrous

Wednesday: During his speech in Salt Lake City, before the American Legion, Donald Rumsfeld asked a series of rhetorical questions, the last being, "And can we truly afford to return to the destructive view that America -- not the enemy -- is the real source of the world's trouble?" This is vintage Republican argumentation, insinuating things that aren't true in order to slam anyone who won't get on board with the administration. Does Rumsfeld, or any sane person, think that the world's trouble comes from a single source?  That's the implication of his question and it's absurd. There's plenty of blame in this world to go around and no nation or group is completely free of it. Nobody is pure. Yet, people like Rumsfeld continue to charge that any criticism of U.S. foreign policy is an attempt to blame everything on the America. This actually is an expression of contempt for the American people. The assumption that we will swallow such childish foolishness is to argue that the people have no right to make democratic decisions, that we are insufficiently intelligent to assess the sources of the world's problems and take responsibility for our share of them. But, then, that's doubtless what Rumsfeld really thinks.

Thursday: I've tried to stay away from the terms "fascist" and "Nazi" when discussing current politics. They have been employed in such slovenly ways recently they function primarily as insults. Few people hear them any longer as indicators of a political philosophy. I feel fairly sure the advisors of President Bush are relying on that. These incendiary words are being worked into the president's speeches for one purpose only. And it's not to convey information about the opponents of America. The tactic of trying to scare the population into supporting Mr. Bush has been used so frequently it can work only if the people are devoid of political memory. The current argument that the enemies of America are both unified and fascistic , and therefore comparable to Germany in the 1940s, is so silly only those who are uncomfortable with meaning and find drama in being terrified can avoid laughing at it. It's sad that we can't be sure they make up only a small minority.

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Harvard Square Commentary, September 4, 2006