“Sarah, if the people had ever known the truth about what we Bushes have done to this nation, we would be chased down in the streets and lynched.”
- Bush 41 to reporter Sarah McClendon, Dec. 1992
Hannah Arendt would’ve described this administration’s increasingly Byzantine dealings as “the inanity of evil.” There’s really no other phrase to describe it.
In describing the nondescript, guilt-free testimony of Adolph Eichmann
to an Israeli court as “the banality of evil”, Arendt gave future generations a cautionary tale in miniature as to how easily we can coexist with evil even when it rears its innocuous-looking, balding head. However, she unintentionally left us unprepared for another kind of evil that’s comfortably nestled like a camouflaged snake in what passes for American culture: The inanity of evil.
By this, one can infer that the current administration runs like a crippled Ratso Rizzo in a universally-inhabited dream world of shifting sand, where traction, grace or a step is never lost and bad never happens or, at worst, is casually acknowledged and pre-emptively written off. Indeed, George W. Bush has become quite adept at neutralizing current and future criticism of the war in Iraq by coldly predicting that US casualties will be heavy in the month of August and that’s merely the cost of doing war.
But that’s but one of the many Protean rationales and objectives that one could not have predicted from an administration and army of flacks and drumbeaters who’d assured us in 2003 that US troop casualties would be kept to a bare minimum, that Iraqi civilians would be spared from senseless destruction ("the sheer humanity" gushed Rumsfeld) due to the quasi-divine level of technology of our laser-guided missiles and smart bombs.
Then, after being told to be patient while we await the good news from Gen. Petraeus this September, we were then told not to raise our expectations or expect too much from the man who'd said from the outset that the surge "had a one in four chance of suceeding." The turnaround time from lofty promises to lowered expectations is getting alarmingly more brief.
The most disturbing aspect of this war is not merely the constantly metamorphosing impetuses for invading and occupying Iraq but that the administration never makes it a point to remind us that these expectations have been lowered, that they’d once made pie-in-the-sky promises that Iraq’s war would cost one billion dollars and would be paid for by their own oil revenue, that we could mop up the place with 135,000 troops and be back home by the 4th of July 2003, that we’d be greeted as liberators, that democracy would take root and become the political gold standard for the Middle East.
This constant revisionist mindset, accompanied by the paternal invocation of, “Trust us, we know what we’re doing” fits like a velvet glove over an iron fist with a criminally deferential press and an American “culture”, for want of a better word, that embraces the catchphrase of, “It’s all good.”
But “it’s all good” is in itself a complacent Republican sentiment that was expressed nearly 300 years ago when Alexander Pope wrote in the “Essay on Man, Epistle I,”
All Nature is but Art unknown to thee;
All chance direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good:
And spite of Pride, in erring Reason's spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.
And to bring that point home, the Bush administration and Fox News seem to be inappropriately humping that other delightful Pope axiom of a little learning being a dangerous thing.
The press gets that when they nervously gulp and ask Bush or any senior administration official in a quavering voice questions such as, “If major combat operations were over by May 2003, then why do we need a surge?” Or, “How can the American people continue to believe that you’re aware of what’s going on and aren’t living in a constant state of denial?” Such impertinent questions are almost invariably responded to as an impatient father would after having his values questioned by his increasingly self-aware 12 year-old.
And an administration that depends entirely on Orwellian revisionism, aided greatly by a White House press pool full of Winston Smiths all too eager to forget the failed objectives, discredited rationales and once-lofty expectations doesn’t like an electorate that can think for itself and has lengthening memories. It’s notable that the people who are most conspicuously the targets of partisan backlash are the ones who are finally getting organized and have the power to mobilize like-minded people: Liberal, progressive bloggers.
It is impossible to imagine a political landscape without political bloggers, upon whom an increasingly large percentage of online news consumers are depending for an explicated, factual version of current events, as well as upon Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. It’s more than a sad and even alarming state of affairs for democracy when we have to depend upon part-time political pundits who, at most, daily attract 1-2% of the national population and comedians on the Comedy Channel for their news.
Yet it’s equally difficult for many distracted Americans to remember a day when we were told again and again that we were neutralizing a mushroom-clouded terrorist threat west of Iran and replacing it with milk and honey. And this is why the netroots is more relevant and necessary than ever.
Because not enough of the electorate has come to grips with the fact that we have failed in every one of our stated objectives (and even the ancillary ones, such as bringing democracy to Iraq, a nation deeply divided among three warring factions, not the most auspicious seedbed for Jeffersonian democracy) except in one notable instance:
Enriching the corporate sector, something forcefully promised by Donald Rumsfeld in the Pentagon briefing room on September 10th, 2001. It’s easy to view Iraq as a screaming success if you’re Eric Prince in the Great Dismal Swamp or the man who’s increasingly recognized by our Rip Van Winkle electorate as the sinister Phantom of Halliburton’s boardroom, Dick Cheney.
The same thing could be said of post-Katrina New Orleans. Blackwater USA wound up making a tidy $73,000,000 for their “work” in New Orleans while their mercenaries ambled around the French Quarter complaining to the press about making “only” $350 a day, a little over half what they made in Iraq, courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public. And New Orleans’ reconstruction has been bogged down in red tape at the municipal, state and especially the federal level, yet Halliburton still rakes in billions from the glacial cleanup and gets tax breaks from the SBA for qualifying as a small business (because Halliburton doesn’t ordinarily take on contracts such as post-disaster cleanup, which only beggars the question, “Why give it to them, in the first place?”).
If Hannah Arendt were alive today, she would surely characterize this cast of criminals who would call the sky green if Keith Olbermann or Michael Moore said it was blue, as the inanity of evil.
And we cannot say that we weren’t warned years ago when Karl Rove told Ron Suskind
(and it would’ve surely been Bush’s Brain, since this quote is pure Rove),
We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.
The sad part is, when the observant among us see how more or less successful is the new smear campaign against Iran
, it's becoming increasingly obvious that we’re not even studying.