In 2003, days before journalists published the name of a CIA operative, Scooter Libby and Karl Rove discussed their conversations about the matter with reporters. Hardly a new or surprising technique for the White House PR machine, in a "take no prisoners" manner another administration critic was about to be punished. By writing an op-ed piece entitled "What I didn't find in Africa" and exposing the lie behind the war, Joseph Wilson had broken the cardinal loyalty rule , which required unwavering and unquestioning support for George W. Bush.
The punishment, outing Wilson's wife as a CIA agent, was about more than revenge. The punishment was to accomplish the same purpose as every other retribution meted out by the White House- INTIMIDATION. This and other amercements from the machine always sent the same message to journalists, politicians, and even average citizens: "Agree, or you will be sorry." Dissenting average citizens were castigated as "unpatriotic," politicians as "America haters," and journalists as "treasonous." The message was received and accepted by the intimidated, who promptly and cowardly accepted the new algorithm, changing their positions and posturing- even voting to limit their own speech and power in the Patriot Act.
And so it is, now that America's war against Iraq has gone badly resulting in a predictable shift of public sentiment against the President, the roaches crawl out from under the wait-n-see rock.
Pundits, journalists, citizens, and the Democratic Party loudly proclaim that the emperor has no clothes. But what if the war had gone well?
What if today's Iraq displayed a thriving democracy? America would have become the "Homeland" that PNAC envisioned- and our constitution and two-party system would be history. Our now gleeful journalists would have a totally different take on "Plamegate-" which is the most troubling truth to be taken away from this whole dirty mess.
At least for a time the media, the public, and the opposition party fell into line with an immoral, lying, dictatorial propaganda machine. Both fear and laziness made it easy for the likes of Rove to manipulate our opinions. Like Hitler's Reichstag fire, 9-11 gave the White House the conduit to use fear to manipulate public sentiment. It was easy because the public wanted to believe that an easy solution existed. America wanted to hate and exact revenge on an Arabic target. The lazy media, who now makes Judith Miller its scapegoat, dutifully arrived for its daily spoonfeeding of propoganda, printing without even amateur research what is now known to be a total pack of lies.
Perhaps the largest irony of this whole affair is that the "Plamegate" outing of a marginal CIA agent was totally unnecessary- America and the Democratic Party was more than willing to accept the WMD story. This willingness was more than passive- which exposes a dangerous truth about the American public, our leaders, and the entertainment media: War is fun when you win.
The number one reason that Democratic leaders in congress like John Kerry voted to support Bush's war was the frightening prospect that Bush would actually win his war. Harsh political reality is that America likes winning- and even the possibility of ending up on the losing side of the political war was not worth taking the moral high ground. Even a John Wayne soldier like Colin Powell stood before the world and told a lie- knowing that it was untrue- because he was afraid. That this war was immoral was not important. That we have lost the war, lost soldiers, lost respect is important. For now we are a nation without conscience, without principle, and without moral leadership.
The very existence of the Patriot Act which allows our government to spy on its citizens and to violate the Bill of Rights in the name of "security" endangers our ability to change the new "winning is most important" algorithm. At the heart of this danger is a frightening truth- America has changed. Winning is paramount- not only to our citizenry and our military but to each individual in our government as well.
A new paradigm, a new morality has replaced honesty and individualism.
Victory is more important than nobility, loyalty is more important than bravery, and prudence trumps honesty. Even America's entertainment reflects this new ideal in reality shows that champion cunning manipulators over intelligent leaders. Clinton, who America fondly remembers now that an era of economic hardship has ensued, is called "Slick Willy" not as a put-down, but as a commendation. This "win at all cost" exemplar didn't materialize out of thin air when George W. Bush became president. This president has merely taken full advantage of America's preoccupation with winning.
While progressives fear the religious right fundamentalists who would turn our democracy into a theocracy, they are blind to the new religion that is at the heart of our latest downfall. The Win religion has grown over the last twenty years as yuppies came of age. Even the Christian Church has almost universally touted the prosperity religion that teaches Christian living will enrich the believer. The "Name it and claim it" religion of Kenneth Copeland now pervades all of American culture, and has grown out of a greed and selfishness that had to find a new label- Success.
How-to books about success line the shelves and are promptly snatched up with greedy hands by Americans hungry for the latest tip on how to come out on top of the capitalist pyramid. Indeed, every one of those books could easily carry the title "How To Win." It is no wonder that America has forgotten its noble calling, the virtues that made this country great.
Perhaps American is better than Hitler's Germany- perhaps we will learn the lessons of history. However, America is in jeopardy of extinction as long as it values success and winning over truth and goodness. This truth is at the heart of the debate about the war, about political hardball- the debate is about us.
So stop the giggling. Stop taking such pleasure in the Plame Scandal.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said,
"What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us."
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