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Re: The Pretexter Stain: Let History Know You Want To Be Included Out.

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Message Lawrence Velvel
September 14 , 2006

Re: The Pretexter Stain: Let History Know You Want To Be Included Out.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:


Though George Bush, Dick Cheney and their cohorts are liars, one has always been reluctant to apply the word "liar" to the President of the United States. "Liar" is such a harsh word, a word so out of keeping with the (false?) conventions of professional and civil discourse. True, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, like Bush, were also liars, so that one might argue, only half facetiously, that over the years the word "liar" and the word "President" have become practically equivalent, practically synonyms. This argument would augur for it being permissible, as well as factual, to call the President a liar. But still the word "liar" has a harsh ring and the conventions remain against it, at least in written discourse.

On the other hand, to merely say that the President was "incorrect," or that he made a "false" statement, sounds so weak in comparison with the venality and mendacity of the false statements. (WMDs anyone? Saddam supports Al Qaeda anyone? By fighting them in Iraq we are creating democracy throughout the Middle East anyone?)

So, since the use of "liars" is against convention, and "incorrect" and "false" are too namby pamby, what word shall one use?

Well, thanks to Hewlett Packard we now have the perfect word. George Bush is a pretexter. He and his cohorts are constantly pretexting. To pretext -- using the word as a verb, in the same way that "impact" got turned into a verb (as in "it impacted me") -- is to lie. At minimum, to pretext is to falsely pretend, which, when you think about it, is hard to differentiate from lying, although the tone is perhaps slightly less harsh. So, using "to pretext" as meaning to lie (or, minimally, to falsely pretend), George and company pretexted about WMDs, pretexted about the use of rendition and torture, pretexted about the real reasons for using military tribunals (the "real reason was that they knew civilian courts would not let in evidence obtained by torture), pretexted about the competence of the government's response to Katrina (remember "You're doing a heck of a job Brownie?), pretexted about judicial appointments, and pretexted ad infinitum and ad nauseum.

Most recently Bush and his cohorts, in a mad fit of trying to keep Republicans in office by politicizing the war in Iraq, have been pretexting shamelessly about the meaning of our current wars. His war against terrorism is "'the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century,'" the Pretexter-In-Chief said on September 11th. And "'the safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad,'" he said the same day. One might ask, how can the pretexter know, in only the sixth year of the 21st century, that the battle against terrorism is the decisive ideological battle of a century that still has 94 years to go? Could a person in the year 1906 have foreseen the Great War and the problems it left? The rise of Soviet Communism? The rise of German fascism? World War II? The atomic age? The Cold War? Repeated genocides against one group and another? The rise of Muslim fundamentalism? All of which occurred in the 94 years after 1906. Is Bush some sort of clairvoyant, some sort of Nostradamus, who can see the future in 2006 in ways that were denied to the lesser mortals of 1906? Why does one doubt this?

What's more, doesn't the "'decisive ideological struggle of the 20th century'" sound awfully much like Lyndon Johnson's and Richard Nixon's statements that we must fight and defeat the communists in Viet Nam or they will threaten and possibly take over the entire "free world"? (Which in truth is not always so free and in some places is not free at all.) Johnson's and Nixon's statements were pretexts -- which doesn't augur well for Bush's statements about decisive ideological battles. And doesn't Bush's statement that our safety depends on fighting them in the streets of Baghdad remind you of, isn't it defacto identical to, Johnson's infamous statement that we have to fight them in Viet Nam or we'll have to fight them in the streets of San Francisco? Johnson's statement was a pretext. Bush's isn't?

Of course, Bush's most recent pretexts can falsely be argued to be something other than pretexting. One could say, for example, that he is not pretexting, but rather is expressing honestly held opinions, or is merely indulging in politics. Sorry bub. These arguments won't do. If he is merely engaging in politics, this would signify yet again how low our politics have sunk. And it also raises a somewhat philosophical question. If pretexting might not be pretexting if one believes it (assuming that Bush does), then when is an honestly held belief so stupid, so preposterous, that it is the defacto equivalent of a pretext? Is the statement that the holocaust never happened not a lie, despite its stupidity and counterfactualness, because David Irving and Ahmadinejad really believe it? We open the door to more and continuous pretexting if we allow such nonsense not to be thought pretexting, since people, including Pretexters-In-Chief, can always say, "Well, I really believe it." (As Lincoln once analogously remarked, if one says the Constitution allows a President to fight a war without congressional approval whenever he says he is repelling an attack, then one is saying the President can fight a war whenever he chooses to say he is repelling an attack. So, too, here a pretexter would be found not to be pretexting because he really believes his own lies, er, pretexts. (It is an old saw that one should never believe one's own b.s.))

Bush's pretexts, including really dumb statements such as his most recent pretexts about the supposed decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century and the streets of Baghdad, also bring up other questions. How is it that this country elects leaders of such remarkably little intelligence as Bush and his mentor, the Yale flunk-out (who failed out when only 2% of Yalies did so.) Or, to put the matter harshly, but possibly truly, is it possible that our electorate is so stupid, or so biased, that it is regularly taken in by such people? Sadly, the latter possibility does not seem wholly bereft of accuracy. A woman who sometimes responds to my blogs, and whose responses make plain that she is a person of parts, recently opined to me that, looking around the world, it would seem that about one-third of the population of countries is deeply, instinctually conservative. Her estimate would seem true if not low for America, if you ask me. (Whereas, one would estimate that only a far smaller percentage of the population -- perhaps five or ten percent -- are deeply, instinctually liberal. (Which is one of the reasons why our Revolution was so remarkable and why Tom Paine remained odd man out for so long though he is perhaps the greatest political writer ever.)) Given the heavily conservative tilt of our population, there are overwhelming numbers of people who wish to believe, and therefore will believe, any conservative claptrap that reactionary pretexters like Bush and Cheney spout, no matter how absurd it is. So yes, we are faced with serious mass stupidity by lots of the electorate, aided and abetted by the incompetence and sometimes mass stupidity of the media.

Much of this, of course, contributes to the reasons why the right wing is so angry at higher education, since the right wing (the David Horowitz crowd) thinks the academy has been taken over by the left -- which surely is not true of at least some highly influential places like the University of Chicago Economics Department (and its Political Science department -- I really don't know) -- and which, even where true, does not seem to be having much effect on the views of students, who are often very conservative these days. The right wing zealots, however, having taken over the three branches of the Federal Government, much of state government, much of the press, and most think tanks cannot stand the fact that elements of the academy resist. (A couple of years ago it was said here, to the seeming consternation of at least one leading conservative blogger, that in view of the conservative takeover of most of America, and notwithstanding the variegated intellectual viewpoints of our own school's faculty, there was a real question whether liberals were obliged, Horowitzian-like, to insure that there are conservatives on faculties. Lately some others have said the same thing for the same reasons. And, given the press, the think tanks, the multitude of conservative books, and the multitude of conservative students, one need not worry that the conservative view will be shut out on campus.)

In any event, it seems to me that a major share of an electorate is fundamentally conservative, and will accept any conservative pretext, no matter how wrong or even stupid, that is offered by any (continuous) pretexter like Bush. Currently, the only saving grace (if it can be called that) in the long run is that some of these people will ultimately come around to conceding the truth after the facts showing the pretexting have piled up year after year, as they have piled up for years now regarding Iraq, so that even people who voted for and long favored the Pretexter-In-Chief are apparently proving somewhat resistant to Bush's current pretexts aimed at saving a Republican Congress, thereby enabling him to continue his war indefinitely and to save his own pretexting hide. Possibly, there may also be another saving grace in process of arising. There are some who think that the heavily conservative tilt of the population is, most importantly, a tilt of the older generation, and that the rising younger generation generally does not share it, notwithstanding all the YAFs, YRs, Federalist Societies and other conservative to reactionary student organizations on campus. If this is true, there may ultimately be a change in instinctual preferences. But even so, in the meanwhile, and while others are only slowly coming to grips with the actual facts which confute the pretexts of Bushian cohorts, people like Paul Krugman and the saving five or ten percent who recognized the facts early-on will have to live in frustration that others refuse to accept plain truths that guys like Krugman try to explain to them.


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Lawrence R. Velvel is a cofounder and the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, and is the founder of the American College of History and Legal Studies.
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