August 2004 Archives

“Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry,” by John O’Neill and Jerome Corsi, has climbed up the best-seller lists as a group called “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth [sic]” (SBVT) unleashed TV ads questioning John Kerry’s truthfulness about his service in Vietnam. Commentators such as Tony Blankley may admire the book’s “copious footnotes, a detailed index and two appendices,” but this doesn’t invalidate the other side of the story - the one you won’t get from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, or most of the election-as-horse-race media.

Salon has an article on the book called “Unfit for Bookstores,” and Media Matters for America has a fairly detailed series of exposés on the authors. The Chicago Tribune published an article yesterday titled “Swift Boat Skipper: Kerry Critics Wrong” that links to a first-person account of the firefight leading to Kerry’s Silver Star.

Jim Rassmann, who served with Kerry during the Bronze Star incident, says the following in his op-ed from the Wall Street Journal:

“On March 13, 1969, John Kerry's courage and leadership saved my life. […] I am a Republican, and for more than 30 years I have largely voted for Republicans. I volunteered for his campaign because I have seen John Kerry in the worst of conditions. I know his character. I've witnessed his bravery and leadership under fire. And I truly know he will be a great commander in chief. Now, 35 years after the fact, some Republican-financed Swift Boat Veterans for Bush are suddenly lying about John Kerry's service in Vietnam; they are calling him a traitor because he spoke out against the Nixon administration's failed policies in Vietnam. […] This smear campaign has been launched by people without decency, people who don't understand the bond of those who serve in combat. As John McCain noted, the television ad aired by these veterans is ‘dishonest and dishonorable.’”

Coverage of the Bush campaign’s links to SBVT has been sparse but increasing; few except have mentioned similar dirty tricks against McCain in the 2000 GOP primaries. Bush, responding to the gradually mounting criticism, admitted today that “Senator Kerry served admirably and he ought to be proud of his record.” A volunteer for the Bush/Cheney campaign who appeared in the SBVT ads was forcibly “resigned,” and that should also be considered progress.

Anyone planning to spend an evening or two with “Unfit for Command,” as I am, can afford a few minutes to learn about John O’Neill, Jerome Corsi, and the SBVT group. Then an informed judgment can be made about whether this book truly has “the ring of sincerity to it, and the mark of careful research and writing” (as Tony Blankley opines) or whether it’s another hyper-partisan hatchet job. (Not surprisingly, it’s published by Regnery!)

If veracity were to be a campaign topic, as it would be in a perfect world, then the current administration’s well-documented failures in that area should also be examined. (From the incomplete list below, David Corn’s The Lies of George W. Bush, Eric Alterman’s The Book on Bush, and Joe Conason’s Big Lies are perhaps the best overviews.)

Ali, Tariq. Bush in Babylon: The Recolonisation of Iraq

Alterman, Eric & Mark Green. The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America

Barrett, Jerry. Big Bush Lies: The 20 Most Telling Lies of President George W. Bush

Bonifaz, John. Warrior-King: The Case for Impeaching George Bush

Bovard, James. The Bush Betrayal

Brouwer, Steve. Robbing Us Blind: The Return of the Bush Gang and the Mugging of America

Brown, Cynthia. Lost Liberties: Ashcroft and the Assault on Personal Freedom

Bryce, Robert. Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America’s Superpower

Byrd, Robert. Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency

Caldicott, Helen. The New Nuclear Danger: George W. Bush’s Military-Industrial Complex

Clarke, Richard. Against All Enemies: Inside the White House's War on Terror - What Really Happened

Conanson, Joe. Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth

Corn, David. The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception

Cox, William. You’re Not Stupid! Get the Truth: A Brief on the Bush Presidency

Dadge, David. Casualty of War: The Bush Administration's Assault on a Free Press

Dean, John. Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush

Devine, Robert. Bush Versus the Environment

Dowd, Maureen. Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk

Dubose, Lou & Molly Ivins. Bushwacked: Life in George W. Bush's America

Eisendrath, Craig. Bush League Diplomacy: How the Neoconservatives Are Putting the World at Risk

Feffer, John. Power Trip: U.S. Unilateralism and Global Strategy after September 11

Frank, Justin. Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President

Franken, Al. Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right

Fritz, Ben. All the President’s Spin: George W. Bush, the Media, and the Truth

Hartung, William. How Much Are You Making on the War Daddy? A Quick and Dirty Guide to War Profiteering in the Bush Administration

Hatfield, J. H. Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President

Hightower, Jim. Thieves in High Places: They've Stolen Our Country - and It’s Time to Take It Back

Huberman, Jack. The Bush-Haters Handbook: A Guide to the Most Appalling Presidency of the Past 100 Years

Johnson, Chalmers. The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic

Kennedy, Robert. Crimes against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy

Krugman, Paul. The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century

Lind, Michael. Made In Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics

Mann, James. Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet

McCourt, Malachy. Bush Lies in State

Miller, Mark Crispin. Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney’s New World Order

Moore, James. Bush’s War for Reelection: Iraq, the White House, and the People

Newhouse, John. The Bush Assault on the World Order

Phillips, Kevin. American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush

Pitt, William Rivers. War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know

Powers, John. Sore Winners (And the Rest of Us) in George Bush’s America

Press, Bill. Bush Must Go: The Top Ten Reasons Why George W. Bush Doesn’t Deserve a Second Term

Rall, Ted. Generalissimo El Busho: Essays and Cartoons on the Bush Years

Rampton, Sheldon & John Stauber. Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq

Rutherford, Paul. Weapons of Mass Persuasion: Marketing the War Against Iraq

Scheer, Christopher. The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us about Iraq

Sims, Bennett. Why Bush Must Go: A Bishop’s Faith-Based Challenge

Solomon, Norman. Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You

Sperry, Paul. Crude Politics: How Bush’s Oil Cronies Hijacked the War on Terrorism

Sterling, Robert. 50 Reasons Not to Vote for Bush

Suskind, Ron with Paul O'Neill. The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill

Turner, William. Mission Not Accomplished: How George Bush Lost the War on Terrorism

Unger, Craig. House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties

Vidal, Gore. Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta

Waldman, Paul. Fraud: The Strategy Behind the Bush Lies and Why the Media Didn't Tell You

Williams, Ian. Deserter: George Bush’s War on Military Families, Veterans, and His Past

Willis, Clint. The I Hate George W. Bush Reader: Why Dubya Is Wrong about Absolutely Everything

Wilson, Joseph. The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Exposed My Wife's CIA Identity - A Diplomat's Memoir

Wuerker, Matt. The Madness of King George: The Ingenious Insanity of Our Most "Misunderestimated" President

No author is completely free of hidden agendas, but being an educated voter means knowing both sides of the issues. It’s often difficult in he-said-she-said situations like Vietnam war stories to evaluate conflicting recollections, but only consuming “news” that confirms one’s own biases is a very shallow and incomplete type of intellectual curiosity. (See the “Quotes of the Day” below.)

Caveat emptor, and happy reading!

Quotes of the Day:

“Slighting the three R’s in the beginning, and neglecting the liberal arts almost entirely at the end, our present education is essentially illiberal. It indoctrinates rather than disciplines and educates. Our students are indoctrinated with all sorts of local prejudices and predigested pap. They have been fattened and made flabby for the demagogues to prey upon. Their resistance to specious authority, which is nothing but the pressure of opinion, has been lowered. They will even swallow the insidious propaganda in the headlines of some local newspapers.”

Mortimer J. Adler (How to Read a Book: The Art of Getting a Liberal Education, pp. 99-100)

“Since it is difficult to distinguish true prophets from false, it is as well to regard all prophets with suspicion. It is better to renounce revealed truths, even if they exalt us by their splendor or if we find them convenient because we can acquire them gratis. It is better to content oneself with other more modest and less exciting truths, those one acquires painfully, little by little and without shortcuts, with study, discussion, and reasoning, those that can be verified and demonstrated.”

Primo Levi (The Reawakening, p. 229)

Is George Bush a fundamentalist Christo-fascist dictator, intent on shredding the Constitution? Is John Kerry a "Hanoi John" communist who secretly aims to destroy our military? Considering how many people would answer "yes" to artfully subdued (and thoroughly poll-tested) variations of one of those questions, it is worth examining the polarization of American political discourse over the past several years.

Rather than becoming more united, as we were in the wake of 9/11, our political opinions have continued to diverge. "Red states" and "blue states" may be demographic and geographic fictions in a larger sense, but on another level they represent a populace fracturing itself into opposing camps that seem bent on exaggerating both their own virtues and their opponents' vices. Inevitably, it seems, discussions of political issues degenerate into accusations of either Stalinism or Naziism.

An interesting aspect of this tendency is Godwin's Law, which states: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." As explained on Wikipedia:

"There is a tradition in many Usenet newsgroups that once such a comparison is made in a thread the thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress. Godwin's Law thus practically guarantees the existence of an upper bound on thread length in those groups."

If only a similar tradition applied in the offline world: one that stigmatized unwarranted comparisons to totalitarians on the far left - as in McCarthyism and its modern variants - as well as those on the far right.

Bush said during the 2000 campaign, "We have to do something to change the tone of the discourse," adding that "politics doesn't have to be ugly and mean." In his inaugural address, he stated:

"A civil society demands from each of us good will and respect, fair dealing and forgiveness. [...] Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos."

Rhetoric aside, George "major-league asshole" Bush and Dick "fuck yourself" Cheney are not exactly shining examples of a genuine desire for civil discourse. (John "these guys are the most crooked...lying group I've ever seen" Kerry doesn't have much credibility on this issue, either.)

The titles of some recent books indicate the enmity with which political commentators misrepresent and summarily dismiss each other's opinions. Some prominent conservative authors describe liberalism and liberals as:

guilty of "treason," "treachery," and "slander" (Ann Coulter),

"assaulting" our "borders, language, and culture" (Michael Savage),

"useful idiots" who "blame America" (Mona Charen),

guilty of "persecution" and "waging war against Christianity" (David Limbaugh),

an "evil" that must be "defeated" (Sean Hannity),

being an "enemy within" and "assaulting" "our schools, faith, and military" (Savage),

waging a "war" against "liberty" (Hannity),

responsible for "American decline" (Robert Bork), and

"assaulting" "our culture and values" and "free speech and free minds" (Tammy Bruce).

Conservatives are currently the worst offenders in terms of inflammatory, inaccurate, and borderline libelous book titles, but liberals are quickly descending to the same rhetorical level. Left-wing titles such as The Bush-Hater's Handbook, Thieves in High Places, and The I Hate Republicans Reader may be exercises in attention-getting hyperbole, but they do nothing to elevate the tone of political discourse. How will we discuss the important issues of the day when this overly simplistic red-versus-blue, right-versus-wrong, us-versus-them attitude dominates both ends of the political spectrum? What can be done now that exhortations to "take back America" come from both the right and the left?

At first glance, it might appear wisest to avoid talking about hot-button topics, instead deferring to the opinions of partisan pundits. The well-known admonition to avoid discussing religion and politics may seem to foster civility; actually, it reinforces the status quo by silencing those who would otherwise disagree. As philosopher Bertrand Russell mentions below, unquestioned acceptance of convention (as well as automatic rejection of it) constitutes obedience to the opinions of others. In this narrowly divided election year, we need more discussion and debate - not unquestioning reliance on demagogues and their mass-media echo chamber.

Ignoring or demonizing each other doesn't aid understanding; only dialogue can do that. We must be more willing - as a nation - to understand each others' opinions and, when we disagree, to do so with civility instead of contempt.

Thanks for reading.

Quote of the Day:

"I think that in general, apart from expert opinion, there is too much respect paid to the opinion of others, both in great matters and in small ones. One should respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. [...] There is of course no point in deliberately flouting public opinion; this is still to be under its domination, though in a topsy-turvy way. But to be genuinely indifferent to it is both a strength and a source of happiness. And a society composed of men and women who do not bow too much to the conventions is a far more interesting society than one in which all behave alike."

Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

George Will's "Questions for Kerry" arrived in my email Inbox, but I had already seen it in the my local newspaper. (They regularly publish an assortment of op-eds by George Will, Cal Thomas, Charles Krauthammer, etc., but the occasional Bill Press column inspires a torrent of "liberal media" letters to the editor. Go figure.)

Kerry's speech was the only part of the Democratic convention that I watched, mostly to get an indication of how he might perform in the debates. (Like press conferences, these highly scripted PR exercises usually bore me. One notable exception was when CNN mistakenly carried a live audio feed from one of the convention organizers, who was frantically orchestrating the balloons and confetti after Kerry finished speaking. His exasperation, culminating in profanity, was the funniest thing I've heard in a while!) I'm still looking forward to the debates, although not as much as I would be if other candidates were allowed to participate.

Kerry won't answer difficult questions from George Will or from anyone else, as that would require too much substance from both Kerry and our infotainment news media. I'd love to see Will pose a comparable list of questions to Bush (covering his numerous flip-flops and contradictory statements, dissecting the GOP platform, and criticizing his faux "Crawford ranch" populism) after his upcoming acceptance speech, but I don't expect that to happen either.

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This page is an archive of entries from August 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

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