Saturday, November 26, 2005

Bush's Bathtub Hoax

When (correspondents often ask me) will the public wake up to the fraud being perpetrated on the nation for the last several years by this dark-shaded White House and in the name of--fill in the blanks: security, anti-terrorism, freedom, values, "ownership," "our way of life," whatever that last may be at the moment (shopping?). The question keeps recurring as if it could have a satisfying answer. But the question assumes too much, beginning with the notion that people are somehow asleep. That this couldn't have happened if they'd had their eyes open and their wits about them. That people are being willfully deceived. But the deception is self-inflicted. I'm, reminded of the time H.L. Mencken wrote his famous, and famously fictional, history of the bathtub. Newspapers ran it all over the place. Some ran it as nothing more than the fictional, humorous ditty he intended it to be, "a tissue of somewhat heavy absurdities," as he described it in a subsequent essay, "all of them deliberate and most of them obvious." Ironically, Mencken wrote the piece in December 1917, "to sublimate and so make bearable the intolerable libido of the war for democracy," what was then known as the War to End All Wars, what then became known as the Great War, and what, once it took on serial proportions, finally became known as World War I (man's hope for sequels having to be quenched at every opportunity). The point being that Mencken was sick of the bullshit associated with the justifications for the war, most if not all of those justifications being bunk. And if the country was so richly engrossed in bunk and on a scale so deathly as the bloody fields of Flanders, then why the hell not write a history of the bathtub, allege that it was put into the White House for the first time in the 1850s, and how "the intrepid Millard Fillmore, of Cayuga, N.Y., took the first presidential bath."

Problem is that gullibility being a national necessity (you wouldn’t have a nation of shoppers without first having a nation of gullibles) many newspapers ran the bathtub history as god's truth, as history right out of the books. Before long Mencken got worried, "[f]or it quickly appeared that at least nine-tenths of these readers took my idle jocosities with complete seriousness! Some of them, of antiquarian tastes, asked for further light upon this or that phase of the subject. Others offered corrections in detail. Yet others offered me corroboration! But the worst was to come. Soon I began to discover my preposterous 'facts' in the writings of other men, some of them immensely earnest.[...] They got into learned journals and the transactions of learned societies. They were alluded to on the floor of Congress."

And we wonder how the hoax of the weapons of mass destruction went from a fiction in the ramped-up imagination of a few oversexed and underemployed dissidents, a few overzealous CIA hacks, too many Internet trawlers and one prodigiously somnolent president all the way to a national policy and the most useless war on the planet since the last great useless war (the one by the same producers but in a more southeast Asian way)? It isn;t a matter of people having to wake up to realize the truth. It's nothing so noble, nothing so hopeful. It's a matter of people fully awake, fully aware, fully cognizant, even literate in some cases and brilliant in rare ones, wanting their truths chewed for them and mollified into digestible deceptions that make the days go by easier. It was never a matter of an American public being deceived on a large scale so much as it was a public craving deception, asking for it, getting it, and rewarding the deceiver in chief (our Grand Inquisitor of the moment, if there ever was one) with reelection. Those who would speak the truth would be slapped around and sent on their way, reviled and unneeded. Recall again Mencken's conclusion: "No normal human being wants to hear the truth. It is the passion of a small and aberrant minority of men, most of them pathological. They are hated for telling it while they live, and when they die they are swiftly forgotten. What remains to the world, in the field of wisdom, is a series of long-tested and solidly agreeable lies. It is out of such lies that most of the so-called knowledge of humanity flows. What begins as poetry ends as fact, and is embalmed in the history books. One recalls the gaudy days of 1914-1918."

One need not recall the gaudy days of 2001-2005. They're our days, our bathtub hoax, and we're all soaking in 'em up to our gills, willfully so. Those polls showing the president down below 35 percent in approval suggest that people are "waking up." It's nothing of the sort. There could be a mild-to-spectacular terrorist attack tomorrow. His ratings would shoot up faster than a heroin addict in the Bowery (who, all told, is more honest and defensible than the majority of our congressmen and the quasi totality of the current administration). Bush is very likely praying for an attack (to that same Old Testament god that vindictively loves to answer bloody-minded prayers, to make things interesting). It's the only thing that lent him legitimacy in 2001. He overdrew. A second mortgage of borrowed legitimacy is the only thing that can help him crawl to his finish line in 2008. He should be so lucky, and the rest of us, of course, so damn unlucky. Then again, it's self-deceiving to imagine that if there were to be an election tomorrow and he was the warmongers' choice, he'd lose. He wouldn’t lose. He'd find a way to win. His presidency has been all about putting the political fight above all else, even and especially at the expense of the lives of ordinary Americans here and not-so ordinary Americans in Iraq. The strategy didn't fail him. Bush is our bathtub hoax, and we've yet to see a correction.