Seven Degrees from Normal

Two people, eighteen years of marriage, seven college degrees.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Onward and downward

Elections belong to the people. It is their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.
-- Abraham Lincoln
The first entry ever on this blog (two whole months ago) was titled "If Bush wins." While we still don't know that that's the case, I'll assume for the moment that Mr. War President will be in place for at least another two years, depending on impeachment and other proceedings. What to do?

First, what not to do:

Despair, blame, wonder what is wrong with the Democratic party and the nation in general. I can tell you in one word what the problem is: fear. People in this country have been scared shitless for three years and they are not rational. I say this as someone who 1) suffers from anxiety disorder and has learned to recognize and manage fear, both rational and irrational; 2) has taught personal safety and self-defense, where people's perceptions of their safety and their control over situations are crucial; 3) has done a fair amount of informal study in propaganda analysis, tangential to teaching rhetoric and argumentation at the college level.

So what we're seeing in election results, I think, is actually a slowing of the fear factor -- two years ago the midterms were essentially a stampede to the party of Daddy Will Save Us. That slowed considerably this year. As reality continues to erode the Bush storyline of successful leadership, people will be able to consider their fears more objectively. They will become more rational. Not a lot more; this is America, after all. But we went into this election with a huge psychological handicap. It won't be at this level forever, Terror Threat Warnings notwithstanding.

Disengage. Fatal. I'd like to myself, and I may for a couple of days. It's what They want, of course. Don't hand it to them. We are dealing with people who will never be satisfied with the enormous power they have; they want everything, including all your rights. Moreover, these are people who actually seem to prefer dirty tricks to outright victory and they will just as happily stab you in the back as in the front. If you disengage you will end up worse off than if you fight, no question about it.

Assume you are alone. Over 54 million people voted for Kerry, plenty of whom really didn't care for him all that much. And you aren't alone if you keep fighting. Keep in mind that there have already been a few of the powerful who have thrown themselves beneath the Bush juggernaut: Paul O'Neill, Eric Shinseki, Richard Clarke, Rand Beers, Joe Wilson, Eric Shaeffer, Colleen Rowley, Sibel Edmonds. Some have been thrown there whether they would or no: Valerie Plame, John O'Neill, Max Cleland. There will be others, great and small. They're all heroes to me. Do you want to let these people fight alone, or, if it comes down to that, go down alone? Of course not.

What we should do:

Stay connected. The networked communities and contact lists built by MoveOn and other groups during the last two years are an incredibly powerful tool. They've done much to get us as far as we've gotten. They are fertile ground for future action.

Expect action; demand action. A lot of pent-up investigations are going to burst free now, because people were waiting to see if they could unseat Bush by electoral means. Failing that, they will attempt to run his ass out of town any way they can -- and there are many ways to do this, all of which he richly deserves. Here are a few of the threads to watch:

1. Abu Ghraib/GITMO investigations. Stymied up until now, more people are going to leak material to the press that confirms even more hideous events at U.S. hands. Bush and a number of members of his administration already appear to be candidates for capital punishment based on the memos that authorized torture at Abu Ghraib (note the Conspiracy clause, c). William Rivers Pitt notes that
The Convention against Torture, given the force of American law in 1996, states: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture." Simply put, there is no rationale available to George W. Bush or any of his people that removes them from the need to obey the law.
2. The CIA's 9/11 report. They've been sitting on this until after the election. Wonder how they will do the damage control when they do let it out? Porter Goss wants them to remove all names.

3. Valerie Plame outing. They will tie this one off at the third tier, I think, meaning no one higher than Scott Libby will go down. But it could play out differently, and it will probably shake up the press corps a bit.

4. Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. Actually, I think the odds are good that flight-suit boy will cut and run within a few months. A draft is inevitable if we stay in and if he starts a draft this country will, in fact, burn. The question is how much egg (i.e., blood of innocents) he will have on his face.

5. Tom Delay subpoenas. Not directly linked to the administration, but germane to the whole GOP apparatus.

Stay reality-based, and watch the trends. One approach to propaganda analysis looks at people's perceptions versus their attitudes (note to real propaganda analysts: I'm a hack, sorry. I've been trying to get into a graduate program for years but can't find one not attached to a Journalism school). Perception and attitude are linked, but the causal flow between them isn't always what you would call "rational." The classic example here is when you have a neighbor who always struck you as perfectly normal, until the police tell you he has a bunch of bodies buried in his backyard, at which point you suddenly realize that, you know, there was something kind of funny about him all along. Your attitude toward mass murderers being necessarily different from your attitude toward non-murderous neighbors, your perception of the guy has to change too, in order to line up with your new attitude.

For example, if I perceive Bush as strong and resolute, my attitude would naturally be positive. (I mean, if we assume that one could perceive him this way). But let's say Bush keeps doing all the same things that made me perceive him as strong and resolute: he talks tough, he looks unworried, he doesn't alter his approach to the war or anything else. My perception of him is unchanged, and therefore my attitude should be too, right? Not necessarily. The causal flow can work backwards as well -- it just does so on a less rational, perhaps you might say subconscious, level. That is, I see the war in Iraq going badly. I see the economy in the toilet. I see Osama bin Laden running free and filming segments for America's Funniest Home Videos. In short, I begin to notice that Bush is kind of a loser and a fuck-up. Being an American, I don't like losers. So my attitude toward Bush starts to go negative. How to reconcile that with my perceptions? Well, my perceptions have to change. I begin to notice that he looks a little shifty, or that he actually is kind of annoying when he makes jokes about missing weapons of mass destruction.

We saw this happening after the first debate. If we had been winning Iraq in any sense of the word, Bush's performance there would probably have had little or no impact on people's perception of him. As it was, lots of folks were (in my opinion), already looking for some traits to justify their growing attitude shift. It was especially noticeable on the right-wing blogs, where people are heavily invested in their attitude toward Bush (winner), and therefore failed to even perceive many of the truly annoying behaviors that the bulk of America picked up on.

This trend will continue. As the shift in attitude alters the perception of Bush, he will become more vulnerable to things that he seemed invulnerable to previously: impeachment, prosecution for war crimes, censure for any number of things. They all become much more plausible if people simply don't like the man anymore.

Gore Vidal has said Bush will leave office as the most hated President in history. 55 million people or so still need to be convinced. Luckily, Bush himself will make most of the case for us. But we should be there ready to point out his failings and press for accountability.

This post has gotten huge, so I'll stop here for now. Later tonight I'll start linking to other groups and people with more suggestions.


Post a Comment

<< Home