WAXMAN, ORWELL AND THE BUSH REALITY MACHINE
Aug 4 2007
Attorney General Gonzales’ audaciously incredulous testimony before the
Senate Judiciary Committee and the White House’s repeated invocation of
executive privilege to block congressional investigations, highlight
the fact that the essential text to understanding the Bush years
is not Bob Woodward’s State of Denial, but rather George Orwell’s
1984. In his classic novel, Orwell makes two fundamental points that
go to the heart of the Bush administration and their current battles
with Congress — information is power since control of information
leads to control over people; and "who controls the past controls
the future and who controls the present controls the past."
Email Print Comment It was clear from the start that the White House
understood that information was power as they carefully choreographed
every message with visual images or slogans such as "Clear Skies" that
moderated the actual substance being conveyed. With David Suskind’s
2002 interview with a White House aide, however, we discovered that
in the Bush administration basing policy on a "discernible reality"
was a thing of the past. "[W]e create our own reality. And while
you’re studying that reality . . . we’ll act again, creating other
Indeed they did. Like no administration before it, the Bush
administration has worked diligently at creating new realities by
concealing, distorting and manufacturing information on a broad range
of issues aided by a once timid media and docile Congress.
Last month’s "Initial Benchmark Assessment Report" on the effectiveness
of the surge in Iraq report was the administration’s latest pièce de
resistance. Despite the fact that the report’s claim of success on
eight of the 18 benchmarks set by Congress was pure spin and contrary
to testimony by the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council
that there have been "few appreciable gains," the press ran with the
report’s glass half-full assessment.
As the Bush administration churned "new realities," Representative
Henry Waxman worked diligently within the Republican Congress to expose
these false realities with reports on the Bush administration’s Iraq
lies, politicization of science and overall secrecy. The Democratic
victory in November moved Waxman to Chairman of the House Oversight
and Government Reform Committee and has enabled him and other Democrats
to shine a spotlight on Bush’s reality machine.
Waxman currently is investigating one of the quintessential
administration realities — the death of football star Pat Tillman.
The Pentagon claimed that Tillman was killed leading a charge against
the enemy; when in reality he was killed by friendly fire. The Bush
administration, however will not relinquish their secrets without a
fight, as they have gone to Nixonian extremes in invoking executive
privilege to withhold evidence from Congress in the Tillman and other
investigations and even attempted to claim that the Vice President
was a separate branch of government.
While issues such as executive privilege, the White House’s failure to
retain presidential records and Bush’s order restricting access to his
records after he leaves office may appear mundane, Orwell teaches us
that this is a much larger and significant battle as the White House is
seeking to engrave its manufactured realities in the tablet of history
by discarding or eliminating access to the truth. This administration
already has demonstrated that it views history as another form of
reality to be created when it discarded 300,000 pamphlets on helping
children learn history because it embraced historical standards that
were "too gloomy" and not white enough for Lynne Cheney.
History matters, since as historian David McCullough notes, it is
about "who we are and why we are the way we are." This explains why
history sometimes remains in debate for decades or even centuries
or is rewritten to fit government propaganda such as in the former
Soviet Union where it was said that "nothing is as unpredictable as the
past." Consider the fact that during the past few months alone, Turkey
has engaged in diplomatic skirmishes with Canada, Chile and France over
their recent recognition of the 1915 genocide of 1.5 million Armenians;
while Japanese officials enraged China by seeking to reduce the number
of victims of the 1937 "Rape of Nanking" from the historical consensus
of 150,000 to 20,000. These examples demonstrate that the "Whitewashing
History Club" is a rogue’s gallery, not a gentlemen’s club and it is
telling that the administration is seeking early membership.
Maya Angelou once said that "history, despite its wrenching pain,
cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived
again." That is precisely what is at stake in this current battle.
Congress must not yield in this fight, since although it cannot undo
the cavalcade of catastrophes that have defined this administration,
by countering each fabricated reality with the truth and enabling
future generations to recognize the charlatan’s call, it can ensure
that they are not repeated.