An advertising guru once warned his acolytes never to confuse the thing being sold with the thing itself. Good sizzle can always sell a lousy steak.
This strategy is on brilliant display these days as the Republicans emerge post-convention, bristling with tough-sounding talk about “girlie men” and shamelessly attacking decorated war veteran John F. Kerry as some kind of traitorous wimp. The same leaders who have never apologized for being totally oblivious to the terrorist threat before September 11 continue to mawkishly exploit the tragedy for political gain, all while trumpeting far-off victories for democracy that dissolve like mirages under the mildest scrutiny.
The Republicans’ strategy is to counter critique with caricature, and they do it with all the panache of an old Roadrunner cartoon, effectively smashing Kerry with rhetorical frying pans.
“Even in this post-9/11 period, Sen. Kerry doesn’t appear to understand how the world has changed. He talks about leading a ‘more sensitive war on terror,’ as though Al Qaeda will be impressed with our softer side,” Dick Cheney mocked in his convention speech, reusing a joke that wasn’t funny the first time.
This from a man who secured five deferments from Vietnam because he had “other priorities” at the time. But it was Cheney’s own war “fever,” as Colin Powell described it to the Washington Post‘s Bob Woodward, that was crucial in the President’s reckless decision to chase UN inspectors out of Iraq–lest they confirm that the White House was hyping a WMD threat that didn’t exist.
“There is nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat,” said a sneering George W. Bush, challenging Kerry’s patriotism because he dared vote against a version of an $87 billion bill that will neatly turn around the fortunes of Cheney’s old outfit, Halliburton. So far, the Texas-based corporation has accomplished next to nothing when it comes to bringing peace, stability or even a steady supply of running water and electricity to Iraq and Afghanistan. But what should we expect from a man who used his family name to get out of serving in Vietnam but has yet to condemn those among his staff and financial contributors who floated the phony Swift Boat ad attack on Kerry’s wartime courage.
This is the Orwellian cartoon we live with every day that Bush remains President, in which supporting troops means sending them to die while occupying a deeply troubled country that posed no threat to us; in which a man hit with “only shrapnel” when serving his country is considered akin to a traitor for speaking out against an immoral war when he returns.
In this Looney Tunes matinee, the loudest voices are those of the blustering schoolyard bully who crudely masks his own inadequacies by calling others sissies and punks. The GOP faithful ate up Cheney’s barroom riff on Kerry’s alleged “sensitive” side just as they did earlier when Bush’s shill, TV talk-show host Dennis Miller, made the crack that Kerry and running mate John Edwards should “get a room.”
But, in a more sober mood, can any reasonable person really disagree with Kerry’s call for a “more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side”? The fact is, the money hustlers and Beltway power brokers know in their gut that Bush is in way over his head and Cheney is a loose cannon–and that together they have alienated US allies and enflamed the Islamic world while making only marginal gains against Al Qaeda.
But these people don’t care, because the fix is in. See, Bush promised at the convention that in a second term he would continue to ensure that the rich get richer, no matter how many unfair tax breaks, wasteful military contracts or union-busting laws it takes.
And if you disagree with this son of privilege–a man who never earned an honest dollar on his own but acts as if the lives of the unemployed and working poor are of no consequence–well, you must be an “economic girlie man.” At least, so says mega-millionaire Arnold Schwarzenegger, the macho Hollywood warrior who has never experienced combat himself.
This cartoon is all a great joke, except for the price we will pay if the audience buys into it. We are not watching a movie, and the stakes are very real. Bush’s convention acceptance speech was a clear ideological endorsement of the neoconservative vision that America can and should dominate the world with military force.
Four more years of George W. Bush would mean more blood flowing–and none of it would be fake.