When the history of the Bush debacle is written, close attention should and no doubt will be paid to the famous anonymous phrase, probably from Karl Rove, about news coverage. You will not report on reality and inform the public, he told a reporter. Instead, the new regime would determine reality and inform the news media what it was.
This perspective grew out of the success of the Rovian electoral strategy in which he figured out the strong point of the enemy (he didn’t have mere adversaries) and simply repeated that the opposite was, in fact, true.
For example, when Kerry’s war record threatened to score against Bush’s non-service and adolescent drunken binges, the Bushites invented Swift Boat and persecuted Dan Rather who dared to raise inconvenient allegations. The facts did not matter because power had replaced them in the time-honored tradition of Pravda and Radio Zimbabwe.
Torturing defenseless prisoners was the best strategy because Dick Cheney said so, and anyone questioning the approach was hounded out of office or browbeaten into silence. No one could get a hearing on the long-term cost of the policy. We say it works, so it does. Dissent is treasonous. Do you dare to endanger American lives?
Worries about the financial markets were treated the same way—we have rewritten the rules and will now earn vast sums forever and keep them all, too. There are no dangers in doing so because we are in charge and have so determined. Greenspan seconds.
Now Bush, a deer in Wall Street’s glaring headlights, stumbles before the cameras to intone the old chants. But suddenly the facts do not lend themselves to careful PR massage; numbers are funny that way. His stubborn political autism, once so useful, now appears demented. His spinmeisters, like Saddam Hussein’s spokesman Comical Ali, cannot pretend that all is well as bankers and hedge fund managers scamper like terrified Republican Guards and head for the desert.