January 25, 2008
Bill Moyers on Rhetoric and Reality
Welcome to THE JOURNAL.
Let's first connect some dots in the week's news. In Washington, two public interest groups The Center for Public Integrity and the Fund for Independence in Journalism finished a report they have been working on for months. It's an old story but with new math. They went through the record and counted every false statement made by the Bush administration in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and even six months after we were at war. How many?
If you guessed 935, you are right on the button. That's at least the number of times the president and seven of his top officials, including Condoleeza Rice, said Saddam Hussein was a national security threat.
On at least 532 separate occasions those officials told us unequivocally that Iraq had links to Al Quaeda or weapons of mass destruction, or both. Remember when this alarm went off?
There will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.
It was one of the most smoothly orchestrated and successful propaganda campaigns in our history, and it was one big lie. The war it produced still has no end in sight, five years later.
Now as this report was released in Washington, Secretary Rice was attending a gathering far away in Davos, Switzerland, where the masters of the universe gather every year to assess how they're doing in running the world. Condoleeza Rice delivered what was described as a 'bold' speech, painting one of those rosy scenarios that so endeared her to the nation's press five years ago:
The U.S. economy is resilient, its structure is sound, and its long-term economic fundamentals are healthy.
Well, I can assure you that America has no permanent enemies.
Diplomacy, if properly practiced, is not just talking for the sake of talking.
Diplomacy can make possible a world in which old enemies can become, if not friends, then no longer adversaries.
Set aside for a moment that Ms. Rice was a key enabler in dismissing diplomacy in favor of an unprovoked attack on another country. Instead, consider what was happening in the real world far below the lofty gated community of Davos where she was speaking to the powerful and privileged.
In Iraq, continuing carnage testifies to the foresight of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice. As insurgents gunned down another eight soldiers. One G.I. lost his life while riding on a specially designed vehicle the military was counting on to resist the most lethal weapon in the war. one hundred pro-American Iraqi militia have been assassinated in the last month.
In Afghanistan, the totalitarian Taliban is on the move once again. But NATO troops aren't their only target. Attacks against students and teachers have tripled. Over a hundred have been killed outright as hundreds of thousands more have been frightened out of even attending classes. Many of those teenage boys are joining the Taliban.
In Kabul, which Rice and company assured us would see the flowering of democracy in this ancient land of tribal feuds, the Afghan court intended to be the crown jewel of the American regency has just sentenced a young journalism student to death for downloading from the internet a document said to offend Islam. Some democracy.
And in nearby Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated soon after being personally urged by Condoleeza Rice to return and run for office. The dictator Pervez Musharref, who also spoke in Davos, recently set up an operation to counter what he calls "western propaganda." Some ally.
Meanwhile, far from the Midas-like luster of Davos, the impoverished people of Gaza ...caught between Hamas and Israel...almost out of food ...their homes, hospitals, and generators cut off from fuel... did what desperate people long to do they took matters into their own hands, bursting through the wall and making their way into Egypt, on foot, by car, or in donkey carts, seeking food and supplies.
There, reality is survival.
But it was here at home that Rice's romanticized view of the world, so eloquently detailed to the swells in Davos, grated jarringly against facts on the ground.
While media focused on the wild gyrations of the world's stock markets, most Americans weren't checking their portfolios. They were watching their pocketbooks shrink. New reports reveal that the average wage for most workers has been stagnant since 2000.
New York's multi-billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg could have been in Davos but he remained at home, tending to reality:
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG:
We're the ones on the front lines of the economy, and we've got
a lot to be worried about: The stock market has already given up more
than the entirety of the gains it made last year, in just three weeks.
Housing starts in all our city are in average at a 16-year low.
Bloomberg had a message for those who had gone awol from the front lines of leadership:
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG:
Now we can't borrow our way out of this. The jig is up. It's time to
start getting our house in order once and for all, which I believe starts with a simple idea: Making decisions based on the business cycle instead of the election calendar.
So with so much reality lying all around us, at home and abroad, how to explain Secretary Rice's rhetorical flight of fancy in Davos? Is denial simply the ballast to which she clings in order to survive in a world that melts away her every premise every day? Or is it simply another reflection of the congenital defect of an administration determined from the start, as one of them famously said, to create a reality of their own, contrary to all the evidence.
I wonder if anyone in the cozy circles at Davos had the gumption to ask Secretary Rice about that report published this week by the Center for Public Integrity and the Fund for Independence in Journalism.
You'll find a link to it on our site at pbs.org. Forward it to a friend at Davos.