LYONS: "CHANTING THE PARTY LINE" 04-30-03
Here's this week's Gene Lyons column!
Chanting the Party Line
Hey kids, want to be first on your block to chant the GOP party line? Don't sit waiting for the local newspaper to arrive, read the Republican National Committee's "Weekly Team Leader," peruse GOPUSA.com, or check out the Weekly Standard. It doesn't matter which options you choose, because they all say the same things. Over and over and over.
From the standpoint of Democrats, the most impressive aspect of the Republican spin and smear machine, perfected during the Clinton years, is its unanimity. Liberal pundits simply aren't as gifted at groupthink. They're too busy bickering and riding their individual hobbyhorses for the kind of coordinated effort favored by the GOP.
Conservative culture warriors conduct political debate like a corporate ad campaign. They're always on-message: same targets, same smarmy techniques. It's political journalism, Enron style. (They're also better paid. Democrats, alas, have no wacky tycoons to match Rev. Moon, Rupert Murdoch and Richard Mellon-Scaife.)
Especially during wartime, political propaganda descends to the pro-wrestling level. They didn't think so under Bill Clinton, but because our glorious leader symbolizes the nation, questioning President Junior's sublime wisdom has become ipso facto anti-American. Like the sheep in Orwell's Animal Farm, true believers make up the majority of every strongman's chanting mob--from Julius Caesar to Saddam Hussein.
That doesn't make Bush a dictator. But right-wing pundits like Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and Fox News's Bill O'Reilly aren't stupid. They know exactly what they're doing when they argue that Iraq war opponents hate Bush, and therefore hate America. "[T]he real agenda of conservative media's overbearing pundits," editorializes Salon "is to drive everyone who disagrees with them out of the public arena. They're not interested in open debate; their goal is to intimidate and silence."
Mostly, they don't want anybody paying attention to stories like last week's admission to ABC News by Bush administration "senior officials" that they exaggerated the threat from Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction" to sell the public on a war whose real purpose was to "flex muscle" in the Middle East. "We were not lying," said one official. "But it was just a matter of emphasis."
I've always assumed that Saddam had chemical weapons left over from his days as a U.S. client, when the Pentagon helped him target Iranian troops. Having researched the subject when the Reagan administration proposed manufacturing nerve gas at the Pine Bluff Arsenal, I figured Saddam wouldn't risk annihilation by using it against a nuclear-armed foe. It's also too bulky and too easily detected to export for terrorism; a deadly anachronism useful only for genocide.
Both Bush and Colin Powell, however, presented detailed lists of forbidden Iraqi arms. They claimed that Saddam was hiding tons of VX, and thousands of artillery shells and missiles. They said he had 18 mobile bio-war labs, and huge stores of anthrax. They hinted that U.N. weapons inspectors were incompetent or worse. Bush told the American people that not to strike Iraq first would be "suicide." But U.S. officials still haven't found Iraqi weapons either. Now they hint they were mainly blowing smoke.
So who do Democrat-Gazette editors, following upon a wildly inaccurate report on the GOPUSA website, think we should be angry with? Why Bill Clinton, of course, who, we're told, delivered an "anti-war rant" and made "Saddam Hussein out to be just your ordinary reasonable dictator" in New York on April 15. Through the dark art of selective quotation, the editorial ignored Clinton's explicit praise for Bush's handling of the war. "Saddam's gone," Clinton said "and good riddance."
The outcome of the war, Clinton added, was never in doubt. "I would like to say something nice," he said. "I think the President and Secretary Rumsfeld and our military really did the right thing in taking another week to ten days to conclude this because they were able to save thousands and thousands of civilian lives and if we're going to, in effect, occupy Iraq we want to do [it] with the least cost of lives on both sides."
Even if no weapons of mass destruction are found, Clinton added "I don't think you can criticize the President for trying to act on the belief that they had a substantial amount of chemical and biological stocks, because that's what the British military intelligence said....That's what I was always told, and I can just tell you that if you're sitting there in the Oval Office, it is just irresponsible to say, 'I've just got a feeling you're all wrong.'"
So what drew conservative ire? Clinton still thinks the U.N. Security Council could have been brought around, and expressed hope Bush would be magnanimous toward reluctant allies, whose help we're going to need down the road. In the Manichean world of conservative punditry, that all but makes him a traitor.