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A Citizen's Challenge to the Democratic Presidential Candidates
Published on Thursday, November 6, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
A Citizen's Challenge to the Democratic Presidential Candidates
by Richard W. Behan
 

Emboldened by the success of inciting nationwide fear to justify it, George W. Bush is squandering American blood and treasure in a fraudulent war. His willful and overt betrayal of the public trust is unprecedented, and it should become the transcendent issue of the presidential campaign.

Never before has a President consciously deceived the American people with fright, in order to justify the invasion of a sovereign nation. What greater high crime and misdemeanor can there be? If the Congress lacks the will even to speak of impeaching George W. Bush, then you, Presidential candidates, must assure his removal. The man is morally unfit to be President.

In varying degrees you all oppose the war. Several of you indict the President for having misled you, prior to voting on the war resolution. Others saw Saddam Hussein's threat as insufficient to justify the invasion. You have condemned the bait-and-switch tactics. These efforts are laudable, but the President's fear mongering to deceive the American people needs to be a central and explicit focus of this campaign.

Many Americans don't sense the President's betrayal. It was not accomplished with a single bald-faced lie or some other conspicuous event, but by an incremental and cumulative process of exaggeration, distortion, and reliance on militant symbolism and metaphor. It began with the trigger event of 9/11, continued with the Axis of Evil speech, grew with the "war on terrorism" rhetoric, and then it catapulted us by design into combat. The betrayal was not episodic and visible, but programmatic and alluring, and that is why so many Americans supported the war.

But the war is a symptom. George W. Bush is the disease, and his betrayal of the public trust is the issue.

The attack on the Trade Towers and the Pentagon was the ingenious achievement of a depraved fanatic. Within hours President Bush knew that. He knew it was not the first step into to cataclysmic violence-a poisoned continent or a nuclear Armageddon.

No one will dispute the horror of September 11th, but it was not as severe or as threatening as the attack on Pearl Harbor six decades ago, to which the Bush people immediately compared it. More people were killed on 9/11, they shrilled, but that is typical of their misleading hyperbole. In jeopardizing national security, four jetliners flown by lunatics are hardly equivalent to wave after wave of Japanese bombers and a naval armada at sea.

But President Bush undertook deliberately, immediately and for the next two years, to strike fear and anxiety-yes, even terror-into the American psyche. Painting images of an Axis of Evil, of "mass destruction" from horrific weapons in the hands of shadowy and demonized "terrorists," George W. Bush himself became the greatest terrorist of all.

There are books and DVD movies on the streets today describing this deception, this brilliant campaign of propaganda.

Today the situation in Iraq is epic tragedy, a colossus of failed policy. With exquisite justice, it is becoming a political liability for the Bush Administration.

And the American economy is teetering, utterly unsustainable. It survives only by exporting millions of high paying jobs and by importing a billion dollars of foreign capital each day-to finance not investment, but consumption. This, too, is a huge political liability.

His foreign and domestic policy in shambles, the President presses his only tawdry success, the campaign of fear and deception. His Administration continues to trumpet the "war on terrorism." Condoleezza Rice pictures mushroom clouds over America. Vice President Cheney warns of an "ultimate nightmare," of losing "hundreds of thousands of lives in a single day of war."

No, international terrorism is not to be treated with indifference or minimized, but magnifying the threat into a terrifying delusion is yet more irresponsible. Still, we hear on the Sunday morning talk shows, "The American people know it is better to fight the terrorists on the streets of Baghdad than on the streets of New York."

We accept that inane comparison because we have been propagandized, persuaded to do so. We are a trusting people, wanting to believe in the good will and integrity of our leaders. And we do.

Never have we been so betrayed.

This is the overarching issue in the campaign today, and you, Presidential candidates, need to address it head on. You need to call the willful deception for what it is, and you need to show how it was accomplished. Yes, it will demand much political courage to counter and correct the exaggerations and distortions of the last two years, in order to help America understand its betrayal. Nothing will call for greater statesmanship, compassion, and skill. But no one in America today has a better opportunity-or more responsibility-to do this than the nine of you.

A recent newspaper story about a speech in Birmingham, Alabama, displays your challenge: "President Bush...brought a crowd to its feet Monday when he declared: 'The enemy in Iraq believes America will run...America will never run!'" Now, his betrayal completed and beyond notice, the President invokes the determination and courage of the American character, and his audience cheers.

It is despicable to exploit the patriotism of trusting people, but the case against President Bush must be made with grace, not invective. The people in Birmingham and elsewhere, who believe George Bush is telling the truth, will not and should not accept blindly a simple, impassioned accusation to the contrary. You need instead to show them the evidence, carefully and truthfully, and then ask them to judge if it justifies the conclusion of betrayal. The answer is self-evident to many Americans: your challenge is to make it so for the rest.

You have the statesmanship, the compassion, and the skill to raise this issue and to pose these questions. The defeat of George W. Bush will be more assured when you do.

Richard W. Behan's latest book is 'Plundered Promise: Capitalism, Politics, and the Fate of the Federal Lands' (Island Press, 2001). Behan is currently working on a more broadly rendered critique, 'America's Derelict Democracy: The Corporate Seizure of Our Nation's Agenda'. He can be reached by email at rwbehan@rockisland.com. This essay is deliberately not copyrighted, so permission to reproduce it is unnecessary.

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