" The truth is my weapon of mass protection
And I believe truth sets you free."
Willie Nelson, "Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth?"
George W. Bush, in response to Diane Sawyer's questions about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq: "So what's the difference?"
The small world effect, the idea of "six degrees of separation," suggests that any one of us could be connected to George W. Bush by five handshakes. But there are a good deal more than six degrees of separation between the policies of the Bush administration and the hopes of ordinary people. That separation may contain the seeds of downfall for a group that governs by controlling the perception of reality. It's a separation so vast that Bush could ask, "What's the difference?" and literally not know.
The Bush administration is filled with calculating people rather than with people who value truth. They are limited by that fact; it's impossible to hire honest people to fake compassion. So they don't know what genuine compassion cares about or how it should act and can't calculate forever what lies will be accepted as truth.
Someone--Rove, most likely--understood well enough the need to have a face with the appearance of honesty. Enter George W. Bush, who perhaps genuinely believes most of what he says, but is too incurious to find out if it's true and appears not to care, so long as it suits his purpose and gets what he wants. He could say, "What's the difference?" when confronted with his lies about life and death because he is so disconnected from people for whom life has not been that easy. Ordinary people who are losing jobs, worrying about the very basics of life, and on top of it all, constantly seeing "babies dying and women crying," in the words of Willie Nelson's song. They are people who perhaps are starting to get the reality that every time the worlds of the neocons and of Bush (which I suspect are two different things) celebrate "successes," they lose. They are losing those very few, ordinary things that most people just hope to be able to count on in a lifetime. Not winning a hundred mil in the lottery, or making it big in the stock market, or ruling the world--just not having your child die in a war. Having your child at home with limbs and mind and spirit intact. Maybe a little grace, beauty, some joy.
"What's the difference?" Not six degrees of separation. There is no string of meetings that connect these worlds.
That's why I believe that unadulterated truth is our only chance of winning this election. It's why I truly hope Dean doesn't abandon gut truth for calculation, even though there are many who will say he must. Once you start calculating, your own gut can and will forget the difference. Besides, we can't beat the administration at a calculation game, not with Karl Rove employed at it 24/7. The task for Dean is to search within himself for the core of his caring, that love of country or truth or whatever provokes the outrage for him, and then share it plainly and simply.
We can no longer just speak to the choir. The real middle ground is the truth--the facts, without rhetoric and inflammatory speech. If we can prove it thoroughly to ourselves, we won't have to shout.
I emphasize Dean because there seems to be real fire in his anger at what has been done to this country. I find a reassuring humanity in his bluntness and refusal to finesse an ugly reality. And I think that of all the candidates, he would be most likely to respond to the people once in office, simply because it is the people who have made his campaign possible, and I think he rather likes them now.
But whoever you are, candidate--go deeper. What are you angry about? Tell me, your neighbor with an eighth-grade education. Convince me why it is so important. If you don't have that fire in the belly, if you just think you have a right to be president, don't waste your time or ours. That won't be enough to sustain you, or us, through what the Bush campaign will do between now and November.
We long for greatness in our presidents. Maybe we need to reevaluate that. Many thought they saw greatness in Bush after 9/11. They thought they saw courage, resolve and wisdom, a Wizard to save us in our home that had been blown over some strange rainbow. Now the giant on the screen, the smoke, the booming voices are gone, and instead of the Wizard we have a little man saying, "What's the difference?"
The Wizard can't help us, nor the small man in the balloon wafting away to save himself--who may be Bush, or some future man or woman on whom we pin hopes and dreams of saving us. It's better not to demand greatness beyond the greatness of the democratic process itself. Maybe we should just ask for someone who is capable of growth and willing to grow together with us and who might just end up discovering his or her own greatness along the way.
The small world effect suggests that any one of us is connected to George W. Bush by six degrees of separation. There is hope in that for the exponential spread of an idea in this movement, for the spread of truth. And maybe we're all just six degrees away from the truth of the administration's secrets.
Demand the truth, the one weapon not in the administration's arsenal and the only one they can't fake. Demand genuine fire. We can take ourselves home again, but only if we are ready.
Linda O'Brien a freelance writer living in Takoma Park, Maryland. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.