Fantasy beckons as an easy way to make choices since in its orbit reality is of little or no account. The consequences, however, can be exceedingly painful.
Consider George W. Bush, his counselors and his administration. Having all too easily slipped into a world of fantasy in two areas of great import, they are now discovering the consequences.
Fantasizing about Iraq was convenient. Beginning with a truth -- that Saddam Hussein was a dictator, and in no way benign -- the president and his advisers embroidered a story in which he played the role of our arch-enemy. Saddam, so the fantasy ran, had amassed a huge cache of weapons of mass destruction. Worse, he was building atomic weapons with the express purpose of wreaking nuclear havoc among the major powers, threatening the bedrock security of every American.
So, the fantasy continued, we would make war on Iraq, depose Saddam and bring him to the court of justice; in reward, Iraqis by the millions would welcome us and salute our mission to establish a democratic regime in their nation. The new, liberated Iraq would embrace America as its protector, brother, and stalwart friend.
Was this fantasy true? Obviously, as the recent weapons search indicates, the dream of an Iraq afloat with horrifying weapons was not. Did President Bush know it was untrue when he spun out this fantasy for the United States, and later at the United Nations for the entire world? In blunter words, was he lying? Strangely, it does not matter, for there seems little doubt that he came to believe the scenario he and his advisers were weaving. Fantasy is immensely seductive: Once woven, it shimmers like a brighter version of reality.
But it is bright only in fantasy. Actuality is always there outside us. There was a day or two of celebration when U.S. troops entered Baghdad and Saddam's statue was toppled. But the reality of Iraq has proved intractable. The fantasy of celebrated victors creating a new and blessed democratic republic is in shambles. Almost daily American soldiers die in Iraq, victims of an actual country that appears unwilling to celebrate our beneficence and good intentions.
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In order to sell the tax cuts he so desperately wanted, tax cuts he had pledged to wealthy special interests which funded his campaign, the president spun out another fantasy, that tax cuts weighted toward the very highest income brackets would rejuvenate a failing economy. Providing huge fiscal benefits to wealthy Americans, he insisted, would mean more jobs and a robust economy in the very near future.
Again, fantasy has been undone by reality: Neither the jobs nor a thriving economy have resulted from the tax cuts.
But there is worse. Having lived in unreality, however pleasurable that may have been in the short term, President Bush was and is totally unprepared for dealing with actual conditions. As the situation in Iraq deteriorated into anarchy, guerrilla war and spiraling expenses, the president had no idea of what to do. Changing the guard -- General Garner replaced by Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld by Condoleezza Rice -- is the only action he has been capable of taking.
So too with the economy. There is a modest recovery, but it is jobless. State budgets and social services are devastated, while the national deficit is escalating at an alarming rate. But having slid into the fantasy that tax cuts create jobs and health, the president can find no actual tools to combat the economic malaise that has descended on America.
The moral of the president's story is this: Beware entering into a fantasy world, for you may have to live in it -- with unhappy consequences.