One of the faults of academics (I speak as one of them) is that we tend to imagine that having demonstrated some fact to our own satisfaction, and to that of those we respect, we can move on, job done, to the next illumination of fact without tarrying to convince those we consider ignorant. If this pertains to our colleagues who seem unable to grasp our wisdom, it applies much more to the benighted masses who, so long as they remain outside the campus gates and are unable to affect tenure and promotion decisions, don’t bother us much. Why waste time popularizing what we ourselves already know so well, challenging ignorance in the spirit of altruistic compassion, when we can be devoting our time to career-advancing research?
But our Ivory Tower contempt for the street-level may be a dangerous error. The regime in power is being steered, after all, by a neocon cabal that has expressed its distain for the “reality-based community.” It is principally concerned with constructing an alternative version of facts that justifies ongoing war against the Islamic world, but it also draws political support from groups whose larger concerns include the substitution of religious myth and dogma for science. The scientific community seems to have grasped this, and alarmed by high officials’ asinine statements on such issues as evolution and global warming has mounted something of a resistance movement. Humanities scholars in contrast, often influenced by “postmodernist” relativism, and the anti-history notion that “we can never know what really happened” but should equally validate all narratives, have been all too passive. It makes me recall Joseph Goebbels’ words: “There was no point in seeking to convert the intellectuals. For intellectuals would never be converted [to fascism], [but] would anyway always yield to the stronger, and this will always be ‘the man in the street.'” The orgy of mindless flag-waving after 9-11, and the treatment meted out to Ward Churchill inclined a lot of intellectuals to keep their mouths shut.
Times have changed. But there is a real danger now that, rolling our eyes and even responding with amusement to the idiotic statements pouring out of Washington, encouraged by the savage lampooning of Bush that’s become commonplace, we will underestimate the power of stupidity, bigotry, and myth so effectively deployed by the neocons seeking to reconfigure Southwest Asia by military force. There’s a danger that, not wanting to sell the masses short, we will rather assume from them greater savvy than those reliant upon Fox News and the fundamentalist pulpit can likely acquire. Day after day we read, on reality-based websites, articles from the mainstream newspapers as well as the more progressive press that reconfirm what we’ve known for a long time: the administration wants to follow up Afghanistan and Iran with attacks on Iran and Syria, and is lying through its teeth to create justification for more war. Vice President Cheney is the key figure in campaign to attack Iran, and the mentally challenged president having for a time listened more to the (relatively) more “realist” Condi Rice has so fallen under the neocon spell that he alone among world leaders cheer-led the criminal Israeli assault on Lebanon. Nazi-like defiance of both reason and morality prevail at the top level, while the mainstream media either embraces the neocon program, or questions it gingerly.
Much has been made of Joe Scarborough’s recent MSNBC “Scarborough Country” segment baldly raising the question “Is Bush an Idiot?” Some have intimated that the “conservative rebellion” against the mad president has thwarted the president’s ability to achieve his bellicose agenda—a consummation devoutly to be wished, for sure. But observe how the brainwashed public lines up behind the nonsensical allegation that Iran constitutes a threat to U.S. national security!
Observe how in Congress Republicans and Democrats alike urge stronger action against the imagined Iranian threat—while failing to insist on an investigation of the “Office of Special Plans” that relentlessly built the bogus case for attacking Iraq in 2003!
It is not enough to ask if the president is an idiot. We must ask why the Congress and mainstream media have cheered the idiocy on so long, and actively contributed to it. They’re like the townspeople in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale, praising the new clothes of the butt-naked king. But in the story, once the little boy calls out, “The emperor has no clothes!” the individuals in the crowd, having been frightened into thinking only idiots couldn’t see the monarch’s elegant new attire, come to their senses and realize they’ve been hoodwinked. The word’s been out on the street for a long time that this president is an idiot—surrounded by shysters as cunning as the tailors in the Anderson tale. MSNBC could have told us that some years ago. Instead the political class and the media have maintained a united front in support of the idiotic proposition that 9-11 justifies U.S.-forced regime change in any country that Washington decides to call “terrorist.” If it’s an Islamic country targeted by AIPAC, the roar of approval is deafening.
So on the one hand, the task of exposure is done. Those who understand can talk until we’re blue in the face reiterating what is for us the obvious. But there are so many out there, so exasperatingly dumb, at the mercy of loud-mouthed media buttheads and low-life political disinformation artists such as the congressmen insisting both that Iraqi WMD have been found and that Iran poses a real “strategic threat” to the U.S.
There are some in the crowd who see the naked emperor but suffering from delusions actually believe he’s well-dressed. They need help. Therapy, even. Those of us who see—or at least think we see—clearly, must guard against complacency as we notice the new, welcome, belated mainstream recognition of objective reality. We can’t underestimate the obstinate power of delusions as manipulated by the administration’s propaganda-disinformation apparatus. The neocons know (but probably don’t much care) that the majority of Americans now understand they were taken for a ride on Iraq. “Let’s just move on,” the hoax perpetrators say. “Why dwell on that historical issue?” They must take heart at the above-mentioned poll. Fully 73% of the American crowd looks on at their disinformation parade and thinks Iran is a national security threat to the U.S. Over half anticipate a war with Iran within five years!
Plainly many people who understand that Bush is a fool, and that they were lied to about Iraq, are unable yet to see that all these regime-changing projects in the Middle East are part of a broad plan to refashion the region in the interests of U.S. imperialism—as interpreted by the Cheney-Rumsfeld neocon cabal—by the end of Bush’s second term. Those who see it should argue it, relentlessly, even as we watch with horror that which we fear unfold.
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org