From the rhetoric at the Republican Convention, one might think the Republicans were the party that has been out-of-power for the past seven years. Republicans promised to battle corruption in Washington, to help Americans who are suffering from government failures, and anointed themselves as “the party of change.” Nary a mention was made of President George Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney, who have caused so much of the damage of the past seven years and now have dismal approval ratings.
Contrast the convention with 2004’s. Then, Bush and Cheney were treated like gods. Republicans couldn’t get enough of them. But like an old Soviet photo re-touching, these two leaders have been erased – by the party that claims flip-flopping is bad, the party that claims not to govern by opinion polls.
Last week’s convention was a whitewash, a cover up, a fraud.
On the other hand, Republican hypocrisy was on full display. The most recent hypocrisies were best pointed out by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show last week, with clips of Karl Rove flip-flopping on whether someone who was once mayor of a city as small as Richmond and governor of a state the size of Virginia is qualified to be Vice President (on August 10, Rove said that a possible Democrat nominee, Tim Keane, was not qualified; last week Rove said Sarah Palin, former mayor of tiny Wasilla, Alaska and current governor of Alaska, was qualified); of Bill O’Reilly on whether a teenage girl’s pregnancy is the fault of her parents (it is, when the parents are the parents of Britney Spears’ sister Jamie Lynn, but it’s not when the parents are Governor Sarah and “First Dude” Todd Palin); of the prostitute-hiring Dick Morris on whether certain attacks on a female candidate are sexist (last year Morris said Hillary Clinton shouldn’t complain about sexist attacks, because she needed to show she could play with “the boys”; but last week Morris complained about sexist attacks on Sarah Palin); and a clip of Sarah Palin herself, from last March, saying that women candidates should not “whine” about sexism.
Such hypocrisy didn’t begin at the Republican Convention, of course. Our leaders defrauded us into an illegal war and occupation while claiming to support the rule of law. Our leaders run torture camps at Guantanamo and elsewhere while claiming to support human rights. Our leaders eavesdrop on our phone calls and emails while claiming to oppose “Big Brother” government. Our leaders’ crimes have been exposed, their contradictions luxuriate out in the open.
But the latest hypocrisies show that a new aspect of power has taken hold. One thing power often does to consolidate itself – when it is not ruling by reason or consent – is humiliate. One way the powerful humiliate the powerless is by telling them bald-faced lies, simply because they can. In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four,
a Party member tortures the protagonist, Winston Smith, until he admits that 2+2 is not four, but five – if The Party says so.
So teenage pregnancy is OK, when Republicans say so. Putting forward candidates with thin credentials for higher office is OK, if the candidate is Republican. It’s sexist to attack female candidates, if the candidates are Republican. Illegal war, torture, and unleashing a surveillance state are OK, if Republicans say so.
It’s not that our leaders are lying and have been caught, or that they don’t remember what they said a few months ago. Instead, it’s as if our leaders are gloating: “We know that you know we’re contradicting ourselves, we know that you know that, yesterday, we said the opposite of what we say today, we know that you know we said it’s not OK for you to do what we’re now doing – but you can’t do a thing about it!” One can imagine their laughing along with The Daily Show. They laugh when anybody “speaks truth to power.” Recall the Republican delegates’ whoops and whistles, their chants of “USA! USA!” when protesters (against torture, against an illegal war and occupation) were arrested on the convention floor.
Our leaders seem intoxicated with what increasingly looks like absolute power. As Orwell’s Party Member tells Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-four: “But always—do not forget this, Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.’
Witnessing last week’s orgy of power at the convention, Orwell might have revised his picture of the future: “Imagine a leader laughing in the face of his truth-telling detractors—forever.”
BRIAN J. FOLEY can be reached at Brian_J_Foley@yahoo.com