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Featured Article
November 2006
The October Un-Surprise:
Will Voters Finally Hold Bush Accountable?

 

 

Republicans should be feeling desperate right now, because if Democrats take the house, they will suddenly have the power of subpoena and the authority to create their own committees. John Conyers who will become head of the House Judiciary can proceed with legislation he has already introduced to investigate whether impeachable offenses took place during the lead up to Iraq. Instead of what happened subsequent to the 1994 Republican “revolution” when Republicans tried to impeach Clinton on the flimsy grounds of lying about a personal matter, a 2006 Democratic majority will allow Democrats to investigate Bush’s serious abuses of the executive branch. Naturally, these inquiries will begin with whether Bush sold everyone a pack of lies to launch his war of choice on Iraq. But they will not end there, and in the process it is likely that many Republican heads will roll. They cannot help but hope that Karl Rove has done his homework and will somehow pull off his most brilliant October surprise.

Despite what seems to be a gloomy forecast for the Republicans, there are still a few spots that might hold a silver lining.

• Bush received a slight bump in the polls after the London terror plot and again after his televised speech on the anniversary of 9/11. Although this trend has since reversed itself, it shows that given the right circumstances the issue of terror can still be successfully exploited.

• When asked which party would do a better job at handling terrorism, polls in September still showed at least a 5 percent preference for Republicans. Even though this is way down from the 40% spread that was shown in the aftermath of 9/11 and these numbers have recently reversed themselves in the Newsweek (10/7/2006) poll with Democrats for the first time being viewed more favorably on terrorism (+7%), it is too early to tell whether these most recent numbers are a trend or just a blip. Given the historical Republican favorability on terrorism it is possible that these numbers could easily reverse themselves again, given the right circumstances.

• Perhaps most significantly the New York Times poll (09/15-19 2006) shows that terrorism still remains strongly in the forefront of people’s minds with 76% believing that the threat of terrorism continues to be an immediate danger. This is extremely good for Bush because he has banked his entire Presidential career on being a “war” President and exploiting the continued fear of another terrorist attack.

The numbers on terrorism continue to show some hope for Republicans. Without terrorism, the Republicans have had little basis in the last two elections– besides party loyalty and wedge issues like gay marriage and abortion - to continue to win elections. That so many people continue to view the threat of terrorism as immediate danger, by itself suggests that the 2006 mid terms might ultimately break on the issue of terrorism.

The Physiology of Fear

Our extreme fear of terrorism can in part be traced to the very makeup of our brains. Because terrorism invokes powerful responses of raw fear, it has a primary effect on the most primitive part of our brains, the reptilian brain shared by all invertebrates. The reptilian brain is responsible for basic survival mechanisms motivated by hunger and fear and prompts simple stimulus-response behaviors such a fight-or-flight responses. Upon the awareness of fear, the reptilian brain summons our physical responses to get us out of harms way.

Raw fear is also intensely felt by the second most primitive part of our brain - the mammalian or limbic brain, which we share with all other mammals –responsible for emotions such as love, envy, hope and shame. It is the mammalian brain that lays down the emotional ground rules, which allow mammals to bond together and form simple societies. When fear is felt by the mammalian brain it causes us to seek safety not only for ourselves but also for our family and associates.

Fear is processed in quite a different way by the most advanced part of our brain, the neo-cortex - which we share with the higher apes - which controls abstract thought, language and logic. When our organisms are threatened by fear, the more primitive parts of our brain take charge at the same time that the more rational responses of the neo-cortex are likely suppressed. The fact that fear can overtake our capacity for rational thought adds to the explanation of why so many Americans remain preoccupied with the threat of terrorism despite its being statistically insignificant as a tangible threat.

The effect of fear on the more instinctual, less rational parts of our brain is a major reason why the issue of terrorism has worked so well for the Bush administration. And yet while everyone reacts to fear in a very instinctual way, there is evidence that certain personality types predictably react to fear in ways that make them more desirable targets for political manipulation.

The Authoritarian Personality

John Dean, in his latest book, Conservatives Without Conscience discusses a discernable authoritarian personality type which predisposes some individuals to blindly follow authoritarian leaders at the same time that it makes others prone to become demagogues themselves. In this discussion, Dean draws upon current studies in social psychology, which originally began over 50 years ago as a way to understand the rise of Hitler and Mussolini, and presently includes a data set of hundreds of thousands of anonymous interviews.

One of the most significant findings to these studies is that authoritarians almost always tend to be self-described political conservatives. An understanding of the conservative personality makes it much easier to comprehend how the modern G.O.P. has been able to cobble together a coalition of southern social conservatives, religious conservatives and economic conservatives into a solid voting block. What is more, the authoritarian tendencies of these groups have predisposed them - in the aftermath of 9/11 - to be unquestioning followers of Bush in his personae as a strong and resolute leader.

A sampling of psychological factors linked to political conservatism include the following:

• The belief that society teeters on the brink of collapse. Society’s ills are caused by those with opposing worldviews. Desire to return to an idealized society and/or the support of the existing status quo.

o Anger against northerners and fear of non-whites has provided a mainstay for the G.O.P. ever since George Wallace’s southern strategy exploited southerners’ fear of blacks and hatred of Democrat northerners after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Conservative southerners feared that the integration of blacks would cause the downfall of society. These same types of fear and hatred have been more recently exploited surrounding the issue of terrorism and in the current immigration debate.

o Religious conservatives who fear that fear that society will collapse if it does not return to its Christian roots have aligned themselves with the G.O.P. because of its promise to return America back to Christian family values. Their enemies include secularists, members of other faiths, feminists, pro-choice advocates, gays, scientists and anyone else they view as potentially undermining their biblical worldview. With so many enemies, the religious conservatives provide a huge panoply of fears and associated issues, which are easily exploited by the G.O.P.

o Economic conservatives believe that government interference undermines the principles of capitalism and therefore endangers the American way. The G.O.P.’s claim that they are the party of small government and limited regulation is what drives economic conservatives into the Republican fold. Economic conservatives believe that the market economy - unfettered by governmental meddling - results in the greatest good for society. Included in this belief is the notion that those who do for themselves are rewarded by the system and the poor have no one to blame but themselves. If they are Christians, they may also believe that God rewards the faithful and that poverty is therefore the result of transgression. Their enemies are labor organizations, equal opportunity advocates and environmentalists.

o Right wing talk radio hosts profess that the enemies of America are the liberal media, environmentalists, the Hollywood elite, the intellectual elite, most of the residents of both coasts, non-Christians and the predominantly secularist society. These talkers find their bread and butter in the notions that Christians are being persecuted, that gays are trying to brainwash everyone’s children, that liberals hold them in contempt and that speaking out against the President in times of war is tantamount to treason. What one hears on right wing talk radio is a constant reinterpretation of the southern strategy, which recycles the fear of the downfall of society by pointing a fresh finger at a new bogeyman.

• Reliance on dogmatism. Black and white thinking. Intolerance of cognitive dissonance.

o In interpreting facts in terms of the battle of good vs. evil, black and white thinking and all or nothing propositions the conservative personality has little tolerance for nuance. Interpreting shades of gray causes them considerable psychological stress. Black and white thinking predisposes them to label anyone who criticizes America as part of the “hate-America-first” crowd. Accordingly, someone who questions the war in Iraq is labeled as being weak on terror. And anyone who criticizes Bush or the prevailing Republican Party - who they hold as their trusted leaders - is accused of giving comfort to our enemies.

o Bush himself serves as an example of the dependence on dogmatism. He originally compared the war on terror to the Crusades and has since characterized the fight against terrorism as a war of good vs. evil. He has shown himself incapable of adjusting tactics in light of new information and can do nothing but “stay the course,” even if reality shows his strategy to be in error.

o Because the war in Iraq was nominally launched on the fear that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, the failure to discover WMDs was first met with incredulity by the dogmatic thinkers. Many still believe that the WMDs must have been moved or hidden and will eventually be found. In the absence of WMD, most rather than believe that we went into Iraq under false pretenses, have accepted other explanations by the administration for our invasion. The cognitive dissonance that would result in believing that Bush led them down the wrong path would be too much for the dogmatic thinker to tolerate.

• A cognitive deficit manifested in their inability to understand new material when it conflicts with previously held views.

o Facts are of no avail in getting conservatives to change their opinions once their minds are made up. After it was accepted that the war in Iraq was central to winning the war on terror, contradictory information, which showed that the war has potentially made us less safe, has been viewed with incredulity. Studies, which showed that the war in Iraq has actually helped to recruit increasing numbers of Islamic jihadists or that global terrorism has been on the rise since the invasion, have failed to change existing beliefs. Rather than believe that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, they instead have chosen to accept the administration’s ever changing reasons for its justification.

o Much of the population continued to believe that Iraq helped in the planning of 9/11 even long after even Bush himself said that there was no connection. While most of the population has reversed this belief, the remaining believers are likely self-identified conservatives who rather than discard their original belief in the 9/11-Iraq connection have found ever-new ways to defend it.

o Right wing talk show hosts are prime examples of this cognitive deficit. Rather than listen to facts that contradict their own deeply held views, they prefer to launch ad hominem attacks to discredit the messenger. Instead of being able to integrate new information they repeatedly rely on faulty logic as a way to defend their preexisting beliefs. They do not do this to purposely deceive their public as much as they are unaware of their own self-deceptions, which allow them to believe their own half-truths.

• Conservatism increases in times of duress or uncertainty.

o Tendencies toward the conservative personality are not immutable. Most people have at least a little conservative in them. We all want to protect our country, want to believe that our country is good or at the very least hope that we are on the right track and capable of sovereignty.

o As witnessed by Bush’s post- 9/11 approval ratings of up to 90%, almost all Americans will rally behind the President in times of crisis even if they don’t personally like him. After 9/11, most of the population had the psychic need to believe that Bush was a strong leader. To simultaneously hold the belief that we lived in the world’s most powerful country but did not possess a strong leader would have produced too much cognitive dissonance for most Americans to bear.

o After 9/11, the Bush administration worked to keep the American public afraid for as long as they could. The steady drumbeat of terror alerts seemed designed to counterbalance other political realities felt by the administration. The warnings of more terrorist attacks continued through the 2004 Presidential campaign and then abruptly stopped. It is clear that Karl Rove and partners knew the power of scaring the electorate into believing that change was bad. In the last two elections this strategy worked perfectly.

o The predisposition to blindly follow an authoritarian leader is not a matter of historical circumstances alone. Citing the studies he used in his book, John Dean has noted that 23% of the population shows the tendency to be authoritarian followers on the basis of personality alone. This figure by itself explains all but almost 10% of the people who continue to give Bush a positive approval rating.

Ends Justify the Means

In light of this summary, the profile of the conservative personality seems bleak indeed. Importantly, a common thread of these personality traits leads the conservative thinker to believe that the ends always justify the means. This belief allows them to twist their own moral beliefs to justify their own unscrupulous behavior. It therefore becomes permissible to sin in order to rid the world of sin, to lie as a way to foster the truth, to kill so that the unborn can live and to disenfranchise voters as a way to preserve democracy. As John Dean recently put it “Authoritarian conservatives are…"enemies of freedom, antidemocratic, antiequality, highly prejudiced, mean-spirited, power hungry, Machiavellian and amoral." Sadly this statement represents personality traits at the core of the G.O.P. base as clearly as it describes the methods used by the Bush administration’s to further its agenda.

The invasion of Iraq serves as a case in point of how the conservative thinker believes that the ends always justify the means. Invading Iraq was an end sought by the Bush administration even before 9/11 could help provide the means. In September 2000, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz co-published a report for the Project for the New American Century, which stated that the occupation of Iraq was central to achieving political stability in the region. Wolfowitz had much earlier come to the same conclusion in a similar report written when he was Undersecretary for Policy at the State Department in 1992. Immediately following 9/11, Rumsfeld requested that Iraq invasion plans be prioritized, even after he learned that Iraq was not responsible for the attacks. In 1999, candidate Bush was already talking about invading Iraq when he espoused the view that the key to a successful Presidency was being perceived as a resolute commander-in-chief to which he concluded “…if I have a chance to invade [Iraq]… I’m not going to waste it…I’m going to have a successful presidency.”

Because the Bush administration’s desire to invade Iraq was already fixed, they failed to approach it from a policy perspective. Instead saw they saw their challenge as the need to create a successful disinformation campaign to package the war for public consumption. Andrew Card, then Bush’s chief of staff, let on to this dirty little secret in August 2002 when he shrugged off a question about Iraq by saying, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."

The administration never intended to ask the public or Congress for informed consent. Instead they sought to gain the public’s approval by appealing to their lesser instincts. Their twisted evidence heavily implied that Saddam Hussein co-conspired to plan 9/11, that he was prepared to attack us again and that we could not wait for additional proof of Iraq’s nuclear capabilities and risk "…the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." (Rice) Instead of simply presenting the facts that might have led to rational decision-making, the administration instead sought to exploit the public’s instinctual fears.

With the passage of time, the truth about the administration’s disinformation campaign has become even more damning. In 2005, the leaked notes of July 2002 negotiations between the Bush administration and the British government – now commonly known as the Downing Street Memo – were made public. The Downing Street Memo makes it clear that the administration completely disregarded policy implications in their zeal to invade. The memo reveals that by the summer of 2002, “Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” It is important to note that this meeting took place during the same time period that Bush claimed he had not yet made up his mind to invade. That Bush would say this in the same time frame that the Downing Street Memo claims that war was already eminent is sufficient evidence to show that Bush must have known that he was lying to the American people.

Faith Over Fact

That the Bush administration would choose to fix the facts around a pre-ordained Iraq policy is just one example of how they collectively represent the authoritarian conservative personality. Within the larger pathology of their behavior, their enemies have been scientists, journalists and anyone else who prioritizes empirical facts over matters of belief and faith. In this conflict, they have constantly found themselves at odds not only with the messengers but also with the facts themselves. And because they believe that the ends justify the means - rather than address inconvenient truths - they have chosen to tailor the facts around their own objectives. In other words, they have endeavored to create their own reality.

Ron Suskind in his important New York Times Magazine (10/04) article titled Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush, clarifies the disdain felt by the Bush administration for the “reality-based community”. According to Suskind’s interviews it is clear that the Bush administration knew they could exploit the mistrust believed to be felt by most of the country for residents of both coasts, the intellectual elite and the secularist society. According to one aide interviewed for this article, “…when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality… we'll act again, creating other new realities,…. We're history's actors... and you, all of you [the reality-based community], will be left to just study what we do.'' At the very least this statement shows an administration so caught up in their own grandiosity that they feel unfettered by objective reality. What is more, because of the assumption inherent in the authoritarian conservative personality - that only they and their party know what is right for America - they have given themselves license to exploit their target audiences fears and beliefs as their means to stay in power at all costs.

An understanding of the conservative personality shows how both the leaders and the followers of the Bush administration are more or less cut from the same cloth. Given that the Bush team clearly knows its audience, whatever Karl Rove has in mind for this years October surprise will attempt to maximize the fears and beliefs of the G.O.P. base with the additional hope that enough of the general electorate will go along for the ride. As they have done in the past two elections, there is no doubt that they will attempt to use scare tactics to frighten the public into voting for them.

October Surprises and Tactics (2002-2004)

Immediately following 9/11, Rove showed deft mastery at turning the raw fear felt by the instinctual parts of our brains into pliable political catch phrases. While such catch phrases were often constructed to pass for rational thought, the real genius of Karl Rove was his ability to directly exploit our raw instincts and emotions. Karl Rove saw the genius of exploiting “terror” early on and based the entire Republican 2002 mid term strategy on painting Democrats as weak on terror and labeling them as unpatriotic if they failed to rubberstamp Bush’s every request.

During the 2002 campaign, the G.O.P. used character assassination tactics to make all Democrats appear as unsafe choices in a time of war. Max Clelland who lost three limbs in Viet Nam was portrayed as a traitor and a coward for opposing Bush in ads that morphed his face into the face of Bin Laden. In that race, Saxby Chambliss - who never served in the military because he claimed a bad knee - was seen as more patriotic and tougher on defense to the extent that he won Clelland’s Georgia Senate seat. In the 2002 campaign, the pattern of portraying Democrats as weak and untrustworthy was utilized in races all across the country.

The disinformation campaign to invade Iraq can be viewed as the most essential part of Rove’s 2002 strategy. The discussion of Iraq had dragged on all through the summer of 2002, but it was not until five weeks before the election - a full five months before Bush himself claimed to have made the final decision - that Bush frenetically demanded the Senate give him authority to invade. Bush’s urgent demand for emergency legislation more or less steamrollered over 29 of 50 Senate Democrats who worried they would look unpatriotic if they did not vote to authorize the invasion. That so many Democrats acquiesced to Bush’s invasion plans had an added bonus in demoralizing many in the Democratic base just before the election. At the very least, the timing on Iraq makes it highly suspect that it was originally intended more as a rallying cry to expand the Republican majority than it had anything to do with the real threat of terrorism.

In the 2002 campaign, Democrats spoke about issues and specifics but Republicans spoke about generalities and fear. In 2002, fear won over reason allowing Republicans to take the Senate and win an increased majority in the House. Ever since then the Republicans have felt self-assured in using the fear card to help them win elections.

After 9/11 and through the 2004 election cycle, the administration regularly raised terror alerts as a way to scare the public into submission. After leaving office, Tom Ridge former head of the Department of Homeland Security complained that he was constantly pressured to raise terrorist threat levels even in cases of flimsy intelligence. The steady stream of terror alerts reliably made for headline news that heightened the public’s fears at the same time that it helped boost Bush’s poll numbers. For example, in February of 2003 just after Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN Security Council about Iraq’s WMDs, the terror alert was raised to orange based upon questionable intelligence. Before the alerts were raised, polls showed that 18% of Americans feared that another terrorist attack would occur soon. A month after the alert level went orange, this percentage increased to 34%. It is hard to believe that the administration was not aware that terror alerts helped boost their poll numbers. Several studies have shown that when the administration focused on the threat of terror - even without increasing the terror alert level - that Bush’s poll numbers would predictably rise.

In 2004, within hours of Kerry’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Bush authorized raising the terror level to orange, even before the incoming evidence was translated or even fully received. It was not until four days later that intelligence sources realized their data was utterly worthless. While it would be hard to find specific polling data related to this concurrence of events, common sense tells us that simultaneous headline news about Kerry’s acceptance speech and the elevated threat level could have only have had a negative impact on the Kerry campaign. For this reason alone, it likely that the timing of this unfounded terror alert had less to do with happenstance than with how far the administration would go to make terror alerts serve as part of their political strategy.

In August 2004, when Kerry’s campaign funds were frozen until September by campaign finance laws, the Swift Boat Veteran’s for Truth began their character assassination. The Swift Boat ads were designed to discredit Kerry’s service in Viet Nam, to trivialize his medals and to make his subsequent anti-war activities appear to be treasonous. While the G.O.P. attempted to distance themselves from these ads by noting that the Swift Boat Veterans were a 527 organization without direct party ties, it is clear the group received major support by G.O.P. sponsors, especially old friends of Bush in Texas. During the Republican National Convention in September, delegates took glee in sporting band-aids with small purple hearts in a direct attempt to trivialize Kerry’s war record. Even though this was done by extreme partisans it shows the success of the Swift Boaters in trivializing Kerry’s military background. In the end Bush - who opted out of Viet Nam for the National Guard and was likely relieved of duty for failing to take a drug test - was able to hold sway as being the greater patriot. Once Kerry’s war record was successfully tarnished it was easier to discredit his candidacy in preference to Bush who at least had experience as a wartime President.

Four days before the election of 2004, a new bin Laden video was made public. Both Democrat and Republican leaders agreed this would favor Republicans in the election. A Republican strategist went so far as to call the new bin Laden tape, “a little gift” and comment that "anything that makes people nervous about their personal safety helps Bush." In a close election that tended to favor Kerry toward the end, the last minute appearance of this tape reinforced the public’s fear of terror, which could have only helped Bush at the polls.

October Surprises and Tactics (2006)

While terror alerts all but disappeared after the 2004 election, they reappeared with force roughly a month before the 5th anniversary of 9/11, when the plot to blow up 10 airplanes using liquid explosives was exposed by British intelligence. The news of this plot, immediately resulted in pandemonium at U.S. and British airports when the immediate ban of all carry on liquids resulted in inordinately long lines. Yet despite the lines and confusion, travelers that day remained cheerful, noting that the thwarting of the plot had made them feel more secure.

The facts now show that the chaos that ensued that day was completely unjustified in terms of security but only served as a backdrop for news coverage, which could only serve to heighten fears of another attack. And as if this was all part of a PR stunt, Bush was given some credit for thwarting the plots, even though the real work was done by British intelligence. British authorities admit that the attack was far from imminent, there was no timeline in place, none of the suspects had purchased tickets and that half of them did not even have passports.

The arresting authorities did not find any of the chemicals needed to make liquid explosives or the lab equipment necessary to manufacture them. While the media made it sound that making a liquid bomb was as easy as mixing a cocktail, these liquids were in fact very unstable requiring special handling and cold temperatures. Rather than being a simple matter of mixing two ingredients, making a liquid bomb was in fact a laborious drop-by-drop process that would have required the bombers to somehow duck into the bathroom for an hour or more without raising suspicions.

Even more curious to this case - entirely unreported by the American media, - was that the British authorities were pressured by the Bush administration in the timing of their arrests. Instead of making arrests and issuing press releases, in the time frame that the Bush administration demanded, British intelligence sources admit they would have preferred more time to gather evidence and widen the sweep of potential suspects. That the Bush administration would influence the timing of the investigation - effectively ending it before it was complete - is yet another indication that they were more concerned with gaining political points than with keeping the public safe.

Immediately after the London terror plot was revealed, Republicans seized the moment for political opportunism. House majority leader John Boehner labeled Democrats as “Defeatocrats” for their opposition to the war in Iraq. Bush used the terror plot to accuse his critics of forgetting 9/11. John Thune, Senator from South Dakota declared that “This week’s dramatic new terrorism threat may help remind voters Republicans have provided ‘strong leadership on that issue that won’t vacillate,’ Rudy Guilliani sent out fundraising e-mails for the RNC which stated that “In the middle of a war on terror, we need to remain focused on furthering Republican ideas more than ever before.” And a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity revealed the opinion that, “Weeks before September 11th, this is going to play big,” adding that some Democratic candidates “won’t look as appealing” under the circumstances.

The fact that British intelligence was pressured to prematurely expose their investigation into the London terror plot has Karl Rove’s handwriting all over it. By August the G.O.P. must have felt sufficiently desperate - in light of their dismal poll numbers over the summer- to launch their October surprise much earlier. They must have reasoned that using the London plot to increase the public’s fear coupled with the approaching anniversary of 9/11 would begin to reverse the trends. And yet, while this confluence of events did result in a momentary 5% rise in Bush’s approval ratings, it was insufficient to turn the tide.

In the 2006 campaign, the G.O.P. has employed all of it’s tried and true tactics to demonize Democratic candidates. But this year it is just not working perhaps because they have become the boy who cried wolf and the majority has stopped believing them. The G.O.P.’s attempts this year to portray Democrats as being weak on terror has just as likely resulted in suspicions about their own centerpiece in the fight against terror, the war in Iraq. At present a clear majority agree that Iraq is going badly and almost as many suspect that we invaded under false pretenses. This has resulted in the belief that the Bush administration never had a concrete Iraq strategy which makes their credentials on terrorism now appear tenuous at best.

It is ironic and fitting that in their desire to create reality, the Bush administration is now haunted by the war in Iraq which was one of their most imaginative creations. Rather than being the cake-walk we were promised, the cost of the war now approaches $300 billion, the lives of almost 3,000 soldiers, serious injury to over 40,000 troops, an unfathomable number of Iraqi civilian deaths and still there is no end in sight. We were not greeted with flowers, there were no WMDs, over 70% of the Iraqi population want us to leave and the situation is rapidly destabilizing into a civil war. When Bush landed on the U.S.S. Lincoln for his photo-op with troops and the huge “Mission Accomplished” banner, he was acting out a fantasy stemming from the administration’s belief that they could make their own reality. That moment is now fixed in history as an event that was more surreal than real, more determined by faith than reality and something more out of a fairy tale about a delusional king rather than being the real world actions of a rational leader of the free world.

The October Un-Surprise

Because the threat of the London terror plot and the reaffirmation of terror on the 5th anniversary of 9/11 failed to reverse the G.O.P.’s poll numbers, it is possible that the public is simply too terror-weary for any fear related October surprise to affect their votes. At this point, the unveiling of new terror plot or even an actual attack on U.S, soil (God forbid) might cut either way. It is also possible that even if a truly spectacular October surprise had been in the works for this election, that even Karl Rove would decline to use it in the awareness that the G.O.P. might ultimately lose anyway, only to potentially face Democratic led investigations in the aftermath. In any case the options for an October surprise this year have been severely limited.

While several writers have suggested we are on the precipice of a war with Iran, even the reality-denying Bush administration can’t just make this happen. Although the rhetoric against Iran heated up throughout the summer using the same types of questionable intelligence and fear tactics that were employed in the lead up to Iraq - and we have already placed an advanced fleet in striking position - an invasion simply can’t happen before the election. If the war in Iraq had gone perfectly, it is possible that we would be poised to strike Iran on the brink of this election as part of the G.O.P.’s strategy. But currently because Iraq has gone so badly there are simply not enough resources left in the military or the public will to begin another conquest.

At this point it seems improbable that there be a poignant October surprise. And given the things that are already on the table, it is impossible to say how this election will play out. Was is clear is that many people’s perception of the Bush administration has changed, perhaps permanently, so what worked for them in past elections might just as well fail this time. The administration’s current campaign to link the withdrawal from Iraq to our ultimate defeat in the war on terror is untested. The notion that there have been increased casualties in Iraq recently because of the insurgent’s desire to break our will and influence our elections is unproven. The idea that the defeat of the Republican Congress gives aid and comfort to our enemies is no longer guaranteed to work at the polls. And whether the sentencing of Saddam Hussein, postponed by the U.S. led court until three days before the election, will have any effect on people’s decisions is only speculation.

In the end, the real question in this election is to what extent the American people will choose to hold the Bush administration accountable. And this can only lead to smaller questions that will ultimately be decided in the voting booth. What percentage of voters will still decide to blindly follow Bush’s authoritarian lead? How many will divide the parties into black and white, with Republicans still being the real men wearing the white hats? How many will continue to believe the Bush administration’s ever changing reasons for invading Iraq and how many will decide that they were lied to? How many will continue to have faith in the claims that Iraq is making progress versus those who will decide that the situation has gone from bad to out of control? Will they believe that al-Quada types will take comfort in the defeat of Bush partisans and that a voting for Democrats will ultimately aid the terrorists? Will voters use their lizard brains to vote their fear or will they use their neo-cortex to change course and adapt our defenses?

To put the current proposition in black and white, over the long haul do we want to become more a nation driven by our fear, dogmatism and failure to learn from our mistakes or instead become more capable at using facts to make rational decisions which will allow us to adapt to a changing world? This is the essential question that the American people will decide in the voting booth on November 7th. Their decision will not be final, but at this crucial point in our history, whatever they decide will either make us stay the course or push us in a new direction.

© 2006 Dean Heagle


REFERENCES

Intro

Poll Finds Most Americans Displeased With Congress

" Macro" Factors and Election Forecasts by Chris Bowers


Conyers Releases Report On Misconduct Of Bush Administration Concerning Iraq War

The Constitution in Crisis; The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Coverups in the Iraq War

38 US Reps for Bush Impeachment Review

H. Res. 635: Creating a select committee to investigate the Administration's intent to go to war before...

A Political Limbo How low can the Republicans go? Newsweek Poll 10/07/06

The Physiology of Fear: Cheney Speaks to the Reptile Brain by Thom Hartmann

The Authoritarian Personality

Triumph of the authoritarians by John W. Dean

John Dean on Countdown: Conservatives Without Conscience

Researchers help define what makes a political conservative

Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition

Study of Bush's psyche touches a nerve

Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War

Ends Justify the Means

My Big Fat Iraq Debate

Exclusive: Bush Wanted To Invade Iraq If Elected in 2000

Top Bush officials push case against Saddam

Wolfowitz comments revive doubts over Iraq's WMD

Text of the Downing Street Memo

Faith Over Fact

Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush by Ron Suskind

Lifting the veil: Some troubling insight to White House decisions

October Surprises and Tactics (2002-2004)

"The president ought to be ashamed"

Insider Interview: Scott Howell -- GOP Imagemaker

Senate approves Iraq war resolution

9/11: FIVE YEARS LATER Alerts aid terror goals, study finds

Study: Bush Raises the Terrorism Fear Factor...And His Poll Numbers Jump Too

Tom Ridge's Mea Culpa: The Code Orange Terror Alerts were based on Fake Intelligence

October Surprises and Tactics (2006)

Contradictions, anomalies, questions mount in UK terror scare

Mass murder in the skies: was the plot feasible?

Liquid ban lifted in U.S.

Source: U.S., U.K. at odds over timing of arrests: British wanted to continue surveillance on terror suspects, official says


The London Plot

Right Wing Politicizes London Plot While Calling For ‘National Unity’ On Terrorism

Trailing in polls, party runs TV ad starring bin Laden

Broadcast and cable news gave GOP free air time for new fearmongering terrorism ad

Rove Road-Tests Tougher Attack on Democrats

The October Un-Surprise

War Signals? (Iran)

The October Surprise by Gary Hart

GOP terror strategy no longer foolproof

Court may give Saddam verdict on November 5

November Surprise?

A possibly fatal flaw in GOP formula for success

 

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