Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bush and Rove: Collaborators in the Theater of the Moral Lie

Published on Thursday, December 15, 2005
by Andrew Bard Schmookler

If evil were to take over America, it would have to do it with a smiling face and postures of righteousness.

Most of the evil rulers in history made no pretense to moral virtue. Maintaining their power through terror, they simply intimidated people into submission.

But in a democracy, evil can rise to power only with the people’s consent—at least in the first stage. And this means that deception replaces brute force as evil’s route to the throne.

Evil has thus ascended to power in America disguised as the good.

This is why the partnership between George W. Bush and Karl Rove has proved so fatefully dangerous for America, for the two men bring profoundly complementary talents to the theater of moral deception.

Rove As Dramatist of the Moral Lie

From the beginning, Karl Rove has been drawn to the staging of morally deceptive theater to gain political power.

Twenty years ago, according to James Moore, et al., the authors of Bush’s Brain, he faked the wiretapping of his own office—a gesture that made his candidate appear the victim of dirty tricks from the other side.

And he’s apparently orchestrated the smearing of George W. Bush’s opponents in one campaign after another—from a whisper campaign in the 1994 Texas gubernatorial race to insinuate that Gov. Ann Richards was a lesbian, to the behind-the-scenes injection into the South Carolina primary in 2000 that Sen. John McCain had fathered a black child, to the character assassination employed against both Gore and Kerry in Bush’s two presidential campaigns.

Rove’s now significant role in American history thus rests on his genius in dramatizing lies to persuade people to see his political enemies as morally worse than they really are. These moral lies are the democratic equivalent of assassination in regimes where swords rather than votes lead to power.

But Rove’s strategy of dramatizing moral lies to slander his enemies becomes really powerful when combined with its other half: the lie that presents his side as morally better than it is.

So the great dramatist of the moral lie also needed a talent for casting. And it should thus come as no surprise that the partnership with George W. Bush was formed at the initiation of Karl Rove.

In Bush, he recognized that he’d found an actor who was not only heir to great power but also adept at pretending to a righteousness really quite foreign to his true nature.

Bush as the Great Pretender

However George W. Bush became adept at pretending to be a better man than he is, we know that putting himself together in an effective way took him a very long time—a time marked by many failures covered over by bravado and anaesthetized by alcohol.

And we can see still in his body –in his posturing like some sort of gunslinger, arms out from his side; in his swagger and strut; in the unnatural puffing out of the chest—powerful signs that this is a man who really does not know who he is. He seems constantly seeking the pose of the man in the white hat, an imitation of the heroes of movie westerns.

His infamous call to the insurgents to “Bring it on!” early in the conflict, as if it were he and not the soldiers he’d sent into battle who would carry the brunt of the fight, is one indication of this President’s deep lack of self-awareness.

This same profound estrangement from the reality of his role in his falsely righteous dramas was displayed back when the hunt for Osama bin Ladin was still on. On this occasion, the President stood before microphones on the White House lawn mocking bin Ladin for cowardice in sending other men off to face death while he remained protected in some hidden cave. This from the most protected man in the world, who’d just sent his countrymen’s sons and daughters to fight his war!

How many of the lies this president enacts before the world are lies he tells himself?

The best liars are those who believe their own lies.

With Bush, as in human affairs generally, it is hard to know where to draw the line between “really doesn’t know” and “doesn’t want to know.” Bush’s Brain author James Moore says about the Bush-Rove partnership:

“The President is oblivious, and chooses to stay oblivious, to the things that Karl does, and the contradictions about morality that Karl does. The whole concept, and it works in all of his campaigns, is the candidate or the officeholder takes the high road -- talks policy, talks moral clarity, and honor, and principle -- while the operative does all the dirty work down in the ditch, and splashes the mud, and spreads the scurrilous smears and rumors and whisper campaigns that have the desired political effect to keep the candidate elected.”

Right now in America the buck stops with a man who talks about restoring integrity to the Oval Office while the “architect” he hires is a specialist in perpetrating moral fraud.

He’s someone who talks about how we’re fighting for “Freedom,” but arranges political events from which people wearing T-shirts favoring his opponent are excluded, and has his Pentagon use the “Patriot Act” to treat peaceful protesters against his policies as a “threat.“

He parades his devotion to a culture of life, but sows the seeds of death at home, around the world, and in the biosphere.

He talks about “compassion” but can mock the pleas for mercy he rejected from the woman –born again, like himself—whom he’d put to death in Texas.

He promised to be a uniter, not a divider, but has used divisiveness as his primary political tactic.

He arranges photo ops with his friendly arm around some black child or another, but fights hardest for policies that further weaken the disadvantaged.

He campaigned saying that the United States should be a “humble” nation, but is now reviled around the world as an arrogant bully.

In this dangerous period of the moral lie, regrettably, this list of discrepancy between the saying and the doing could be expanded almost indefinitely.

The Need to Spread the Moral Truth

It is through such moral hypocrisy that evil could gain a foothold in a democratic society like America. These rulers could not shoot their way into the White House. They had to sell themselves to a willing public.

And so it is that the takeover of America by evil forces has been achieved by such outstanding dramatists of the moral lie as these two. But unless the false righteousness of these moral liars can be exposed, this can be but the first stage.

For when evil is combined with power, it can spread its ways, destroying the structures of good order that stand in its way. So we see these forces now tearing apart the foundations of our democracy—degrading the discourse on which democratic deliberation depends, dismantling the protections against the abuse of power, polarizing Americans into warring groups.

So if evil can advance far enough through the moral lie it can gradually remove the mask. Behind this presidency, there are forces with no ingratiating smiles, forces ready to show their true faces should the time come when power has no need for such pretense.

The stakes could not be higher.

At present, we in America can talk about these things without worrying about the jackboots at the door. But unless we can awaken our deceived countrymen to the truth about these rulers –unless this country is moved to repudiate fully not only these present leaders, but also the ruthless forces for whom they are the phony public face—that may not always be true.

Andrew Bard Schmookler has recently launched his website - - devoted to understanding the roots of America's present moral crisis and the means by which the urgent challenge of this dangerous moment can be met. Dr. Schmookler is also the author of such books as The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution (SUNY Press), Out of Weakness, Healing the Wounds that Drive Us To War (Bantam Books), and Debating the Good Society: A Quest to Bridge America's Moral Divide (M.I.T. Press). He also conducts regular talk-radio conversations in both red and blue states. Schmookler can be reached at


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