Hyperbole and extremism -- these are the hallmarks of the Bush administration.
The president, in a campaign that began in August with a speech at the American Legion national convention in Salt Lake City, has been slinging a bit of both -- along with a whole lot of something more, well, malodorous.
The president -- along with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- wants us to believe that anarchy in Iraq, the insanity in Israel and Lebanon and the occupied territories, Afghanistan's slide back into war and nearly everything else that is happening in the Middle East are linked; that the theme is a general antipathy toward freedom; and that these conflicts have nothing to do with legitimate grievances.
And what's worse, the president's proxies in the administration want Americans to believe that critics of their war policies are analogous to Nazi sympathizers.
The offensive (few words could be more apt in this case) comes at a time when the president's approval ratings are in the 30% range and a majority of Americans have expressed doubts about the war.
Rather than confront the criticism, rather than engaging it directly and participating in a public dialogue on national-security matters, the president has done what this president has always done: spin the issue, hoping to recast it to limit electoral damage.
There are two months left before the November mid-term election. Democrats are on the cusp (if the analysts are correct) of regaining control of at least one house of Congress, and members of the president's party are looking to create some distance. They are turning critical, if not of the war, then of the people running it (in New Jersey, Republican candidate Tom Kean Jr. has called for Rumsfeld's resignation, though he remains supportive of the war).
So the president and the administration are turning up the rhetoric.
Rumsfeld, as Frank Rich pointed out in the New York Times, "outdid himself."
"In an instantly infamous address to the American Legion, he likened critics of the Iraq debacle to those who 'ridiculed or ignored' the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s and tried to appease Hitler," he wrote. "Such Americans, he said, suffer from a 'moral or intellectual confusion' and fail to recognize the 'new type of fascism' represented by terrorists."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice likened war opponents to those supported slavery, while others in the administration offered similar analogies.
While the president stayed away from the "appeaser" line, he did offer a series of overripe arguments and outright lies that were designed to scare Americans away from kicking pro-war Republicans from office.
According to Bush, the war he misled us into -- a war that was likely unwinnable from the get-go, a war that has only exacerbated tensions and destroyed our credibility around the globe, a war that we should not be fighting -- is a necessary part of our battle against al Qaeda.
He wants us to believe that the insurgents and militias in Iraq that are targeting American troops and doing battle against each other are actually on the same side, that Hezbollah's missiles are not a political response to what they believe is Israeli aggression, that Hamas is not reacting to occupation, that all of these disparate groups are out to destroy our Constitution and the freedoms it protects.
(This is not tacit support for Hezbollah, the insurgents or militias in Iraq or any of those groups. Their methods are brutal and inhuman, their aims questionable and their leaders dangerous. That I have to state this explicitly, however, is an indication of how degraded our public discourse has become.)
The president wants us to believe -- echoing the Vietnam-era rationalization that the village could only be saved by destroying it -- that the very same freedoms that are allegedly under attack by our Islamo-fascist enemies can only be protected by metaphorically burning our Constitution and allowing people like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld to dance on the ashes. We must, the president seems to be saying, "destroy our Constitution to save it."
Much of this is a political dance designed to retain one-party control in Washington. But it's also a byproduct of our electing extremists to high office, of allowing a group of men and women so committed to their narrow vision of the world that they will reshape the world to fit their conception of it.
In about a month, we can change all that.
Hank Kalet is a poet and newspaper editor in central New Jersey. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. His blog, Channel Surfing, can be found at www.kaletblog.com.
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