Man oh man, I just returned from the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting in Philadelphia--a five-day conference attended by 7000 political scientists and other sundry pundits. Lots of talk, talk, talking about POLITICS. Of course, the specter of George W. Bush loomed over the proceedings, and many people, both on the professional panels and in the hallways and over animated dinner conversations, were discussing Iraq, Katrina, the upcoming elections, and the like.
One paper presentation I found particularly riveting. Professor Mary Dietz, from the University of Minnesota, delivered a paper on the legacy of Hannah Arendt for our times. Professor Dietz quoted several passages from Arendt's essay, "Lying in Politics: Reflections on the Pentagon Papers," which was originally published in the New York Review of Books in November 1971. Arendt's analysis of the lying and deception surrounding the Vietnam War make the contemporary connection to the Iraq War chillingly apparent.
Here's how Arendt's essay begins:
The Pentagon Papers, like so much else in history, tell different stories, teach different lessons to different readers. Some claim they have only now understood that Vietnam was the 'logical' outcome of the cold war or the anticommunist ideology, others that this is a unique opportunity to learn about decision making processes in government. But most readers have by now agreed that the basic issue raised by the Papers is deception...The famous credibility gap, which has been with us for six long years, has suddenly opened up into an abyss. The quicksand of lying statements of all sorts, deceptions as well as self-deceptions, is apt to engulf any reader who wishes to probe this material, which, unhappily, he must recognize as the infrastructure of nearly a decade of United States foreign and domestic policy.
Professor Dietz quoted this following passage, which seems like a description of a page right out of the Bush-Cheney-Rove-Rumsfeld playbook:
That concealment, falsehood, and the role of the deliberate lie became the chief issues of the Pentagon papers, rather than illusion, error, miscalculation, and the like, is mainly due to the strange fact that the mistaken decisions and lying statements consistently violated the astoundingly accurate factual reports of the intelligence community, at least as recorded in the Bantam edition. The crucial point here is not merely that the policy of lying was hardly ever aimed at the enemy (this is one of the reasons why the papers do not reveal any military secrets that could fall under the Espionage Act), but was destined chiefly, if not exclusively, for domestic consumption, for propaganda at home, and especially for the purpose of deceiving Congress.
From Arendt's concluding paragraph:
...one thing has become clear in recent months: the halfhearted attempts of the government to circumvent Constitutional guarantees and to intimidate those who have made up their minds not to be intimidated, who would rather go to jail than see their liberties nibbled away, are not enough and probably will not be enough to destroy the Republic. ...
Yet Arendt also ends with the oblique yet unavoidable suggestion that the American Republic could indeed be destroyed as a result of these assaults on the Constitution.
Arendt's entire essay is well worth reading (published here). My question for now is, Where are our Pentagon Papers today? When will we as a people (including the 40% who perversely approve of George W. Bush's policies) finally break through the veils and webs of Karl Rove's sinful prevarications? Can Bush and Rove sucker enough people again through another election?