Throughout every recent presidential campaign, a dialogue develops in the media between the major candidates for the job. The candidate best able to position themselves before the public takes the job.
The dialogue has its context. Voters have a distinct perception of the most important issue, how well or how poorly the economy is doing. And they hear reports of how wars are going.
This perception is how Ronald Reagan used the phrase “Morning in America” in his re-election campaign of 1984. As the public already believed, rightly or wrongly, that the nation had peace and prosperity, Reagan’s dialogue was strengthened.
As a way of telling the public not to argue with success, he said of his opponent, Walter Mondale, that he “never met a tax he didn’t hike” and that he “taxes [Reagan’s] patience.” Mondale’s response, that he was being “honest” about the need for new taxes, got lost in the dialogue. Given the choice of a candidate who promised jobs and a candidate who promised the truth, voters as a group were conditioned to optimism and believed they could have both.
A dialogue over taxes took over the following election between Vice President George H. W. Bush and Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. Bush lacked his predecessor’s congenial manner and used issues in a more cynical way.
Bush’s dialogue included phrases such as “read my lips, no new taxes” and a name for his opponent’s state, “Taxachusetts.” But on the issue of crime, he repeatedly named a man who had been released as part of the Massachusetts furlough program and who had then raped a woman. Television commercials made it clear that the prisoner, Willie Horton, was a black man.
It was as if Bush was saying that the voters ought to fear a Dukakis election as crime and taxes would go up. He also threw in Dukakis’ veto of a bill that would have made a teacher’s refusal to lead the pledge of allegiance a crime. It was an assault on Dukakis for some of his ideas of public safety, taxes and patriotism.
Dukakis responded by explaining that a predecessor had started the furlough program and that he (Dukakis) had ended it after the Horton incident. He attacked Bush for promising not to raise taxes (a pledge that came back to haunt Bush albeit too late to help Dukakis). And he made it clear that he had gotten an advisory opinion about the bill on the pledge of allegiance from his state’s highest court, which told him it was unconstitutional.
The dialogue had Dukakis on the defensive even before he answered. Bush picked issues that evoke a visceral response but would not have gotten away with selecting these issues had the economy not be understood by the public to be satisfactory. Bush could not get re-elected because the economy had worsened over the next four years and because he had to defend his own record.
So what is in store for the election of 2012?
The economy has gone from bad in 2008 to…bad in 2012. President Obama will talk about his health care legislation and how the Supreme Court found it to be constitutional.
Mitt Romney will have to find a new way to attack a law patterned to a good extent after a law he signed when governor of Massachusetts. He will also have to explain what he would do differently than Obama in turning around the economy.
The burden is on Romney to find a chord that even some Democrats can agree with. Obama has positioned himself as a somebody. It will take a somebody to beat one.
_ We should learn how easily the public can be convinced of something that touches them emotionally. Almost everyone on September 11, 2001 reported the same sense of shock about the attacks, the same sense of sadness about the victims and the same sense of anger toward the perpetrators.
We should know by now to be careful to guard our judgments about events in which our leaders may well have reason to mislead us. Recent history has shown us a number of official lies, for example, President Lyndon Johnson’s acceptance of Israel’s explanation that it made a “mistake” in bombing the U.S.S. Liberty in 1967, President Reagan’s insistence that “we did not -- repeat did not -- trade weapons or anything else for hostages nor will we” and President George W. Bush’s persistent claim of “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.
We should learn the value in deciding for ourselves how to respond to false statements made by our leaders and to reason to what extent it matters. The key is to understand why the lie is told.
President Johnson did not want to alienate the strong pro-Israeli support he had by publicly accusing Israel of acting with knowledge that it struck a United States ship. President Reagan likely could not believe that people in his Administration would resort to a wild ploy of selling weapons to the Ayatollah in Iran. President Bush wanted a war with Iraq and was willing to sell the idea with lies.
So why did our leaders lie about the events of 9/11?
One need only to look at the consequences of each lie told.
The naming of Osama bin Laden as the leader of the attacks gave our leaders a scapegoat that the public could focus on instead of upon our government.
The allegations of hijackers taking over airplanes and crashing them allowed our leaders to portray the attacks in an emotional, even numbing way.
The identification of passengers with their pictures convinced the public that people really died in airplane crashes. It was again the use of emotion over facts, facts that could not support commercial airplane crashes.
The story itself serves as a psychological operation to instill fear in the public about something almost all of us have done: take an airplane flight.
The greatest lesson of all is the awareness that anything could happen in the future and that we will not likely receive any warning that our leaders are lying to us. Our greatest gift to ourselves and to others is our ability to think for ourselves.
Complaints about President Obama's foreign policy can be heard among those who voted for change from his predecessor. But determining what to do about Guantanamo Bay, the rights of suspected terrorists and even finding ways to end the failed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will only address symptoms of a deeper problem.
Not even a revolution will cause substantial change if no one knows the root of what harms our nation. We should understand that we had a revolution in 1963. It would serve us well to recall how we got from there to here:
In November of that year, several shots fired from different directions felled President John Kennedy in broad daylight in Dallas, Texas.An innocent man, Lee Harvey Oswald, was framed for the crime and the authorities missed several leads, such as dozens of “ear” witnesses who said the fatal shot came from in front of the president’s motorcade.
Enter Lyndon Baines Johnson, sworn in next to the late president’s widow, who still had his blood on her clothes.As soon as LBJ covered up the JFK assassination by appointing enemies of JFK to "investigate" the coup was complete. The revolution began and has never stopped.
Johnson went on to reverse JFK’s draw down of our involvement in a war in Viet Nam.And after using false reports of U.S. ships being fired upon in the Gulf of Tonkin to get “authority” to prosecute the war, he never looked back.He attempted to fund social programs to fight poverty and the war.
Enter Richard Nixon who said we had to choose one or the other.Guess which one he chose?
The war ultimately took the lives of millions of Vietnamese people along with over 58,000 of our troops.The public found out by that time that our leaders had lied about the war thanks to the Pentagon Papers and other reports.
Enter Jimmy Carter. Elected after the only non-elected President, Gerald Ford, took over from Nixon, Carter said he would not lie.But even the president who used military force least often among recent presidents got us involved in a covert war in Afghanistan.He shipped weapons illegally through Pakistan to a group of people who fought alongside Osama bin Laden.
We had to stop the communists!
But the CIA wanted more covert action to fight the communists in Nicaragua.Carter wouldn’t do it.Not a problem.The revolution continued with some new leaders.
Enter Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.Reagan was the front man who talked tough about Iran who held our people hostage.Bush was the guy in the back room making deals with the Ayatollah by sending him weapons in exchange for a delay in the release of the hostages.
Since then, we have continued with a succession of presidents who have kept the military happy.Bill Clinton went for Somalia and Bosnia, while George W. Bush used a false 9/11 story about terrorists as a pretext for invading Afghanistan and Iraq.Now Obama has kept the war drums going in both nations.
People such as military generals, arms contractors, politicians, those with stock in the contractors and the idiots who wave the flag no matter what have a major hand in this problem. They make up the "War Party." Though a minority, they have conned the rest of us into accepting a new kind of war.
Instead of fighting wars that we could win or even battle to a draw (like the Korean War), we started getting involved in wars for the sake of fighting wars.
Of course that sounds like unwise policy, so:
The War Party has employed phony arguments like Tonkin and 9/11 and phony enemies like bin Laden.
They have factored the phrase "national security" into public announcements of decisions but no one ever says what it means.
They told us we had to stop the "domino effect" in Viet Nam, but even though we lost South Viet Nam, the dominos did not fall.
They told us that we had to oppose the communists who don’t believe in freedom though South Vietnamese, our allies, never held free elections during the time we occupied their nation.
They told us Saddam Hussein was an ally, then they later said he was another “Hitler.”
They have told us both China and Cuba are evil communists, but that it is OK to trade with China but not Cuba.
They have told us bin Laden did 9/11 but fail to tell us that they have never indicted him for it.
They told us that we must be “tough on terrorists” while they traded arms to try to free them.
We cannot understand change without understand what got us where we are.Ignorance of history and its consequences is far more of any enemy than President Obama or any politician could ever be.
We could say we are victims of the War Party but by tolerating them we become accomplices to their greed. Understanding our own role in perpetuating the revolution is the first step in causing its demise.