Monday, July 21, 2008

The Cudgels Of Certitude

Spending a month away, among people who had a lot of questions about where the United States is heading, made me realize more than ever what a colossal, nearly impossible job the next president has. Not only have Bush and Cheney driven the country into a ditch, the wheels have pretty much come off the car. And we all know how expensive it will be to fill it with gas.

When they're not spending their last days trying to exploit high gas prices to produce one more quick profit for their buddies, Bush and Cheney try desperately to bog us down in Iraq indefinitely while they rattle sabers at Iran. Having put us in a ditch and removed the wheels, they now want to dig the hole as deep as possible between now and January 20. Should Barack Obama be elected, it's a foregone conclusion that the Administration will be up to something nefarious and brazenly unconstitutional right up until he says "so help me God."

There's nothing like being abroad to make one think about what one's country stands for. From 1946 to 1980, the United States was virtually synonymous with scientific achievement. The Reagan Administration began the politicization of science, but the Bush/Cheney cabal has carried this to an unimaginable extreme. And it starts at the top with a president who believes that the jury is out on natural selection, a scientific certainty along the same lines as water being two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. 

When I was in Brooklyn earlier this year, a German woman asked me incredulously if it were really true that many Americans -- including Bush -- did not accept evolution as scientific fact. She found that frightening, and I took her point: If the leader of the most powerful nation in the world takes crackpot quackeries like Intelligent Design seriously, what does that say about the intellect and judgement of the man with his finger on the nuclear trigger?

And this is merely the canary in the coal mine. We've become inured -- at least the punditocracy has -- to the endless parade of news reports about the White House political operation directing the scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency to alter or suppress findings regarding climate change. This gang of trolls lurks under the bridge of science with cudgels of certitude, ready to beat facts into lies.  They approach science with the same absence of objectivity with which they evaluate the battlefield: If the facts don't align with political exigency, they dismiss the facts. It's frightening, it's one of many things that the press ought to be screaming about, and it's one of many things that the Administration gets away with by virtue of the sheer volume of falsehoods that they daily perpetrate on the world. 

Perhaps no falsehood is as egregious as Bush's insistence that "we don't torture." And according to the narrow, legalistic opinion provided him by Alberto Gonzales and John Yoo, he's right. Of course, this leaves him and the country resting on a moral foundation akin to the legalisms that permitted Kristallnacht. According to any half-human grasp of the realities of Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, and extraordinary rendition, we do torture, and any assertion to the contrary is an insult to the name of humanity. 

Watch this repellent video of the interrogation of 16-year old Omar Khaddr, a Canadian who has now been in U.S. custody for six years. How about we get together tomorrow for a talk, his interrogator says. Whatever happens between then and tomorrow reduces Omar to an abject wreck begging for his mother. An interrogator orders him to put his shirt on, a form of torture in itself because Omar can't lift his shoulder without experiencing excruciating pain. Watch it, if you can stomach it:

This is what we've come to. Forty years ago, our country dared to put a man on the moon. Forty years later, we've extinguished the beacon of science on our way to the dungeons of Torquemada. 

Note: Don't miss Dahlia Lithwick's account of the linguistic contortions Administration apparatchiks apply to convince themselves and their Republican enablers in Congress that we don't torture. The corruption of language is yet another of their many affronts to decency. Again, words do matter.


Renegade Eye said...

I think we are on the dawn of the end of Reaganism.

I don't only mean Republicans. Clinton trashed the welfare system, like Reagan was unable to. Hillary's loss was a big help.

It's against the material interests of the majority of people. Bush never realized, you couldn't be so blatant and get away with it. Dismantling Social Security was his downfall and Reaganism's.

PWally said...

It is time we all speak out against the insanity of the last eight years! Because the cowering press won't do it, any "patriot" must take a stand and make sure Bush, Cheney and their cronies are held accountable for what they've done!