Politicians, like writers, preachers and professors, are word people. They deal mainly in words, not in actions. If you wish to understand the present political situation, you need to understand how politicians use words.
You can start by scratching off "communication of truth." That is a very low priority in Washington, for the simple reason that if the public knew the complete and whole truth about the federal government, most of the politicians would be looking for work after the next election. Truth may be bandied about on the Potomac occasionally in private, but it is rarely called upon for a public appearance.
Politicians, being word people, are used to imagining that reality conforms to their words. If they say something is successful, it is successful, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. Words and beliefs, however, are not reality.
An old Asian saying puts it quite well: "If you understand, the world is as it is; if you do not understand, the world is as it is." Our words and beliefs do not have the power to affect reality. Reality can only be changed by actions.
The president, for example, says we are succeeding in Iraq. To know whether that is true or not would require, first of all, a definition of "success" and then an extensive trip to Iraq to see if conditions on the ground meet the criteria for success. The president has gone to Iraq only once, for a photo opportunity. He spiraled in, in the dead of night, spent an hour or two in the heavily fortified Baghdad Airport and then spiraled out, never, so far, to return. Since he is so obsessed with the war, one has to wonder why he has not made several trips to the country. Leaders of other countries have done so. It's hard to lead from the rear. If things are going as swimmingly as he says, travel to Iraq should not present a great risk. What a great photo op it would be if he would go out on a night patrol with one of our units.
In fact, his action of not going undercuts his words. His not going says that regardless of what he says, it is not safe for him to put his feet on Iraqi soil. If that is the case, then we don't control Iraq.
Whether drawing down the American forces is cutting and running or a sign of victory depends entirely on which politician is describing the action. The president says we won't cut and run, but others in his administration are talking about reducing troop levels in 2006. The reality will be a reduction of troops. How that reduction is described is the province of words. There will be victory when the president declares there is victory — regardless of the facts on the ground.
The best strategy is to disregard words and watch what actions people take. The Israelis, for example, have long known that creating facts on the ground trumps words every time. Regardless of what they have said through the years, they have put Jewish settlements on Palestinian land and even now are strengthening them on the West Bank, despite having withdrawn from Gaza. Whatever they say, they are, in fact, creating conditions on the ground that will make a viable Palestinian state an impossibility. Watch what people do, not what they say, and that applies to everyone.
The FBI, for example, says it is not abusing the Patriot Act, but the fact is, the agency has sent out 30,000 "security letters" demanding the private records of private citizens. Not even the most rabid terroristmonger has ever suggested there were 30,000 terrorists in our midst. Who are these people whose privacy a federal law-enforcement agency is invading? Shush, it's a secret. It's classified. You, peon that you are, are not entitled to know.
The very reason secrecy should be strenuously opposed by citizens of a free society is because it is always its actions, not its words, that government seeks to hide. Words have been so abused in Washington that they are practically worthless. I don't even waste my time anymore interviewing politicians. They bloviate, but they don't communicate. Washington is so drowned in words and disconnected from reality that it resembles an open-air insane asylum.
December 3, 2005
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.
© 2005 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.