Blame, Shame, and the American Public

Once in the south of Morocco I bought a beautiful malachite necklace from a blue man (a Tuareg nomad swathed in indigo-dyed fabric) for a mere ten dollars. The transaction managed to indulge several of my dearest fantasies – sundown in the desert, a blue nomad, a green necklace, shrewd bargaining (I'd whittled the price down from $25). There'd be glorious stories to tell whoever I gave the necklace to. Or so I thought. In the end, I gave it to the waste basket in my hotel room, where the "malachite" chunks had already started revealing themselves for what they were – some sort of crude green-glazed ceramic touched up with shoe polish. The next day I learned that my desert trader was in fact a notorious urban tout. Just business, of a sort.

There were two essential courses to take the morning after. One was to seek out and confront the faux Tuareg, and demand the money back. I elected, however, to confront the mirror, admit that I'd been an ass, jettison my "malachite", and attempt to engage the new day less gullibly.

The American public, say the papers, is finally awakening to the fact that it's been sold a genuine malachite war by, shall we say, a band of Roving Bushmen (and one Bushwoman) swathed in red, white and blue-dyed fabric. And the public has opted to greet the morning after (the many mornings after, actually) with a cry of, "We were deceived!" It was tempting at first to join the round of righteous indignation. I emailed a friend in Scotland something to the tune of: u2018At last we're waking up!' with a hint of pride at our capacity to get to the bottom of things. Better late than never, the truth will out, and so forth and so on. His reply sobered me up considerably:

"I don't know if I would give the American public so much credit," he wrote. "It's only six months since they re-elected Bush despite clear evidence at that time that he misled them. The only change now is that they don't like the fact that it is clear that the war is being lost. If the war against the insurgents was being won, they would still be supporting Bush. It's not about principles, it's about feelings. Feel good (bombing from 40,000 feet/ Saddam toppled) = President Good. Feel bad (marines returning in body bags, insurgents dominant) = President Bad. The public have a responsibility. They can't support an action in 2003, continue to justify it in 2004, but then blame Bush in 2005 when it doesn't work out. He would not have been able to act without high approval ratings. He would not have been able to act if the American public had thought about what it was being told. He would not have been able to act if the public had learned anything from Vietnam."

There's a lot of truth to these words. It is rather pleasant and not very challenging to pin jackass ears on the president – he normally takes care of that unassisted, in any case. But a look in the mirror might confirm something we'd rather not acknowledge – a jackass public braying "We were deceived" in much the same fashion it was not too long ago braying for a war that smelled phonier than an anchovy claiming to be a cheese enchilada. Yes, the Roving Bushpersons lied and bullied and exaggerated and misled and distorted and manipulated and deceived. Just business, as far as they were concerned. By neo-con principles (of a sort), the public is too dumb to deserve the truth in the first place. Unfortunately, we lived down to their cynicism as much as we lived up to our responsibility. We bought a gimcrack war for considerably more than ten dollars, and will be paying installments indefinitely. Our leaders should be blamed and, whether they have the faculty for it or not, they should be ashamed. At the same time, the American public has to share the blame and shame for this foolishness, not just ascribe it.

July 4, 2005