by Paul Craig Roberts
James Bovard, the great libertarian champion of our freedom and
civil liberties, recently shared with readers his mail from Bush
supporters. For starters, here are some of the salutations: "communist bastard," "a**hole," "a piece of trash, scum of the earth." It goes downhill from there.
Bush's supporters demand lockstep consensus that Bush is right. They
regard truthful reports that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass
destruction and was not involved in the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S.–
truths now firmly established by the Bush administration's own
reports – as treasonous America-bashing.
Bovard is interpreted as throwing cold water on the feel-good,
macho, Muslim butt-kicking that Bush's invasion of Iraq has come to
symbolize for his supporters. "People like you and Michael Moore,"
one irate reader wrote, "is [sic] what brings down our country."
I have received similar responses from conservatives, as, no doubt,
have a number of other writers who object to a domestic police state
at war with the world.
In language reeking with hatred, the Heritage Foundation's
TownHall.com readers impolitely informed me that opposing the
invasion of Iraq is identical to opposing America, that Bush is the
greatest American leader in history and everyone who disagrees with
him should be shot before they cause America to lose another war.
TownHall's readers were sufficiently frightening to convince the
Heritage Foundation to stop posting my columns.
Bush's conservative supporters want no debate. They want no facts,
no analysis. They want to denounce and demonize the enemies that the
Hannitys, Limbaughs, and Savages of talk radio assure them are
everywhere at work destroying their great and noble country.
I remember when conservatives favored restraint in foreign policy
and wished to limit government power in order to protect civil
liberties. Today's young conservatives are Jacobins determined to
use government power to impose their will at home and abroad.
Where did such "conservatives" come from?
Claes Ryn in his important book, America the Virtuous, explains the
intellectual evolution of the neoconservatives who lead the Bush
administration. For all their defects, however, neocons are
thoughtful compared to the world of talk radio, whose inhabitants
are trained to shout down everyone else. Whence came the brownshirt
movement that slavishly adheres to the neocons' agenda?
Three recent books address this question. Thomas Frank, in What's
the Matter With Kansas?, locates the movement in legitimate
conservative resentments of people who feel that family, religious,
and patriotic values are given short shrift by elitist liberals.
These resentments festered and multiplied as offshore production,
jobs outsourcing, and immigration took a toll on careers and the
An audience was waiting for right-wing talk radio, which found its
stride during the Clinton years. Clinton's evasions made it easy to
fall in with show hosts, who spun conspiracies and fabricated a
false consciousness for listeners who became increasingly angry.
Show hosts, who advertise themselves as truth-tellers in a no-spin
zone, quickly figured out that success depends upon constantly
confronting listeners with bogeymen to be exposed and denounced: war
protesters and America-bashers, the French, marrying homosexuals,
the liberal media, turncoats, Democrats, and the ACLU.
Talk radio's "news stories" do not need to be true. Their importance
lies in inflaming resentments and confirming that America's
implacable enemies are working resolutely to destroy us.
David Brock's The Republican Noise Machine lacks the insights of
Thomas Frank's book, but it provides a gossipy history of the right-
wing takeover of the U.S. media. Brock is unfair to some people,
myself included, and mischaracterizes as right wing some media
personalities who are under right-wing attack.
Brock is as blindly committed to his causes as the right-wing
zealots he exposes are to theirs. Unlike Frank, he cannot
acknowledge that the right wing has legitimate issues.
Nevertheless, Brock makes a credible case that today's conservatives
are driven by ideology, not by fact. He argues that their stock in
trade is denunciation, not debate. Conservatives don't assess
opponents' arguments, they demonize opponents. Truth and falsity are
out of the picture; the criteria are: who's good, who's evil, who's
patriotic, who's unpatriotic.
These are the traits of brownshirts. Brownshirts know they are
right. They know their opponents are wrong and regard them as
enemies who must be silenced if not exterminated.
Some of Brock's quotes from prominent conservative commentators will
curl your toes. His description of the right wing's destruction of
an independent media and the "Fairness Doctrine" explain why a
recent CNN/Gallup poll found that 42% of Americans still believe
that Saddam Hussein was involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on
the U.S. and 32% believe that Saddam Hussein personally planned the
A country in which 42% of the population is totally misinformed is
not a country where democracy is safe.
Today there is no one to correct a lie once it is told. The media,
thanks to Republicans, has been concentrated in few hands, and they
are not the hands of newsmen. Corporate values rule. If lies sell,
sell them. If listeners, viewers, and readers want confirmation of
their resentments and beliefs, give it to them. Objectivity turns
listeners off and is a money loser.
In his book, Cruel and Unusual, Mark Crispin Miller, professor of
media studies at New York University, explains how right-wing
influence has moved the media away from reporting news to designing
our consciousness. "The Age of Information," Miller writes, "has
turned out to be an Age of Ignorance."
Miller makes a strong case. His description of how CNN and Fox News
destroyed the credibility of Scott Ritter, the leading expert on
Iraq's weapons, reveals a media completely given over to propaganda.
Ritter stood in the way of the neocons' invasion of Iraq.
CNN's Miles O'Brien, Eason Jordan, Catherine Callaway, Paula Zahn,
Kyra Phillips, Arthel Neville, and Fox News' David Asman and John
Gibson portrayed Ritter as a disloyal American, a Ba'athist stooge
on the take from Saddam Hussein, and compared him to Jane Fonda in
With this, the right-wing talk radio crazies were off and running.
Anyone with the slightest bit of real information about the state of
weapons development in Iraq was dismissed as a foreign agent who
should be shot for treason.
By substituting fiction for reality, the U.S. media took the country
to war. The CNN and Fox News "journalists" are as responsible for
America's ill-fated invasion of Iraq as Cheney and Rumsfeld,
Wolfowitz and Perle.
With a sizable percentage of the U.S. population now addicted to
daily confirmations of their resentments and hatreds, U.S. policy
will be increasingly driven by tightly made-up minds in pursuit of
American troops are in Iraq on false pretenses. No one knows all the
fateful consequences of this mistaken adventure. Bush's reelection
would be seen as a vindication of aggression, and more aggression
would likely follow. A continuing expenditure of blood, money,
alliances, good will, and civil liberties is not a future to which
to look forward.
Dr. Roberts served as assistant secretary of the Treasury in the
Reagan administration. During the Cold War era, he was a member of
the Committee on the Present Danger. He is a former associate editor
and columnist for the Wall Street Journal editorial page and a
former contributing editor for National Review. In 1986-87 he
assisted the French government's privatization of socialized firms
and was awarded the Legion of Honor.