Days of Bush: Manufactured all the way down!

SUNDAY, APRIL 28, 2013

Was George Bush a good, decent person: Was President George W. Bush “more than a composite of swagger and smirk?” Was he “also a kind man with a gentle heart who should be remembered as such?”

We don’t know, although we certainly think that is possible. That said, we can’t say it hugely matters. The decisions and conduct of a president are more important than the question of what he was “really like.”

At any rate, Kathleen Parker is saying those things about Bush in this morning’s Washington Post. She draws upon this methodology:
PARKER (4/28/13): Everyone is familiar with Bush’s history and performance. What I offer is an anecdote or two that I think reveal what the cameras and critics could not. These recollections are simply recorded for the sake of biography in the interest of providing a more complete picture of a two-term, transformational president who changed our world in ways that won’t be fully understood or judged in our lifetimes.
Parker agrees that the “history and performance” come first. But she offers anecdotes about this president's conduct when no one was looking.

There’s nothing wrong with offering those anecdotes; Parker’s personal judgments about Bush may even be right. But those anecdotes made us recall a few of our own. They also tweaked our growing sense that our American public discourse is, and will continue to be, manufactured consent—manufactured consent all the way down!

Parker offers a few anecdotes about Bush’s behind the scenes conduct. We thought of a few glimpses we had of Candidate Gore during his run for the White House.

As you know, we never discuss our conversations with possible future American presidents. For that reason, we haven’t shared these anecdotes and we won’t do so today, although we have often wanted to.

We’ve wanted to share them because we thought it would be good to give the public a fuller picture of this particular candidate. In the last few years—in the past few weeks!—we’ve moved toward a different view.

We’ve come to see that nothing will change the way we Americans see the world. We’ve come to see that our understandings are the result of manufactured consent, pretty much all the way down—including the manufactured consent created within the liberal base by our own liberal leaders.

In truth, we think we may have discussed a few lesser anecdotes before, although these anecdotes don’t involve the good stuff. Examples:

At a cattle call Christmas party in December 1999, the candidate explained a puzzling news report by Katharine “Kit” Seelye. In this puzzling news report, Seelye seemed to have Tipper Gore aiming a snarky public shot right at Candidate Bush.

The story didn’t seem to make sense in the way Seelye told it, but the point of the story was clear—the Gores were nasty attack dogs. At the time, this was a principal talking-point of the Bradley campaign. People like Seelye were working quite hard to advance this line, even if they had to drop key facts from their “news reports.”

At that cattle call Christmas party, the candidate told us what Seelye had dropped from her news report. Through the miracle of electronic search engines, we were able to verify what he told us. Suddenly, the story made sense—but it no longer advanced the negative view of Gore which Seelye was trying to generate.

We may have discussed an anecdote from a second cattle call Christmas party, this time from December 2000. This party took place on the very night when the candidate formally dropped his challenge to the Florida vote count, thereby conceding defeat.

Earlier that evening, we had performed at the Washington Improv as part of the Funniest Celebrity in Washington contest. At that show, we had told a certain joke about this candidate. Presumably, the joke can be still be seen on C-Span, since that event at the Improv was taped and televised.

The joke went something like this: “In my view, Candidate Gore got the best of both worlds. Everyone knows that he won the election. Plus he doesn’t have to serve!”

We were glad that the joke got a laugh; this told us that people were actually starting to know that Gore had won the popular vote. We repeated the joke to Gore that night, and, if memory serves, he said something like this:

“There’s a great deal of truth to that joke.”

Later that evening, the candidate spoke telephonically to President Clinton, who was returning from Europe on Air Force One. He repeated the joke to Clinton—and yes, we have three sources to verify that claim:

First source: One week later, we were at a cattle call Christmas party right there at the White House. A lady who had accompanied us wanted to go through the receiving line. And so, we graciously did.

When we approached the president and the first lady, the president repeated our deathless joke to the entire line. “Y’all! Have you heard Bob’s joke?” Clinton incomparably cried. “How does it go, Bob? Everyone knows Al won the election, plus he doesn’t have to serve?”

There was a great deal of truth to that joke, Clinton told us, much as Gore had done.

Second and third sources: In his book about the 2000 campaign, Roger Simon describes Clinton emerging from his private cabin on Air Force One and repeating that joke after hearing it from Gore on the phone. Years later, in his own memoir, Clinton describes Gore telling him the joke that night. For maximum impact, he saved the story for page 934.

That joke seemed to ring a bell with both Clinton and Gore. The fun part was winning an election. Especially by the 1990s, the crappy part came after that.

Please note: To our mind, there is a much more revealing anecdote from that cattle call Christmas party in December 2000. But as you may know, we never discuss our conversations with possible or once-possible future American presidents.

From March 1999 through December 2000, we saw Candidate Gore, or spoke telephonically, on at least four occasions, which isn't very many. For years, we thought there were several anecdotes from those occasions the public would benefit from hearing.

Parker acts on that general notion today, but we have stopped believing such things. It all comes back to the basic idea of manufactured consent.

In recent years—in recent weeks—we have come to see that the public’s consent is manufactured pretty much all way down. Nothing can or will change the ways we the people get conned into seeing the world in certain preconceived ways.

Two recent events have heightened our sense of this problem. One such event was Jal Mehta’s recent column in the New York Times. The other was the reaction of some “liberal journalists” to the Boston bombing.

When Noam Chomsky speaks of “manufactured consent,” he is talking about the ways the power elite gets us the people to adopt their preferred views of the world. The public is allowed to hear certain facts; we the people are widely exposed to certain preferred story lines.

We are widely denied other facts. We don’t hear other viewpoints. (For the past several years, Paul Krugman has discussed the way this process works with respect to “austerity” policies.)

In 1999 and 2000, we the people were mercilessly exposed to certain tales about Candidate Gore. Seelye was one of the largest dissemblers. But she still has her job at the Times, and the liberal world hasn’t said boo about her disgraceful conduct. Nor do our liberal leaders plan to do so, even after years of work in which we gave them the information about her ridiculous conduct.

They simply weren’t going to talk about that! They’ve helped manufacture your consent in this historical area. This works extremely well for them and for their career plans.

Similarly, the public has been told selective stories for years about the state of our public schools. Mehta’s disgraceful New York Times column extended this cherry-picked view of the world.

Over and over, again and again, we’ve presented the fuller information about the test scores Mehta discussed. But the mainstream press, and your liberal leaders, are never going to give you those facts. Your consent in this area has been manufactured. This process will continue.

We’ll have to say we had a similar reaction to David Sirota’s column about the Boston bombing, and to the follow-up columns by Joan Walsh and Peter Beinart. In this case, though, consent is being manufactured among the nation’s liberals.

Average voters don’t read this crap. In this particular area, we liberals are given a manufactured view of the world by our own tribal leaders.

Sadly, we feel we know something now which we didn’t know in the past: None of this is going to change! We liberals love manufactured tales in which we are told that we are The Very Good People and the other tribe isn’t. (One example from last weekend: We're told that our leaders say the right things after terroristic attacks while their leaders don’t.) We don’t push back when our liberal leaders hand us these cherry-picked, misleading tales. Nor do we show any sign of caring when they refuse to challenge the bullshit which comes from the top, whether it was the manufactured consent about Gore or the ongoing manufactured consent about the public schools.

Our liberal leaders don’t seem to care about matters like that. Neither do we the liberal people. This seems to be the best we can do at this stage of human development.

In short, it isn’t simply the power elite which manufactures our consent. Our liberal leaders play very active roles in this process too. As Chomsky has endlessly said, the process is going on all around us, and the process is very powerful. As part of this powerful process, Chomsky’s discussions of this process are cut from the national discourse.

Your liberal leaders haven’t old you the truth and they never will! A few years ago, we began to understand a fact which Parker may not:

The Standard Stories will prevail, whatever the actual truth may be. Your discourse is novels all the way down, a bit like Lord Russell once said.

What were Bush and Gore actually like? In the end, that doesn’t hugely matter. But our society’s gods are its novels. Quite often, those novels are bogus.

Jal Mehta’s facts about the schools were heavily cherry-picked. But society’a adepts are sworn not to tell, and that includes the liberal leaders who manufacture your consent about the greatness of your tribe and the ugliness of those who don’t who don’t belong.

In truth, its novels all the way down. Those novels manufacture our consent and nothing is going to change them.

We used to think the public should know what a certain candidate said on Memorial Day Weekend, 2000. Now we don’t think it matters.

About our candidates, about our schools, it’s fairy tales all the way down! At this stage of human moral development, we can't seem to escape this system.

Concerning that joke: Concerning the joke we told to Gore and Gore then relayed to Clinton, on the night he conceded defeat:

In mid-December 2000, these fellows were swapping jokes on the phone. Soon, though, the press corps was telling a preferred story about an alleged shouting match, a shouting match which helped us see how much they hated each other.

That story has been told to this day. Mainstream journalists love that story, which they have memorized.

Who knows? Some part of that shat story may even be true! But whenever we hear it, we remember this additional fact: They were also swapping jokes on the phone! And yes, we have three sources, two of them published, for this additional fact.


  1. Liberal Ellen Ratner should be commended. She defied tribalism and praised George W. Bush.

    George W. Bush has saved more lives than any American president

    1. From what I've read, the Iraqis are quite grateful to the US for freeing them from Saddam and for trying to help them get a working democracy. The Afghanis ought to be grateful for what the US has tried to do for them, but I don't know that they are grateful.

    2. You mean, the Iraqis who weren't part of the 2.2 million who left the country after we invaded it. I suppose they are ingrates for not basking in the arms of an invading, bloodthirsty army. The only way they could show more ungratefulness is if they wanted the Iraqi people to own and manage the oilfields.


  2. Mr. Somerby, you should also emphasize that the "cherry picking" of facts are not, in fact, in the service of clarity, concision, and summarizing the truth... they are insidiously in service of contravening the service of manufacturing novelistic "alternatruths" that bear little resemblance to objective truth and which profoundly retard efforts to strive for a more perfect union.

  3. So what do we do, quit trying? This kind of formless whining about "liberal leaders" is less than useless. Identifying specific failures is useful. But there's an awful lot of get-off-my-lawn-kid that has taken over this blog.

    1. Since when is the choice between consenting to accept tribe-stroking novels or "quitting"?

      A lot of us are repulsed by both tribes and grateful Bob is around.

  4. Urban, I don't see that here. This is a fund-raising drive so that the blog can continue to do what it has been doing -- not quitting in the forecast.

    It does seem overwhelming when the narratives are coming from powerful entities but when information is the commodity being controlled, one wins by knowing something different than the narrative they are peddling.

    I think it is useful for us to ask ourselves, as a further response to the information shared by this blog, what end is served by the narratives being peddled by those with powerful voices. Why are they going to so much trouble to convince us of what they are saying?

  5. Well, coming from Maine, and related to people who went to school with W, and knowing numerous people who are personally acquainted, if not friends, with the Bush Family, W is thought of, in Maine, generally, as a thin skinned, arrogant, mean-spirited, pr--k. I don't claim that is a universal feeling up here. But it IS an often expressed one. On a long term basis. Before he dried up, and after. Before he became Pres, and after. Kinda. He does not come up here much anymore.

  6. Kathleen Parker's column on George W. Bush was atrocious. And then some.

    It was inane, insincere, and obsequious. And this woman was given a Pulitzer prize?

    Here's the key sentence in the column:

    "These recollections are simply recorded for the sake of biography in the interest of providing a more complete picture of a two-term, transformational president who changed our world in ways that won’t be fully understood or judged in our lifetimes."

    The two little self-serving snippets Parker offers up hardly do anything at all to provide a "more complete picture" of George W. Bush. And while history has yet to render judgment on Bush, we can be sure it won't be kind. It isn't hard to grasp –– except, perhaps, for Parker –– how badly Bush impacted most American citizens and the economy.

    He failed to pay any attention to dire warnings of imminent terrorist threats (see, for example: He launched a war against a country that had noting to do with 9/11, based entirely on manufactured and manipulated "intelligence," which cost 5000 American lives (and tens of thousands of wounded) and more than 100,000 Iraqi lives. He badly mismanaged that war and the one in Afghanistan, anad he refused to pay for either one. The cost to the citizenry is upward of $2 trillion, and counting. He let big banks and Wall Streeters run wild, and bailed them out when they trashed the financial system. He ran up deficits and debt, and left his successor with a broken economy. He ordained government-sanctioned torture.

    Most of us will be paying for all of this for a very long time.

    And Kathleen Parker thinks a couple of small vignettes makes Bush whole??

    No way. Why does this woman getting paid to write such drivel?

    Then again, she's not the lone ranger is she?

  7. The rehabilitate-George W. Bush industry has already kicked in, just as the one for Nixon and the one for Reagan did too. (Ford's really only came after his death, and he will never live down the disgrace of continuing Nixon's awful economic policies and pardoning that criminal. Has anyone attempted to rehabilitate George H. W. Bush, a lackluster president at best, but leagues better than his dangerously incompetent son?)

    The thing to remember about George W. Bush is this: we suffered four major catastrophes on his watch. The first was 9/11; the second was the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; the third was the national and global financial collapse of 2008; and the fourth he created all his own, the Iraq War. In all four cases, his initial performance was disastrous. Keep that in mind. People love to talk about how dreadful James Buchanan was, but rarely has a president, even some of the worst we've had, responded as horribly as Bush. This doesn't even scratch the surface of the other crises he created, but don't forget those bookends (9/11, Global Financial Collapse), or Katrina or Iraq. He will never, ever, ever live those down. Ever. He makes Margaret Thatcher seem like a saint in comparison.

    I always return to this blog because it was one of the rare sites that posted, in clear, concise fashion, the per-person costs of health care in OECD countries. I even referred people to this site because Bob Somerby was one of the very rare people anywhere to do so. The mainstream media instead either refused to discuss clearly and succinctly the per-person cost differentials between the US health care system and those in other countries, or writers (I believe Ezra Klein was one) kept harping on percentages of GDP, etc.

    Why could the establishment media not just put the per-person costs side by side in a simple, easy-to-read chart? MANUFACTURED CONSENT! Because they don't ever want Americans to learn, as we recently and partially did from that long Time article, why we're being charged so much, or how much more we're being charged vs. other major Western nations, and they wanted to the private health care industry to get what it wanted, which is what Obamacare gave it to a huge degree, and which any program emerging from Congress that the establishment media were going to write about had to ensure.

    The Ezra Kleins & Co. have a vested interest (the interests of their wallets and their careers) in "catapulting the propaganda," whether they come from the right, left or center.

  8. Well, this is interesting but it wonders all over the place, maybe not such a bad thing...

    The central idea seems to be that Parker would have us remember W was an O.K. guy in his personal life or dealing with others; something Parker would never have never taken into account in her career building years writing about how vicious Clinton and Gore were. Not earth shaking stuff, as we well know there are SS Men, Klan Members, and Mafioso who also doted on their families.

    Then we wonder onto some recent dubious work by David Sirota and how it relates to Chomsky's term "Manufacturing Consent." But if Sirota is manufacturing my consent,
    I don't know what he wants my consent to do and Bob doesn't tell us. What he did was write a piece where the race angle is ginned up, perhaps to suit the prejudices of liberal readers.
    Then Bob strikes a note of new hopelessness, and who wants to argue this point?
    Bob has shown a certain tendency to don the rose colored glasses (ah youth!), when Walter and David supposedly kept everything on an even keel. We have reviewed, for example, the deal Obama has gotten from the Press and the hand delt to Clinton. But what about Clinton and Carter? I have a feeling a careful review of Carter's treatment would be a sobering examination indeed.

    I haven't read Albert Brooks's Science Fiction Novel of last year; but he said something about it that was interesting: in any realistic assessment of the future, we
    can expect some things to be better and some things to be worse.

    Recent history seems to bare this out: the enlightened switch in the body politic on gay issues is roughly as surprising as the seeming worsening of the foolishness on guns. But we can never despair. I'm crazy enough to believe people in this country concerned with economic issues will one day start talking about the Defense Budget.