Friday, October 22, 2004

Reality and Its Discontents

The new PIPA study, which shows an increasing divergence in the perceptual reality of Bush and Kerry supporters, will be of great interest to posterity. Twenty or thirty years from now, when it'll be almost impossible to find anyone who'll publicly or privately admit to having supported Bush, students will certainly ponder these numbers and their grim implication for humanity.

It's not the Bush supporters' near-total break with reality that shocks me; that's old news. What I found most amazing is that 23 percent of Kerry supporters believe Iraq had WMD.

This raises interesting questions. According to PIPA, 85 percent of Bush supporters believe that in the absence of WMD, or any link between Saddam and al Qaeda, the war is unjustifiable; 92 percent of Kerry supporters agree with them. Given the great political divide in this country, this level of agreement is what one would expect in response to an innocuous statement like "I think apple pie is pretty good." This is as close to speaking with one voice as America's come in a while, and I think it's an important statistic.

With all this agreement on what constitutes valid grounds for war, and all the evidence that the war wasn't justified, why are even some Kerry supporters hiding from the facts? I think there are two main reasons. Given that there are some people - Republicans, mostly - would rather eat a piece of dogshit than admit they'd mistaken it for a Tootsie Roll, I think a more widespread problem is stark terror. If Bush was wrong, the anti-terrorism effort is in bad hands and we're not safe. And it's even worse if Bush misled us; in that scenario, we're threatened by terrorists and by our own president. That's an uncomfortable belief to carry around in one's head, as I know all too well. To admit to these facts is to accept that we're vulnerable, and that our leaders aren't really looking out for us.

The other reason to hide from reality is, I suspect, a lot more compelling. If people accept that tens of thousands of people have been killed and maimed for no reason, they're in danger of feeling a moral obligation to do something about it. They begin to feel that they might be obliged to give up their everyday life - if not life itself - to right this colossal wrong, for the world's sake and posterity's sake. And fear of that obligation, I suspect, is what's causing Americans across the political spectrum to retreat into Never-Never Land. The PIPA surveys are less a measure of BushCo's diabolical cleverness, than of our country's moral cowardice. It's obvious that this what they're banking on in the upcoming election, because they stopped making any real effort to hide their dishonesty some time ago. Tolerance encourages, as the saying goes.

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