Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Wednesday, July 09, 2003  

This morning I was listening to the radio and heard the president sputter a bad response to the lying question. It went like this:

Q Yes, Mr. President. Do you regret that your State of the Union accusation that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear materials in Africa is now fueling charges that you and Prime Minister Blair misled the public? And then, secondly, following up on Zimbabwe, are you willing to have a representative meet with a representative of the Zimbabwe opposition leader, who sent a delegation here, and complained that he did not think Mr. Mbeki could be an honest broker in the process?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I think Mr. Mbeki can be an honest broker, to answer the second question.

The first question is, look, there is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the world peace. And there's no doubt in my mind that the United States, along with allies and friends, did the right thing in removing him from power. And there's no doubt in my mind, when it's all said and done, the facts will show the world the truth. There's absolutely no doubt in my mind. And so there's going to be a lot of attempts to try to rewrite history, and I can understand that. But I am absolutely confident in the decision I made.

Reading the quote, you don't get the full sense of the sound of confusion in the President's voice. What sounds like some kind of Churchillian repetition here sounded a lot more like groping on the radio. And then I was reminded of a passage from the book I'm reading, the Authoritarian Specter.

Compared with others, authoritarians have not spent much time examining evidence, thinking critically, reaching independent conclusions, and seeing whether their conclusions mesh with the other things they believe. Instead, they have largely accepted what they were told by the authorities in their lives, which leaves them with time for other things, but which also leaves them underpracticed in thinking for themselves.

Sound like anyone you know? A bit later in the same chapter (four, for those of you reading at home), Altemeyer continues:

But they usually learned which ideas are bad in the same way they learned which ones are good--from the authorities in their lives. [Authoritarians] therefore have more trouble identifying falsehoods on their own because they are not as preapared to think critically.

Still later, he found that authoritarians believe things uncritically, and imagine they believe them staunchly. But they have selective belief. When Altemeyer asked authoritarians about the phrase in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus say "don't judge lest ye be judged," authoritarians endorsed it wholeheartedly. But in other dimensions of the test (including a self-righteousness section), they prove that they are incredibly quick to judge. Never does the contradiction even occur to them.

So Bush, who is seems clearly to be an authoritarian, had long ago taken as fact that Iraq needed to be invaded. He offered a bunch of lame, contradictory excuses, having already settled on the course of action. When I heard him sputtering this morning, it sounded to me like the two parts of his brain were actually meeting each other for the first time (the gears grinding unhappily)--the part that knew Iraq had no nukes and the part that was convinced he needed to invade (for unspecified reasons).

It seemed that for a moment at least, he actually understood what everyone was talking about. And was genuinely confused.

posted by Jeff | 4:05 PM |
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