Commonplace of the Absurd Reality

Sometimes, rhetorical posturing in times of crisis reaches the apex of absurdity, especially when it involves the Russians:

The Obama angle is getting wide play. It was aired on Wednesday by Sergei Markov, a senior political scientist who is close to Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister and power behind President Medvedev.

"George Bush's Administration is promoting interests of candidate John McCain," said Dr Markov. "Defeated by Barak Obama on all fronts, McCain has one last card to play yet - the creation of a virtual Cold War with Russia . . . Bush himself did not want a war in South Ossetia but his Republican Party did not leave him any choice." The Americans were now engineering an armed conflict between Ukraine and Russia, Dr Markov added.

The problem, though, is that we've reached a point in American politics, cynical or not, that you really have to read it a few times before genuinely shrugging it off. Even then, the mere fact that one can consider this a plausible argument, something that 10 years ago would sound so untenable, underscores the damage that the Bush administration has done to our own political psyche and conception of what people who hold power for power's sake are capable of.

Between torture, a misbegotten war incited and prosecuted with indifference to fact, domestic spying, the politicization of nearly every aspect of our governance, and an imperial presidency that places itself above the law at every opportunity, can we genuinely discount the mad ramblings of Russian political shill? I really disdain conspiracy theories and those who subscribe to a grand cat's cradle view of our world. But the trickle now deluge of revelations from the past 7 years that expose a genuinely duplicitous political machine at the upper echelons of of our government makes you think twice about the veracity of what would otherwise be dismissed as foreign propaganda. It certainly doesn't mean that the White House incited or fermented conflict between Georgia and Russia in order to benefit John McCain and hurt Barack Obama, and its not certain the conflict will create any positive outcome for the GOP candidate. The mere fact that we have to even consider its plausibility, or even the possibility that the White House created a forged letter to bolster unfounded claims of contact between the 9/11 hijackers and Saddam Hussein for that matter, means that we have entered a dangerous time for our political culture.

We've been here before. There were rumblings in 1991 that the Gulf War was one for political gain and that our strikes against Afghanistan and Sudan and war in Serbia during the late 1990's were meant to distract from the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but then those seemed patently imbecilic. But after the past 7 years, we've sadly learned that anything is open season if it reaps political benefit.

Surely this isn't the first time in American politics those in power have manipulated reality or the American people in order to maintain power, but this administration is fundamentally different. This is the case not necessarily because their motives are worse than other bad Administration's (though they may be) but that society is so vastly different than it was during the Presidencies of Buchanan or Hoover or Nixon. With information easier to disseminate and social groups connected ever tighter, and with a domestic media indifferent to details (with exceptions of course), the Bush administration came along at the optimal time for waging their brand of "at any cost" politics. They have been able to exploit a major transitory phase in society, from the compartmentalized low-information analog era to the integrated diffuse-information digital age, successfully exploiting certain aspects of both for their own political gain.

Through this, what was once deemed fantastic is now feasible, the ridiculous now commonplace, and the Bush administration has been able to create veins of justification for venial sins where none existed beforehand. What to do going forward? Certainly, the destabilization of the political ground beneath our feet is grotesque and only can reconstructed by time, fortitude and honest leadership. But we've also possibly reached a point where this has been institutionalized, a permanent state of abjective reality. The inherent dangers of this is that going forward we will perceive everything as real, and reality as uncertain, exposing ourselves to more vulnerability, dislocation and political manipulation.