Bush and Rove: Collaborators in the Theater of the Moral Lie

[This is a tightened and polished version of a piece that ran here several weeks ago. This version was published last Thursday on the CommonDreams.org website.]

If evil were to take over America, it would have to do it with a smiling face and postures of righteousness.

Most of the evil rulers in history made no pretense to moral virtue. Maintaining their power through terror, they simply intimidated people into submission.

But in a democracy, evil can rise to power only with the people’s consent—at least in the first stage. And this means that deception replaces brute force as evil’s route to the throne.

Evil has thus ascended to power in America disguised as the good.

This is why the partnership between George W. Bush and Karl Rove has proved so fatefully dangerous for America, for the two men bring profoundly complementary talents to the theater of moral deception.

Rove As Dramatist of the Moral Lie

From the beginning, Karl Rove has been drawn to the staging of morally deceptive theater to gain political power.

Twenty years ago, according to James Moore, et al., the authors of Bush’s Brain, he faked the wiretapping of his own office—a gesture that made his candidate appear the victim of dirty tricks from the other side.
And he’s apparently orchestrated the smearing of George W. Bush’s opponents in one campaign after another—from a whisper campaign in the 1994 Texas gubernatorial race to insinuate that Gov. Ann Richards was a lesbian, to the behind-the-scenes injection into the South Carolina primary in 2000 that Sen. John McCain had fathered a black child, to the character assassination employed against both Gore and Kerry in Bush’s two presidential campaigns.

Rove’s now significant role in American history thus rests on his genius in dramatizing lies to persuade people to see his political enemies as morally worse than they really are. These moral lies are the democratic equivalent of assassination in regimes where swords rather than votes lead to power.
But Rove’s strategy of dramatizing moral lies to slander his enemies becomes really powerful when combined with its other half: the lie that presents his side as morally better than it is.

So the great dramatist of the moral lie also needed a talent for casting. And it should thus come as no surprise that the partnership with George W. Bush was formed at the initiation of Karl Rove.

In Bush, he recognized that he’d found an actor who was not only heir to great power but also adept at pretending to a righteousness really quite foreign to his true nature.

Bush as the Great Pretender

However George W. Bush became adept at pretending to be a better man than he is, we know that putting himself together in an effective way took him a very long time—a time marked by many failures covered over by bravado and anaesthetized by alcohol.

And we can see still in his body —in his posturing like some sort of gunslinger, arms out from his side; in his swagger and strut; in the unnatural puffing out of the chest—powerful signs that this is a man who really does not know who he is. He seems constantly seeking the pose of the man in the white hat, an imitation of the heroes of movie westerns.

His infamous call to the insurgents to Bring it on!” early in the conflict, as if it were he and not the soldiers he’d sent into battle who would carry the brunt of the fight, is one indication of this President’s deep lack of self-awareness.

This same profound estrangement from the reality of his role in his falsely righteous dramas was displayed back when the hunt for Osama bin Ladin was still on. On this occasion, the President stood before microphones on the White House lawn mocking bin Ladin for cowardice in sending other men off to face death while he remained protected in some hidden cave. This from the most protected man in the world, who’d just sent his countrymen’s sons and daughters to fight his war!

How many of the lies this president enacts before the world are lies he tells himself?

The best liars are those who believe their own lies.

With Bush, as in human affairs generally, it is hard to know where to draw the line between really doesn’t know” and doesn’t want to know.” Bush’s Brain author James Moore says about the Bush-Rove partnership:
The President is oblivious, and chooses to stay oblivious, to the things that Karl does, and the contradictions about morality that Karl does. The whole concept, and it works in all of his campaigns, is the candidate or the officeholder takes the high road — talks policy, talks moral clarity, and honor, and principle — while the operative does all the dirty work down in the ditch, and splashes the mud, and spreads the scurrilous smears and rumors and whisper campaigns that have the desired political effect to keep the candidate elected.”

Right now in America the buck stops with a man who talks about restoring integrity to the Oval Office while the architect” he hires is a specialist in perpetrating moral fraud.

He’s someone who talks about how we’re fighting for Freedom,” but arranges political events from which people wearing T-shirts favoring his opponent are excluded, and has his Pentagon use the Patriot Act” to treat peaceful protesters against his policies as a threat.

He parades his devotion to a culture of life, but sows the seeds of death at home, around the world, and in the biosphere.

He talks about compassion” but can mock the pleas for mercy he rejected from the woman —born again, like himself—whom he’d put to death in Texas.

He promised to be a uniter, not a divider, but has used divisiveness as his primary political tactic.

He arranges photo ops with his friendly arm around some black child or another, but fights hardest for policies that further weaken the disadvantaged.

He campaigned saying that the United States should be a humble” nation, but is now reviled around the world as an arrogant bully.

In this dangerous period of the moral lie, regrettably, this list of discrepancy between the saying and the doing could be expanded almost indefinitely.

The Need to Spread the Moral Truth

It is through such moral hypocrisy that evil could gain a foothold in a democratic society like America. These rulers could not shoot their way into the White House. They had to sell themselves to a willing public.
And so it is that the takeover of America by evil forces has been achieved by such outstanding dramatists of the moral lie as these two. But unless the false righteousness of these moral liars can be exposed, this can be but the first stage.

For when evil is combined with power, it can spread its ways, destroying the structures of good order that stand in its way. So we see these forces now tearing apart the foundations of our democracy—degrading the discourse on which democratic deliberation depends, dismantling the protections against the abuse of power, polarizing Americans into warring groups.

So if evil can advance far enough through the moral lie it can gradually remove the mask. Behind this presidency, there are forces with no ingratiating smiles, forces ready to show their true faces should the time come when power has no need for such pretense.

The stakes could not be higher.

At present, we in America can talk about these things without worrying about the jackboots at the door. But unless we can awaken our deceived countrymen to the truth about these rulers —unless this country is moved to repudiate fully not only these present leaders, but also the ruthless forces for whom they are the phony public face—that may not always be true.

Print This Post Print This Post
Email This Post Email This Post

7 Responses to “Bush and Rove: Collaborators in the Theater of the Moral Lie”

  1. James Says:

    These Conquerors -Bush and Rove – are independent: morality is not on the agenda when you are on a mission of “full spectrum dominance”. Dominance is king and Bush is on a mission of a savage war of peace. Thomas Jefferson claimed America to be an “empire of liberty”. The Founding Fathers vision was of an expansion of a “zone of liberty”. Democracy is encouraged throughout the world and, if not accepted, is forced upon the hapless: the United states wrote Japan`s constitution. America`s strength is cultural, economic, militaristic, and can conquer without war. Bush`s goal is not popularity or pietistic affirmation; but the expansion of the “empire of liberty”. Bush believes that his goal of conquest benefits the vast majority of the world`s people. He holds all the cards, there is nothing that can be done about it! He knows what`s best for America, and for the rest of the world: “full spectrum dominance!

  2. Andrew Bard Schmookler Says:

    I wonder how real is GWB’s caring about liberty. Treating Quakers who oppose the war as a threat, worrying about militant librarians, are not the signs one would expect of a regime that’s devoted to liberty.

  3. Todd Says:

    Remember [or, note, if you havent seen it before] the following snippet from a classic (six Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Screenplay) 1966 movie:

    “Alice: While you talk, he’s gone!

    More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

    Roper: So now you’d give the Devil [suspected terrorists?] benefit of law!

    More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

    Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

    More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you – where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast – man’s laws, not God’s – and if you cut them down – and you’re just the man to do it – d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”

    –Robert Bolt, “A Man for All Seasons”

    I think ABS is warning us about “the Devil turning round on us”. We dare not chop down all the laws, even to get at terrorists!

    But was it ever about the terrorists, REALLY, in the first place? Or was it about producing a treeless landscape advantageous to the Devil?

    That’s not to say that Sep 11 didn’t happen. It did, and it was far from trivial. But has the general trajectory of our government’s response been one of responsible, pragmatic effectiveness in the face of an admittedly genuine enemy, or something else entirely?

  4. Todd Says:

    See also:


  5. Ynotaaa Says:

    Scott Ritter gives a good perspective of what has happened: “I’m all in favor ,,,bring on the indictments, but don’t stop at the Bush Administration. If you want to have a truly bipartisan indictment, you indict ,,,every person on the Clinton Administration that committed the exact same crime that the Bush Administration. Lying during the course of your official duty: That’s a felony, that’s a high crime and misdemeanor. That’s language in the Constitution that triggers certain events like impeachment. So let’s not just simply turn this into a Bush-bashing event. This is about a failure of not only the Bush Administration but of the United States of America, and we have to look in the mirror and recognize that, well, all the Bush Administration did is take advantage of a systemic failure on the part of the United States as a whole, a failure that not only involves the executive, but it involves the legislative branch, Congress.”

    “Congress has abrogated its responsibilities under the Constitution, and they’ve abrogated it for years. Then there’s the media, and, yes, we can turn this into a media-bashing event. But you know what? The media only feeds the American people the poison they’re willing to swallow.”

    The cleanup needs to run deep otherwise we may as well walk away and let the governing influences continue to act like and treat us as if we are in a third world country; after all we are now and will become that which we act like.

  6. Administrator Says:

    To Ynotaaa: A lot does need to be cleaned up, and not only in the political realm, as I have indicated.

    At the same time, Scott Ritter’s lumping of the Bushites with their predecessors is, as I see it, another example of that frequent leftish fallacy of not making distinctions between profoundly different shades of grey. “Exact same crime”? I don’t think so.

    If every president could be impeached for a high crime and misdemeanor for any lie told while doing his official duty, how many would not have been impeachable?

    Even Nixon had far more of a real relationship with truth-telling than this gang.

    My claim is that the darkness of this Bushite group is absolutely unprecedented in the history of the American presidency.
    I would very much like for any cleansing of the American system to go far enough to give ALL their sins such a bad name that we might actually do better than return to the status quo ante. But Ritter’s equation of the status quo ante with this group represents, I deeply believe, a form of blindness, and is not one we should ourselves take on.

  7. Todd Says:

    Administrator’s response to Ynotaaa seems to me to be on point but limited.

    “My claim is that the darkness of this Bushite group is absolutely unprecedented in the history of the American Presidency” does not specify either quantitatively or qualitatively in what ways it is unprecedented.

    It may seem like belaboring to keep providing specific examples, but I still see comments like Ynotaaa’s in the blogosphere about as often as I see contributions like the original post on this thread.

    One articulation of the kind of thing I’m talking about when I say we need to continue to provide examples is computer security expert Bruce Schneier’s editorial “Unchecked Presidential Power” in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:


Leave a Reply

Please enter an answer in the box above before submitting your comment - this helps prevent SPAM. Thank you.