You may have to dig out your old dog-eared copies of George Orwell's 1984 if you want to understand the peculiar uses of the English language that are being shoveled in our direction by the current inhabitants of the White House.
It requires Orwell's analysis of official propaganda-speak to realize how truly mean spirited and at the same time how clever the Bush apparatchiks are. In their calculated determination to manipulate public opinion, they have gone far beyond simple lies and hypocrisy.
For Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and the other brains of the operation, language is a precision weapon used to maim, to discredit, to strike fear ... and always to mislead.
With seven months of the election stretching before us, this propaganda campaign is building to what promises to be an overwhelming crescendo. It has my friend Romero convinced that we are fated to four more years of W. double-speak.
"They've got $200 million to throw at us," he argues. "Already Bush commercials are more frequent than ones for Viagra, and it's only gonna get worse."
"But those ads are so obviously false, Romero.” I said. “My gosh, no one'll fall for stuff like ’John Kerry plans to raise your taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars in the first 100 days after he's elected!' I mean give the American public some credit. We can't possibly be a nation of complete sheep."
"Where have you been?" he asked, peering at me over his glasses. "You know what my wife says, ’Where there's smoke, there's mirrors'?"
I choked on my milkshake at that point, so he rushed on. "Yeah, mirrors. The Republicans are masters at conjuring up substance-less issues designed to produce knee-jerk reactions in the American voter. I'm not making this up, just look at all the smoke and mirrors stuff we've had blown at us in the last few months."
"You mean like the constant shifting in the official rationale for Iraq?"
"Sort of ... but it's more subtle than that. They don't just change their story. Hell, even American cable television watchers would catch on to that one. No, they are more fiendishly clever than that. Watch them on "Meet the Press" or "Nightline" or one of those talking head shows, staring into the camera and calmly denying there was ever any earlier rationale. They'll say with a straight face that the collective memory of the American people is totally wrong."
I was starting to understand. "Yeah, like, ’We never said there were weapons of mass destruction' or ’We never said Iraq was behind 9-11.'"
"They're so firm about it you start wondering if there's something wrong with your memory. But it goes way beyond the war stuff. I think it is actually a strategy on multiple fronts to confuse voters so we won't go to the polls."
Once I started looking for the mirrors, the double-speak, the whoppers told with such a straight face that I caught myself doubting even bedrock truth, I saw them everywhere: phony, meaningless, cardboard cut-out issues whose only purpose was to spark fear, confusion and frustration in the electorate. A few examples immediately come to mind.
Bush calling for a constitutional amendment prohibiting that most dangerous of social problems: gay marriage.
Cheney leading the cheers at a pep rally for the nonexistent rebounding economy.
Condoleeza Rice blaming (who else?) Bill Clinton for 9-11.
Dubya showing up in Albuquerque for a "nonpolitical" event to celebrate his phantom accomplishments in the construction of new housing. (What's that line? He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.)
Heather Wilson declaring Medicare has been preserved by this administration's false estimates on prescription drug costs. Folks, this is a scandal that ought to have real fiscal conservatives feeling nauseous, or worse.
The no-holds-barred, all-out attack by the White House to obliterate the soothsayers who pose the greatest threat of damaging their base support, former chief counter-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke and former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.
The ballooning deficit (creeping toward the $1 trillion mark!) that threatens the future stability of the nation our children will inherit.
Bush's ignorance toward global warming, alternative energy development, natural resource protection, stem cell research and other scientific concerns, all dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders and smart-aleck retorts.
The empty promises of No Child Left Behind trumpeted from the rooftops as if they actually did anything for our kids and schools.
The list goes on and on.
Maybe Romero is right. Smoke, and the strategic application of mirrors in order to create the illusion of substance, is what the $200 million in the Bush election caché will be spent on. That's a lot of propaganda to expect the voters to pick through trying to discover truth.
It could actually be the whole point is to hold down turnout by confusing, disgusting or scaring voters. If that happens, Dubya's chances of winning go up significantly.
The challenge for Kerry and the Democrats is to build hope where the GOP wants to sow fear, to inspire confidence instead of pessimism, to offer clarity in place of confusion. I think we're ready to get past smoking and mirroring. Deep down, I'd like to believe, voters want substance.