Tuesday, November 28, 2006

W is for Charlatan

You learn the meaning and use of a great many words in a lifetime. You especially learn a lot of words if you have been back to school as W's daddy suggested. But regardless of educational achievement, you sometimes struggle to find the precise one to describe a person. You may have read my struggle to find the most descriptive gloss for George W. Bush. With the aid of Robert Greene's best seller, The 48 Laws of Power, I have discovered that term. It is CHARLATAN.

Or, if you prefer the even more French sounding, montebank. The seller of potions and elixers would mount a tall bench (le banc) and mesmerize the peasants crowded round with tales of miraculous cures, fantastic wealth, or passions fulfilled. If you ever watched W deliver a speech to a red state crowd early in his reign--before the facts began to catch up with him--you can see the rules of the charlatan's disreputable trade at work. Greene lists these rules in his description of the 27th "law" of power. W cleverly uses every one.
  • Keep it Vague; Keep it Simple. Nobody has accused W of using obtuse or convoluted language. Comedians repeatedly make jokes about his apparent inability to form a complete English sentence in speech. But he does use short, evocative phrases that resonate with his listeners and can be contained in a sound bite. Some of my favorites: "freedom is on the march"; "mission accomplished"; "cut and run". These phrases are repeated at every opportunity.
  • Emphasize the Visual over the Intellectual. The entire media event on the aircraft carrier from landing to rally in front of the now infamous banner was a visual appeal to macho jingoism worthy of Dr. Goebbles. Listeners' boredom is the charlatan's worst enemy. It gives them time to think and for skepticism to rise.
  • Borrow the Forms of Organized Religion. W repeatedly alludes to religious values and traditions in his public appearances and policy pronouncements. The war in Iraq has produced some of the most moralistic rhetoric of good and evil. Thus, a former client dictator becomes a "Hitler" and unfriendly regimes, the "axis of evil". We have invaded a country not to control oil, but crusading to bring "democracy" to a backward people.
  • Disguise your Source of Income. W was a failed businessman before he became a politician supported by oil companies and Christian fundamentalists. His administration has become synonymous with corrupt influence peddling. But his current affluence and trappings of power are testament to the righteousness of his cause. To know the source of his wealth you must ask yourself who has profited from the war.
  • Set Up an Us versus Them Dynamic. Before 9/11 W had no grand plan, no fixed goals for his administration. The terrorist attack was the opening he needed to solidify his image as a great leader and stampede Congress into a war against infidels ("they hate us for our freedom"). His critics are now labeled traitors. Their desire to extract us from the quagmire he created is defeatist. He told the world before Congress, "you are either with us or with the terrorists."

W is not for stupid. W is for charlatan.