Leftist Delusions of "reality"

Not long ago, as I was listening to a BBC reporter describing the latest terrorist outrage in Baghdad-scores killed . deteriorating security situation . Iraqi government helpless . military untrained and disorganized . terrorists operating at will, etc.-it occurred to me that, even if all that the reporter had said were perfectly true it was also exactly what the terrorists would have said if they could have written his script for him. Did this matter? Was it just a coincidence that the "reality" of the Iraq war, endlessly repeated and identified as such by the news media, so closely resembled the terrorist "narrative," as our brainy students of textual deconstruction would put it? Or-the question seemed just worth asking-was reality itself being shaped by the terrorist narrative because of, first, the media's predisposition to believe it and, second, the lack of any persuasive rival narrative from those who continued to claim, in more or less vague terms, that "progress" was being made against the insurgency?

I don't know the answer to this question, but one indication of the importance of asking it came as the media themselves, perhaps emboldened by the success of their preferred party in the recent election, embarked on one of their periodic "reality" jags, proudly boasting of their own intimate relations with that elusive commodity and taking the occasion to pour scorn and contempt upon what they take to be the Bush administration's unfamiliarity with same. For even if we are willing to accept that the media's picture of the Iraq war is largely accurate, we cannot regard as credible the contention that not only the President of the United States but also the entire administration over which he presides and the generals advising it are merely delusional. Nor can I share the easy assumption of the substantial Bush-hating faction in and out of the media that our President is so stupid as to be utterly blind to things obvious and transparent to the likes of Frank Rich of The New York Times or Keith Olbermann of MSNBC's "Countdown."

Here is what the latter said, as transcribed by the Media Research Center, about some remarks President Bush made on his November trip to Vietnam: "It is a shame and it is embarrassing to us all when President Bush travels 8,000 miles only to wind up avoiding reality again . . But most importantly, important beyond measure, his avoidance of reality is going to wind up killing more Americans. And that is indefensible and fatal." Well, killing usually is fatal, though it is not always indefensible. But Mr. Olbermann's obvious passion has distorted more than his English. What had excited his wrath was the President's response to a question about the "lessons" of the Vietnam War in which he said that these, applied to the current war, included the fact that "the task in Iraq is going to take a while" and that "we'll succeed unless we quit." It is not so obvious to me as it apparently is to Keith Olbermann that these supposed lessons are misconstrued, but let's say that they are. How does that tell us anything about the President's grasp of "reality"? Does he really think that President Bush-or any American president in wartime-could have said anything else?

It may be, that is, that Iraq is like Vietnam, at least in being not only a losing struggle but an unwinnable one, but even if the commander-in-chief thought so, he would be mad to say so instead of quietly trying to find a way to extricate American forces-which is in fact what he seems to be doing. If Mr. Olbermann thinks otherwise, then he is the delusional one. The same affliction seems to trouble Frank Rich, who professes to believe that his president "isn't merely in a state of denial but is completely untethered from reality. It's not that he can't handle the truth about Iraq. He doesn't know what the truth is." The blithe insouciance with which Mr. Rich issues such a serious charge is itself evidence of its ridiculously hyperbolical nature. Generally speaking, the rhetorical resort to the popularized language of psychotherapy should be treated as prima facie evidence of a lack of intellectual seriousness, and that applies in spades to any allegation of psychosis against one's political enemies.

If Mr. Rich actually thought that the President was a victim of mental illness, he would have used more sober language and consulted one or two more qualified diagnosticians than himself, rather than simply tossing off the accusation as part of his weekly anti-Bush rant.

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