Sunday, February 29, 2004

The Magic Show Rolls On

by Rich Miles

February 29, 2004

“No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

- H. L. Mencken

Ever been to see a really good magician? Someone like David Copperfield, or The Amazing Kreskin, or their ilk. You sit there mesmerized – Mesmer was a pretty good magician too, we’re told – and if the illusion is good, and the effects dazzling enough, the response most people will have, after the ooh’s and aah’s, is something along the lines of “How’d he/she/they do that?” We all want to know what the “trick” is, where the reality lies behind the apparently inexplicable sight we just witnessed, even though we don’t really want to know because knowing would destroy the illusion, and we love clinging to our illusions.

The answer to the question “How’d he do that?” is usually summed up in one word: misdirection. It’s a basic skill for the illusionist, probably a concept introduced on day 1 of Magic 101, drilled and polished and drilled some more, until it becomes the basis for every onstage action the magician does for the rest of his career. The concept is quite simple, really: if I can make you look at something eye- or attention-catching over here, then I can do something quiet and unnoticeable over there, which I will spring on you in a moment when I’m ready, and you will ooh and aah, and say “How’d he do that?”. And that’s why magicians are so reluctant to explain their illusions – because there’s really not much magic to them, they’ve just succeeded at getting you not to notice their preparations until they want you to notice them, and the real masters at this can even make you look foolish, and misdirect you if you try to blow the trick before they’re ready.

Why do I tell you all this, you’re wondering? Well, we do have a presidential election coming up soon, after all, and perhaps there are a few folks in the country who simply refuse to hear anything bad about our president, including my mother, and perhaps there are a few things that our president has done and continues to do that might benefit from a bit of additional scrutiny. Consider:

The right hand says “No Child Left Behind”, while the left hand (or vice versa) cuts funding for education, and leaves LOTS of children behind, and then the other hand denigrates those who point out this inconsistency, and the OTHER hand (you keeping count?) offers a new budget with further cuts for education.

The one hand says “Healthy Forest Initiative”, while the other hand proposes clear-cutting national forests and drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

One hand says, “Clean Air Initiative”, while the other proposes to reduce federal limits on toxic emissions by corporations.

One hand says “Cut taxes, and make those tax cuts permanent” (a sure vote-getter, in most elections), while the other hand says that the huge federal deficits created by those tax cuts will stimulate the economy and wipe themselves out. Then the new budget proposed by the prez makes the deficits even larger. And no one in the administration ever even addresses the fact that our children and grandchildren will be paying these bills.

One hand says, “Let’s not have another 2000 election controversy – let’s reform voting mechanics, and get electronic and Internet voting up and running”, while the other hand quietly tries to push a bill through Congress to make it mandatory for ALL states to use the unreliable and extremely tamperable electronic voting machines made by a company whose leader was a big supporter of the prez in 2000 and beyond. That one hasn’t gotten passed yet, but the very act of trying to get it passed should give us pause.

One hand screams, in every single speech he’s given in the past two years or more, “Terror terror terror TERROR”, while the other invades a country that had little or nothing to do with terror anywhere but within its own borders.

Why are we letting GW Bush get away with this? Are we really so filled with fear that we will let a president steal the country out from under us, as long as he makes empty promises to fight terrorism etc. etc? Yes, terrorism is a continuing threat to our national security – but so are huge, unresolvable federal budget deficits. So are cuts in funding to education. So are all the things our patrician president has lied to us about, and so few have tried to call him to task for these lies and evasions. And those who have often have their impertinent questions simply ignored. No politician in living memory has used the “I don’t like the question, so I’m going to ignore it” tactic more – Ronald Reagan cupping his ear as if he hadn’t heard the question, as he got on board the helicopter, probably doesn’t count, because he probably couldn’t hear it. GW hears them, and still ignores them.

Do we really want to know what Bush can do in four more years, when he hasn’t even the small restraint of having to get re-elected to tone him down? Think about that – I mean, really think about it.

The only nugget of good news, or at least good speculation, that comes to mind at this time, is that, depending on your point of view Bush either won the election by a very small margin, or had to resort to stealing it to win it. In my wildest dreams, I can’t imagine that very many people who voted for Gore in 2000 are going to switch to Bush in ’04 – and I can easily imagine a substantial number who voted for Bush switching to the Dems this time. So if he won by a whisker last time, perhaps he will lose by the same whisker this year. After all, the Bush family has so many proud traditions – why not add one-term presidencies to the list? I mean, Poppy did it.

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