Sunday, April 15, 2007

Breaking It Down: From OJ to Iraq

It seems we, as a society, have developed a tendency to break significant items down into their most meaningless components. I first noticed this during the OJ Simpson trial, when the obsession over each small piece of evidence began to actually obscure the larger question of whether OJ actually killed his wife. The DNA blood evidence should have been damning with Simpson's blood thoroughly connected to the crime scene. Any logical approach to the question of whether Simpson had participated in that murder should have concluded that yes, he did. But, in order to create doubt, the defense lawyers brilliantly parsed the evidence down into pieces so small that, like a single dot in a Seurat painting, they lost their meaning to the case. Eventually the jurors lost sight of the big picture and were able to mentally disconnect from the DNA evidence that identified Simpson down to a 1 in 170 million match. The resulting verdict was, in a word, breathtaking.

Beyond painting and into the world of 24 hour cable news, pointillism is now a commonly used obfuscation technique. From Clinton's attempt to discuss what the meaning of "is" is, to almost every scandal in the WH these days, the new diversionary technique is to place obsessive scrutiny on some small piece of an issue until the buzz around it becomes a distraction to the issue itself.

The Valerie Plame outing should have been a very short, simple discussion. Plame was categorized as a covert operative by our government. That's a very black and white statement -- either the government has you listed as a covert operative or they don't. But somehow it became twisted in the media to a question of perception... was she perceived as a covert operative? Did she behave covertly enough? What did she do as a covert operative? In a spectacular sleight of hand, the national dialog was turned from "who outted a covert operative and why" to "but was she really a covert operative?"

It's happening again with the US Attorney scandal. In context, this is a scandal so simple that my 9 year old son could grasp the basics of it: The executive branch made a sneaky power grab to bypass congress in the appointment of US Attorneys. Forget all the whatsit and whosenot about what Clinton did, he did not do that. In fact, you can even forget all the rightful anger about the sub-scandals involving emails and fake voter fraud cases. What we should be discussing is that the small group of people currently residing in the executive branch believe they are entitled to more power than they've been allotted by law and they've got no problem with the idea of circumventing the law to take it. Ditto the FBI spying.

And finally, the most complex application of pointillism I have ever seen: Iraq. Even if we all agreed that we needed to affect a profound change in the Middle East after 9/11 (let's just pretend we all agreed, anyway), the case for not going into Iraq was strong. When our former military commanders (Zinni, Schwartzkopf, McPeak, Sheehan, Cordingley, etc) raised concerns about the tactical issues and strategic risks of the invasion, the WH went on attack against its own Dept of Defense, basically trying to portray them as life-long bureaucrats who felt threatened by a change in the power paradigm. When our former allies balked at the geopolitical implications of the invasion, the WH accused them of self interest (duh!) and orchestrated the selective leaking of Oil For Food scandal factoids (downplaying, of course, that the scandal was long known by the US, who provided oversight to the OFF program, and therefore had its tacit approval). When our arms inspectors raised concerns because they weren't finding any signs of WMDs, the WH unleashed personal attacks on Hans Blix and Scott Ritter, even leaking sealed court records regarding Ritter's personal life . When Joe Wilson raised concerns that the WH was knowingly using bad intel to help make its case for war (the Niger documents), the WH outted his wife so they could accuse her of nepotism. The list goes on and on and on...

Am I the only one who sees a pattern here by which a seemingly strong case is scuttled by some small distracting bullshit in an attempt to refocus everyone's attention? It seems to work like a charm every. freakin'. time. I only hope that people are starting to catch on, or that at least the media is, before this country does any more damage to itself.


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