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Strangers to the Truth

BY Joel Bleifuss

Coming soon to a media market near you:

The GOP (Grand Old Prevaricators), who brought you the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004, have been test-marketing another TV ad campaign.

The fabrication this time: the war in Iraq. The target: any Democratic candidate who speaks out against the U.S. mission during the mid-term elections. The venue for the test is Minnesota.

Two ads have run so far. Both have caused a furor.

The first ad featured footage of the World Trade Center burning and testimony from soldiers who have fought in Iraq. Lt. Col. Robert Stephenson of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, tells viewers: “You’d never know it from news reports but our enemy in Iraq is al Qaeda, the same terrorists who killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11.” And Capt. Mark Weber of the U.S. Army Reserve ominously asks: “Where do you want to fight terrorists? [pause] We want to fight them and destroy them in Iraq.”

The second featured heartfelt testimonials from parents who share the screen with giant sepia-toned images of their sons who died in Iraq. That ad says in part:

Voiceover: “September 11, 2001, the battle began on the streets of America.”

Patrick Kelly, who lost his son Bryan: “These people are out to destroy us.”

Chuck Larson, U.S. Army Reserves: “If we were not fighting al Qaeda in Iraq, I am convinced we would be fighting them in America and all we have to do is look back at September 11.”

Merrilee Carlson, who lost her son Michael: “And thank God there are people like Michael who would put their lives on the line for the rest of our country and our world.”

Both ads conclude with this slogan, “Iraq: The front line in the war on terror.”

After the first ad, Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) Party Chairman Brian Melendez told WCCO, the CBS affiliate, “There is room for a lot of puffery in politics, there is room for spin, there is room for opinion, there is room for disagreement, there shouldn’t be room for lies and this ad is about lies.”

WCCO reporter Pat Kessler was more restrained. Characterizing the ads as “very misleading,” he informed viewers that the 9/11 Commission had found no evidence of any connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. (WCCO ran the ads, but KSTP, the ABC affiliate, refused to do so.)

But Bev Anderson perhaps put it best. She wrote to WCCO and, as the station reported, said the ads were similar to “a tactic Hitler used … repeat a lie often enough and people come to believe it as fact.”

Though WCCO did not note the fact, she was quoting Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who said:

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.

Bush himself said much the same thing, though less eloquently, on May 24, 2005, in Rochester, N.Y., when out on the road trying to sell his Social Security scam. He told the crowd gathered at the Athena Performing Arts Center:

See in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.

But will this shit fly in Minnesota?

TV viewer Liz Carlson doubted whether the ads would be effective. She wrote WCCO and said, “Minnesotans can recognize bullshit even if they wrap it in an American flag.”

But why Minnesota? Republicans have their eyes on the U.S. Senate seat, currently held by Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton, who is stepping down. It’s the best chance they have to pick up a seat in the mid-term elections. The goal of the ad campaign is to inoculate the GOP’s chosen candidate, Rep. Mark Kennedy, against any anti-war sentiments voiced by his likely opponent, Hennipen County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, a progressive Minneapolis Democrat who has the credentials of a law-and-order prosecutor. Currently, Klobuchar holds a slight lead in the polls.

This ad campaign, which so far has cost $1 million in Minnesota alone, was made and paid for by Progress for America Voter Fund, a 527 group, which spent $36 million in 2004 to help elect Bush.

Progress for America (PFA), the parent of Progress for America Voter Fund, was founded in 2001 by Tony Feather, the political director of the 2000 Bush-Cheney Campaign. Feather has been described by the Washington Post as “a close ally of Karl Rove.” In 2003, he left PFA to join DCI Group, a public relations firm whose principals were involved with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

These days, the PFA home page is devoted to promoting “Iraq: The Front Line in the War on Terror.” You can go there to see the ads, which, thanks to a “saturation buy,” average Minnesota television viewers saw 22 times from Feb. 9 to 22, PFA spokesman Stuart Roy told the Chicago Tribune.

PFA is masterful at coming up with commercials that stoke the fires of right-wing populism. In 2004, one PFA ad featured Osama bin Laden and other terrorists whose photos were accompanied by the voiceover: “These people want to kill us. … Would you trust Kerry against these fanatic killers? President Bush didn’t start this war, but he will finish it.”

Some have credited another PFA ad, which ran 30,000 times in nine swing states, with swinging the 2004 election to Bush. “Ashley’s Story” featured a photograph of Bush at a campaign rally in Lebanon, Ohio, hugging 16-year-old Ashley Faulkner, whose mother was killed on 9/11. In the ad, Ashley told viewers, “He’s the most powerful man in the world, and all he wants to do is make sure I’m safe, that I’m okay.”

The B team

On the other side of the aisle are the shining lights of the Democratic Party, James Carville, Stanley Greenberg and Bob Shrum (the consultant who ran Kerry’s campaign and shied away from confronting the Swift Boat Veterans). These three men founded the Democracy Corps, a nonprofit “dedicated to making the government of the United States more responsive to the American people.” Recall that on Oct. 3, 2002, prior to the Iraq war resolution votes, Democracy Corps advised Capitol Hill Democrats: “This decision [to support or oppose an Iraq war resolution] will take place in a setting where voters, by 10 points, prefer to vote for a member who supports a resolution to authorize force (50 to 40 percent).” In other words, Carville and friends advised Democrats to cater to public opinion and let Bush have his war.

That same year, Carville and his associates at GCS (Greenberg Carville Shrum) were working in Bolivia, as the hired guns for presidential candidate Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. Their involvement in the 2002 Bolivian election is the subject of a new documentary, Our Brand is Crisis, directed by Rachel Boynton. In the film, Jeremy Rosner, the campaign’s pollster and chief strategist, explains their mission: “We are in this because we not only believe in democracy, but in a particular brand of democracy, which is progressive, social democratic, market-based and modern.” And Tad Devine, who is in charge of advertising, tells Sanchez de Lozada, “We must own crisis and we must brand crisis.” In other words, GCS was planning to use Bolivia’s economic crisis to the campaign’s advantage.

Sanchez de Lozada won the June 2002 election, defeating Manfred Reyes Villa, a former military strongman, and Evo Morales, Bolivia’s current president. It wasn’t meant to last though. Sanchez de Lozada was overthrown the next year by a popular uprising.

Questionable character

In Arizona, the attorney general’s office is investigating state treasurer David Petersen for “theft, fraudulent schemes and practices, and conflict of interest,” reports Phil Riske in the Arizona Capitol Times.

Petersen was featured in Silja J.A. Talvi’s January cover story “Cult of Character.” She reported how Petersen, standing at the podium of the “Building Cities of Character” conference, bragged about how his state’s Family Services Committee passed “Character Education legislation.”

“All schools now have it implemented,” he said. “We’re fighting for the soul of this nation.”

Now Petersen is fighting in court. According to Character First!, which sponsored the conference, Petersen was paid $4,000 in commissions for selling Character First materials to Arizona public schools. It is also alleged that he billed the state for travel costs associated with Character First! His former secretary, Wanda Simeona, in a December 2005 letter of resignation, charged, “You go all over the state teaching about Character and charge the state mileage.”

Petersen has since announced he will not seek re-election. He is now waiting to see if criminal charges will be filed.

Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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