Special Comment: Advertising terrorism
The key to terrorism is not the act — but the fear of the act
By Keith Olbermann
Tonight, a special comment on the advertising of terrorism – the commercial you have already seen.
It is a distillation of everything this administration and the party in power have tried to do these last five years and six weeks.
It is from the Republican National Committee;
It shows images of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri;
It offers quotes from them—all as a clock ticks ominously in the background.
It concludes with what Zawahiri may or may not have said to a Pakistani journalist as long ago as 2001: His dubious claim that he had purchased “suitcase bombs.”
The quotation is followed (by sheer coincidence no doubt) by an image of a massive explosion.
“These are the stakes,” appears on the screen, quoting exactly from Lyndon Johnson’s infamous nuclear scare commercial from 1964.
There is a cheap “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” quality to the whole thing, and it also serves to immediately call to mind the occasions when President Bush dismissed Osama bin Laden as somebody he didn’t think about—except, obviously, when elections were near.
Frankly, a lot of people seeing that commercial for the first time, have laughed out loud.
And therein lies the true threat to this country.
The dictionary definition of the word “terrorize” is simple and not open to misinterpretation:
“To fill or overpower with terror; terrify. To coerce by intimidation or fear.”
Note please, that the words “violence” and “death” are missing from that definition.
The key to terror, the key to terrorism, is not the act—but the fear of the act.
That is why bin Laden and his deputies and his imitators are forever putting together videotaped statements and releasing virtual infomercials with dire threats and heart-stopping warnings.
But why is the Republican Party imitating them?
Bin Laden puts out what amounts to a commercial of fear; The Republicans put out what is unmistakable as a commercial of fear.
The Republicans are paying to have the messages of bin Laden and the others broadcast into your home.
Only the Republicans have a bigger bank roll.
When, last week, the CNN network ran video of an insurgent in Iraq, evidently stalking and killing an American soldier, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Mr. Hunter, Republican of California, branded that channel, quote, “the publicist for an enemy propaganda film” and that CNN used it “to sell commercials.”
Another California Republican, Rep. Brian Bilbray, called the video “nothing short of a terrorist snuff film.”
If so, Mr. Bilbray, then what in the hell is your Party’s new advertisement?
And Mr. Hunter, CNN using the video to “sell commercials”?
You have adopted bin Laden and Zawahiri as spokesmen for the Republican National Committee!
“To fill or overpower with terror; terrify. To coerce by intimidation or fear.”
By this definition, the people who put these videos together—first the terrorists and then the administration—whose shared goal is to scare you into panicking instead of thinking—they are the ones terrorizing you.
By this definition, the leading terrorist group in this world right now is al Qaida.
But the leading terrorist group in this country right now is the Republican Party.
Eleven Presidents ago, a chief executive reassured us that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
His distant successor has wasted his administration insisting that there is nothing we can have but fear itself.
The vice president, as recently as this month, was caught campaigning with the phrase “mass death in the United States.”
Four years ago it was the now-Secretary of State, Dr. Rice, rationalizing Iraq with “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
Days later Mr. Bush himself told an audience that “we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun, that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”
And now we have this cheesy commercial—complete with images of a faked mushroom cloud, and implications of “mass death in America.”
This administration has derived benefit and power from terrorizing the very people it claims to be protecting from terror.
It may be the oldest trick in the political book: scare people into believing they are in danger and that only you can save them.
Lyndon Johnson used it to bury Barry Goldwater.
Joe McCarthy leaped from obscurity on its back.
And now the legacy has come to President George Bush.
Of course, the gruel of fear is getting thinner and thinner, is it not, Mr. President?
And thus more and more of it needs to be made out of less and less actual terror.
After last week’s embarrassing Internet hoax about ‘dirty bombs’ at football stadiums, the one your Department of Homeland Security immediately disseminated to the public, a self-described “former CIA operative” named Wayne Simmons, cited the fiasco as “the, and I mean the, perfect example of the President’s Military Commissions Act of 2006 and the NSA terrorist eavesdropping program - how vital they are.”
Frank Gaffney, once a respected assistant secretary of defense and now the president of something called the Center for Security Policy, added, “one of the things that I hope Americans take away from this, is not only that they’re gunning for us not just in a place like Iraq—but truly, worldwide.”
Of course, the “they” to which Mr. Gaffney referred, turned out to be a lone 20-year-old grocery bagger from Wisconsin named Jake—a kid, trying to one-up some other loser in an Internet game of chicken.
His “threat,” referenced seven football stadiums at which dirty bombs were to be exploded yesterday. It began with the one in New York City - even though there isn’t one in New York City. And though the attacks were supposed to be simultaneous, four of the games were scheduled to start at 1 p.m. ET and the others at 4 p.m. ET.
More over, the kid said he’d posted the identical message on 40 websites since September.
We caught him in “merely” about six weeks, even though the only way he could have been less subtle, less stealthy, and less of a threat was if he’d bought an advertisement on the Super Bowl broadcast.
Mr. Bush, this is the—what? – 100th plot your people have revealed, that turned out to be some nonsensical misunderstanding, or the fabrications of somebody hoping to talk his way off a water board in Eastern Europe?
If, Mr. President, this is the kind of crack work that your new ad implies that only you and not the Democrats can do, you, sir, need to pull over and ask for directions.
The real question of course, Mr. Bush, is why did your Department of Homeland Security even release this information in the first place?
It was never a serious threat. Even the first news accounts quoted a Homeland spokesman as admitting “strong skepticism”—the kind of strong skepticism which most government agencies address before telling the public, not afterwards.
So that leaves two options, Mr. President.
The first option: you and your department of Homeland Security don’t have the slightest idea what you’re doing. Thus, contrary to your flip-flopping between saying “we’re safe” and saying “but we’re not safe enough,” and contrary to the vice president’s swaggering pronouncements about the lack of another attack since 9/11, the last five years has been just an accident.
Or there’s the second option: your political operatives leaked this nonsense for the same reason your political operatives put out that commercial—to scare the gullible.
Obviously the correct answer, Mr. Bush, is all of the above.
There are some of us who could forgive you for trying to run your candidates on the coattails of the Grim Reaper, for reducing your party’s existence to “Death and Attacks Us.”
It’s cynical and barbaric.
But, after all, it may be merely the natural extension of the gutter politics to which you have subscribed since you sidled over from baseball, and the business world of other people’s money.
But to forgive you for terrorizing us, we would have to believe you somehow competent in keeping others from doing so.
Yet, last week, construction workers repairing a subway line in New York City, were cleaning out an abandoned manhole on the edge of the World Trade Center site, when they stumbled on to the impossible: human remains from 9/11.
Bones and fragments.
Eighty of them.
Some as much as a foot long.
The victims had been lying, literally in the gutter, for five years and five weeks.
The families and friends of each of the 2,749 dead—who had been grimly told in May of 2002 that there were no more remains to be found—were struck anew as if the terrorism of that day had just happened again.
And over the weekend they’ve found still more remains.
And now this week will be spent looking in places that should have already been looked at a thousand times five years ago.
For all the victims in New York, Mr. Bush—the living and the dead—it’s a touch of 9/11 all over again.
And the mayor of this city, who called off the search four-and-a-half years ago is a Republican.
The governor of this state with whom he conferred is a Republican.
The House of Representatives, Republican.
The Senate, Republican.
The President, Republican.
And yet you can actually claim that you and you alone can protect us from terrorism?
You can’t even recover our dead from the battlefield—the battlefield in an American city—when we’ve given you five years and unlimited funds to do so!
While signing a Military Commissions Act so monstrous that it has been criticized by even the John Birch Society, you told us, Mr. Bush, “there is nothing we can do to bring back the men and women lost on September 11th, 2001. Yet we’ll always honor their memory, and we will never forget the way they were taken from us.”
Except, of course, for the ones who’ve been lying under a manhole cover for five years.
Setting aside the fact that your government has done nothing else for those five years but pat yourselves on the back about terror, while waging pointless war on the wrong enemy in Iraq, and waging war on the cherished freedoms in America;
Just on this subject of counter-terrorism, sir, yours is the least competent government, in time of crisis, in this country’s history!
“These are the stakes,” indeed, Mr. President.
You do not know what you are doing.
And the commercial—the one about which Zawahiri might say “hey, pretty good—we love your choice of font style”?
All that need further be said is to add three words to Shakespeare.
Mr. President, you, and that advertisement of terror, are full of sound and fury—signifying (and competent at) nothing.
[© 2006 MSNBC Interactive but fair use yadda yadda yadda and it’s actually more likely to get you to use MSNBC services.]