Amnesia in the Garden

By MAUREEN DOWD

New York Times

September 4, 2004

The Manichaean Candidate sees the world only in terms of good and evil, black and white.

He scorns gray, nuance, complexity, context, changing circumstances and inconvenient facts. Real men make their own reality.

Trying to match John Kerry, who roused the base at his convention with a line bashing the House of Bush-House of Saud coziness, George W. Bush roused the base at his convention with a liberal-media-elite-bashing line.

Painting himself as the noble agent for "the transformational power of liberty" abroad, he said "there have always been doubters" when America uses its "strength" to "advance freedom": "In 1946, 18 months after the fall of Berlin to Allied forces, a journalist in The New York Times wrote this: 'Germany is a land in an acute stage of economic, political and moral crisis. European capitals are frightened. In every military headquarters, one meets alarmed officials doing their utmost to deal with the consequences of the occupation policy that they admit has failed.' End quote. Maybe that same person's still around, writing editorials."

She isn't. Anne O'Hare McCormick, who died in 1954, was The Times's pioneering foreign affairs correspondent who covered the real Axis of Evil, interviewing Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Patton. She was hardly a left-wing radical or defeatist. In 1937, she became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism, and she was the first woman to be a member of The Times's editorial board.

The president distorted the columnist's dispatch. The "moral crisis" and failure she described were in the British and French sectors. She reported that the Americans were doing better because of their policy to "encourage initiative and develop self-government." She wanted the U.S. to commit more troops and stay the course - not cut and run.

Mr. Bush Swift-boated her.

The Manichaean Candidate's convention was a brazen bizarro masterpiece. The case to sack John Kerry featured the same shady tactics used to build the case to whack Saddam - cherry-picked facts, selective claims and warped contexts.

W. took a page from Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Total Recall," a futuristic movie about inserting fully formed memories into the minds of unsuspecting victims.

The president and vice president ignored all the expert evidence now compiled indicating no link between 9/11 and Saddam, and no Saddam threat to U.S. security. After talking about "the fanatics who killed some 3,000 of our fellow Americans," Dick Cheney boasted: "In Iraq, we dealt with a gathering threat, and removed the regime of Saddam Hussein."

Though the convention mythologized Mr. Bush's bullhorn moment at ground zero, there was no mention of Osama, the fiend W. vowed to catch that day. The speakers did not acknowledge the brutal spiral in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the re-emergence of the Taliban, now finding sanctuary with our ally, Pakistan.

Mr. Cheney, king of hooey, bragged about a "Taliban driven from power," even though just as the convention got under way, at least seven people, including two Americans, were killed by Taliban fighters in Kabul.

W. stormed ahead with the discredited domino theory of democracy promoted by the neocons and Ahmad Chalabi - ignoring the widening F.B.I. probe into alleged leaks from neocon central at the Pentagon to Mr. Chalabi, an accused Iranian spy, and to an Israeli lobby. "Because we acted to defend our country, the murderous regimes of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban are history," the president said, adding that "democracy is coming to the broader Middle East."

The $445 billion deficit? Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney erased it. In their inside-out universe, the economy is blossoming, there's money to pay for Mr. Bush's to-do list and No Child Left Behind is more than an empty slogan.

W. suddenly proclaimed himself a compassionate conservative again, even though extra-chromosome conservatives, as Lee Atwater called them, were in closed meetings calling for a culture war to curb the rights of women and gays.

Mr. Bush even tried to implant in our heads that he is the son of Reagan. He didn't give his dad a speaking slot, though the last two Democratic presidents spoke in Boston, and he spent more time in his speech lionizing Gip than Pop.

Inside Madison Square Garden, W. kept insisting he'd made the world safer. Outside, the exploding world didn't seem safe at all.