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The Desert of the Real

This just in: a Los Angeles Times essay, pegged on former White House flack Scott McClellan’s memoir, about the transformation of politics into a branch of special effects, and of the White House into a Hollywood backlot. The restless shades of Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays haunt the West Wing. But beyond this obvious point, I argue that the Bush administration’s faith-based worldview, the logical terminus of Ronald Reagan’s belief that “facts are stupid things,” marks the official beginning of our age, the Unenlightenment.

Teaser:

Like no administration before it, the Bush administration has mastered what the media critic Walter Lippmann called “the manufacture of consent”—the use of what Lippmann called “psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication,” to muster mass support for elite agendas. Staging photo ops whose choreographed drama and camera-ready visuals (Mission Accomplished!) are intended to play to the emotions and overrule objections; reducing complicated geopolitical issues to black-or-white dualisms (Team America: World Police versus the Axis of Evil!); stonewalling the media, cherrypicking military intelligence, and parroting the same Karl Rove-approved talking points—the Bush administration represents the apotheosis of government by spin control. Sure, sure, truth is the first casualty of war, and politics is just war with a smile and a starched collar. But this is the stuff of which doctoral dissertations on Baudrillard are made.

(Note: the LAT website is prone to link rot—nothing stays put for more than a week or two, seemingly—so you may have to plug the article headline—“McClellan’s “Matrix” moment: Bush’s former press secretary has stumbled out of a White House that lets political rhetoric shape reality”—into Google.)