Scheherazade in the White House
George Bush’s war administration used a magician, Hollywood designers, and Karl Rove – presenting 1,001 stories to sell the invasion of Iraq. And Rove kept the distracting images of John Wayne-like morality tales spinning to help the American public avoid seeing the disaster in Iraq, says Christian Salmon.
A few days before the 2004 presidential election, Ron Suskind, a columnist who had been investigating the White House and its communications for years, wrote in The New York Times about a conversation he had with a presidential adviser in 2002. “The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community’, which he defined as people ‘who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality’. I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors.. and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’ ”
Suskind’s article was a sensation, which the paper called an intellectual scoop. Columnists and bloggers seized on the phrase “reality-based community” which spread across the internet. Google had nearly a million hits for it in July 2007. Wikipedia created a page dedicated to it. According to Jay Rosen, professor of journalism at New York University: “Many on the left adopted the term. ‘Proud Member of the Reality-Based Community’, their blogs said. The right then jeered at the left’s self-description. (‘They’re reality-based? Yeah, right…’).”
The leaders of the world’s superpower were not just moving away from realpolitik but also from realism to become creators of their own reality, the masters of appearance, demanding a realpolitik of fiction.
According to Ira Chernus, professor at the University of Colorado, Karl Rove applied the “Scheherazade strategy”: “When policy dooms you, start telling stories — stories so fabulous, so gripping, so spellbinding that the king (or, in this case, the American citizen who theoretically rules our country) forgets all about a lethal policy. It plays on the insecurity of Americans who feel that their lives are out of control.” Rove did this with much success in 2004, when Bush was re-elected, diverting voters’ attention away from the state of the war by evoking the great collective myths of the US imagination.