Thursday, September 23, 2004

Many Times Many Ways

I used to write a good many letters to the editor back in the early years of the Clinton administration when defenders of his policies were notably scarce and everybody seemed to assume that the Whitewater stories were more or less true. Monitoring the letters sections of several papers, I soon discovered that the same paragraphs and often enough the same letters would appear over different names in various places while identical boilerplate also surfaced in editorials, evidently copied verbatim from some sort of press release though even high school students have the decency to rephrase the stuff they swipe from the encyclopedia. This process created the illusion of a grass root protest against Clinton and everything he stood for, but the grass in question was Astroturf, much of it manufactured in Texas. The Republicans still use the technique, though by now it has been thoroughly exposed—a good many patriotic letters from soldiers in Iraq are cooked up at the RNC, for example. Transparent fraud remains effective when perpetrated on the willfully blind by operators of principled cynicism.

While repetition of whole phrases or paragraphs betrays premeditated inverse plagiarism, the expression of similar thoughts in different ways indicates the emergence of a genuinely shared perception. I’ve recently noticed, for example, that a great many people in a great many places in print and on the Internet have come to the same conclusion as I have about the meaning of the forthcoming election. My version:

Our policies are extremely unpopular in most of the world, but for the moment this unhappiness has not produced a general revulsion against America because it has been possible for the Europeans, the Asians, and even some of the Muslims to blame it all on the aberrant behavior of one American leader of dubious legitimacy. If Bush is actually elected President, however, the blame will devolve on the country as a whole since we will have endorsed his arrogant and violent policies and made them our own. This reassessment is likely to have unpleasant real world consequences for us over time—you don’t have to believe in some iron Karmic law to think that the usual excesses will probably result in the usual penalties—but the consequences are not the worst thing. The worst thing is that the world will be right. We will be at fault. Having missed the opportunity to reject unilateralism, preventive war, and the torture of prisoners, we and not the Bush administration become the real criminals.

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