29/10/2004

Conspiracy Theory

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:19 pm

It’s the perfect dismissal, the perfect conversation-stopper: ‘that’s just conspiracy theory stuff’. Heck, there’s even a bad Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts vehicle. It’s a term that’s been created over the past decade or so, and while it does have a use in naming a particular phenomenon, it also has uses in closing down debate.

Take the Bush’s Bulge story. There’s a strange phenomenon, and some legitimate questions to be asked. There’s some history with strange transmissions being recorded, speaking the words of Bush’s speeches a beat before he says them.

It would be easy enough for the White House or the campaign to deny that Bush was wearing any sort of device. Sure, they might get caught out later in a fib, but they could do it. Instead, they offered the following explanations:

  • Repeated calls to the White House and the Bush national campaign office over a period of three days, inquiring about what the president may have been wearing on his back during the debate, and whether he had used an audio device at other events, went unreturned.(Salon.com)
  • The president is “a regular guy,” White House chief of staff Andy Card told Salon before the second debate last week. “Maybe his suit had a little lump in it or something.”
  • Campaign spokeswoman Nicolle Devenish took the same line with the New York Times on Saturday: “It was most likely a rumpling of that portion of his suit jacket, or a wrinkle in the fabric.”
  • Campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel brushed aside a questioner in a Washington Post chat session by saying, “I think you’ve been spending a little too much time on conspiracy Web sites.”(my emphasis)
  • Pressed for a “legitimate explanation,” Mehlman said: “The president is an alien. You heard it here first. The president is an alien. That’s your quote of the day. He has been getting information from Mars. The shock of the debate will be the president’s alien past will be exposed, which is why that box is there.” (Ken Mehlman)(rest of his quote is here)
  • …we also put the question to Bush-Cheney spokesman Steve Schmidt and RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie: Why not put the story to rest by saying what caused the bulge? Both men laughed, Schmidt said “stop,” and then they walked away. (Salon.com)
  • “I don’t know what that is,” he said on “Good Morning America” on Wednesday, referring to the infamous protrusion beneath his jacket during the presidential debates. “I’m embarrassed to say it’s a poorly tailored shirt.” (George Bush)

In other words, their implicit message was ‘that’s just conspiracy theory stuff’. It’s a strategy to close down debate. Halliburton makes billions in no-bid contracts in Iraq while Dick Cheney is still receiving compensation from them? (And we now hear that, despite a damning auditor’s report, they’ll get to keep the money.) Make a link, and you’ll be told it’s ‘conspiracy theory’.

It’s an enormously useful meme. The hell of it is, to explain most of these things, even if our darkest imaginings were true, would require no secret cabal of old white men with cigars, no conspiracy. It simply requires sufficient arrogance to do these things brazenly – and the ability to dismiss any questions about them with a certain handy catch-phrase…

Yep, I think I broke the ‘Election Free’ pledge… 😉 Gotta break ’em good and hard!

4 responses to “Conspiracy Theory”

  1. Gromit says:

    I don’t know what you’re getting upset about – if the Antipodean election result’s any guide, people nowadays don’t want to be bothered with annoying questions about whether or not what’s happening is right. It’s irrelevant to accuse politicians of being arrogant and brazen, just as it is to wonder about ends justifying means. Get with the plan…

  2. Bravus says:

    I actually have two contradictory responses to your message, Gromit:
    (a) Yep, I guess you’re right – if people really don’t care about anything more than the next sports game, soap opera, music video or ‘reality’ show, maybe they deserve whatever happens next. But I think taking this kind of critical look, in the gace of that apathy and disconnection, is actually a sign of optimism.
    (b) I’m not getting upset, I’m playing!

  3. Gromit says:

    I’m being more pessimistic than you, perhaps. Most people don’t want to take that critical look, which explains to a large degree why the Howard government here in Oz was returned with an increased majority.

    Interesting article in “The Age” yesterday, by Shaun Carney. URL: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/10/29/1099028206529.html

    Excerpt:

    “But it is also folly to try to deny what most voters were saying about politics and political behaviour when they cast their votes. This result was not an accident or a fluke.

    The majority did not opt for checks and balances. They want the Coalition to be able to do whatever it wants. They did not want the country to get caught up in discussions about which advice got through to which minister, or whether it is appropriate for ministers to come down like a ton of bricks on the head of the Federal Police for making the simple observation that being a combatant in Iraq makes us more prone to terrorism, or any of the other revelations about ministerial behaviour that sprang up regularly in the past three years.

    That is second order stuff to most voters and they are unlikely to want to hear about it during the Howard Government’s fourth term. This situation poses serious challenges for the media as well as the Labor Opposition. When most Australians are saying with some force that they are not overly concerned about process just as long as their economic circumstances aren’t being disturbed, how are questions of right and wrong in public life decided?”

    That, indeed, is the question.

  4. Bravus says:

    This link is interesting, but won’t last forever: http://www.theage.com.au/news/World/Two-men-One-difficult-choice/2004/11/01/1099262786562.html

    I think Carney is quite correct, and that while we might lament that, in a democracy we have to live with what we perceive as the shortcomings of our fellow citizens. Maybe it takes a Bush to change that – I do know that people are fired up in the US and much more engaged with politics than they have been for a long time. Howard has the whole non-threatening personal demeanour that allows him to get away with all the same sorts of things but without being seen as a danger. And of course, although it looked like the Australian Labor Party might have finally got their act together to be a credible opposition, in the end they still fumbled the ball.

    The hell of it is, most of the Australian prosperity that got Howard re-elected is due to international factors and has little to do with Howard – he just took the credit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.