We learned on Sunday, October 10, on the front page of the New York Times, that literary theorist Jacques Derrida had moved on to the big hermeneutics seminar in the sky. If Karl Rove did not shed a tear over this news, then he is a callous and amoral man (and we know that can't possibly be true). The Bush campaign, after all, seems to have taken to heart Derrida's assault on the idea that Truth is singular, objectively accessible, and concrete--and adopted in its place the very French post-structuralist belief that discerning reality is more a problem of the word than of the eye. If the intellectual progenitor of deconstruction is no longer with us, at least we can take solace that his once-radical interpretive theories live on as a guiding force in the president's reelection campaign.

The Bush campaign is built on the premise that if you say something is true, and people believe you, then it is true. There is no reality outside its rhetorical description. Objectivity is a chimera, an anachronism suitable only for Dead White Males. For the Live White Males that bulk up the Republican base, subjectivity is king. In the beginning there was the word, and the word defined reality. Reality, in other words, is what you make of it. It's all very, well, French of them.

If this was not apparent before--back in the good old days when Saddam Hussein was still responsible for the 9/11 attacks--it became obvious in the last week. The CIA's Iraq Survey Group, led by a Bush appointee, issued a 918-page report that confirmed (again) that Iraq had neither WMDs, nor programs to make WMDs, nor established plans to set up such programs. But what text has meaning outside its interpretation? And here is the president's interpretation: "The Duelfer report shows that Saddam was systematically gaming the system" and thus the weaponless, contained Saddam posed a "unique threat" to the world. Or Dick Cheney's interpretation: The report proved that "delay, defer, wait wasn't an option."

This deconstructionist, eye-of-the-beholder approach to the truth extends throughout the administration. There may have been some objectivists there as recently as a few months ago, but the literary theorists carried the day. On Sunday, David Sanger of the Times described Bush's "pivotal decision" last spring between two versions of reality. In the first, Bush would have admitted mistakes about Iraq, both over the decision to invade and the management of the occupation. But the president consciously chose to embrace an alternate truth, where the decision to invade was unimpeachable and the aftermath a coherent narrative of mounting success. Who can blame him? When there is no truth outside perception, only a fool would pick the truth that reads badly over the truth that sounds good.

Or take former Iraq proconsul L. Paul Bremer, who one day admits that the administration erred fundamentally by not putting enough boots on the ground in Iraq, thus allowing a culture of lawlessness and violence to take root and the insurgency to grow--only to write in the Times a few days later that, now that the insurgency has grown vastly larger, "I believe we have enough troops in Iraq." Clearly, Bremer keenly understands the inherent subjectivity of our perceptions. For him, reality is like an Escher print, though a verbal rather than an optical illusion. Donald Rumsfeld is the same; he used to say the evidence was "bulletproof" that Saddam had ties to al Qaeda, but on Monday told the Council on Foreign Relations that he believes there was no significant link between the two. Either he's a liar or he sees truth as an infinitely malleable construct--and we know the secretary of defense could not be a liar.

Derrida's influence extends further afield than just the current administration. Admirably, the right-wing media machine has embraced the lessons of deconstruction with gusto. Thus, later this month, the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which owns 62 television stations, will air an anti-Kerry Swift Boat propaganda film, and is contemplating calling it news. Good for them. What is news anyway but opinion dressed up in a false cloak of objectivity?

To say that truth is not open to interpretation is very American--but to make that claim, as the Bushies do, as a rhetorical ploy designed to obscure the fact that you're interpreting wildly? That's enough to make a French philosopher proud.


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