Faith Based Reasoning

The propagandist tries to "put something across," good or bad. The scientist does not try to put anything across; he devotes his life to the discovery of new facts and principles. The propagandist seldom wants careful scrutiny and criticism; his object is to bring about a specific action. The scientist, on the other hand, is always prepared for and wants the most careful scrutiny and criticism of his facts and ideas. Science flourishes on criticism. Dangerous propaganda crumbles before it.
-- Alfred McLung Lee & Elizabeth Bryant Lee, The Fine Art of Propaganda, 1939. from the Propaganda Analysis Home Page

The title of this editorial is borrowed from the June 1, 2001 issue of Scientific American in which editor-in-chief John Rennie contrasts the Bush administration's reversal of a campaign promise to limit carbon-dioxide emissions to its support for a missile defense system. Writing to four Republican senators about the decision to withdraw support for the Kyoto Protocol, Bush said, "We must be very careful not to take actions that could harm consumers. This is especially true given the incomplete state of scientific knowledge of the causes of, and solutions to, global climate change." But when it comes to missile systems, incomplete knowledge is apparently not a factor. During the presidential campaign Bush said after a failed test, "While last night's test is a disappointment, I remain confident that, given the right leadership, America can develop an effective missile defense system....The United States must press forward to develop and deploy a missile defense system." In his recent trip to Europe Bush continued to promote his missile defense plan, despite warnings from Russian President Putin that abrogating the 1972 ABM Treaty could force Russia to expand its arsenal.

As Scientific American terms it "ample research" -- including the White-House-commissioned National Academy of Sciences study -- supports the conclusion that human activity contributes to global warming. In particular, the study identifies carbon dioxide as an important factor, and otherwise substantially supports earlier work by the United Nations Intergovernment Panel on Climactic Change. And while the Kyoto Protocol represents a "diplomatic agreement" rather than a cost benefit analysis, the administration has yet to offer any detailed alternatives.

With regard to the missile defense, though, evidence and estimate since the failure of the X-ray laser in the 80's has been that a missile "shield" will not work. There is simply no evidence that a missile defense system can succeed. While reportedly considering a rush to deployment by 2004, the Bush administration has also managed to shift the discussion from technical infeasibility to how the technology can be shared with other countries.

The simple explanation for what at first glance seems like contradictory behavior is contained in the quote above from The Fine Art of Propaganda. The facts are not really important, only the slogans. How many times did we hear that the environmental decisions of the "compassionate conservative" administration of a "reformer with results" were going to be based on "sound science."

In 1928 Joseph Goebbels wrote:

History proves that the greatest world movements have always developed when their leaders knew how to unify their followers under a short, clear theme. That is clear from the French Revolution, or Cromwell's movement, or Buddhism, Islam, or Christianity. Christ's goal was clear and simple: "Love your neighbor as yourself." He gathered his followed behind this straightforward statement. Because this teaching was simple, crisp, clear and understandable, enabling the broad masses to stand behind it, it in the end conquered the world.

One then builds a whole system of thought on such a brief, crisply formulated idea. The idea does not remain limited to this single statement, rather it is applied to every aspect of daily life and becomes the guide for all human activity, politics, culture, the economy, every area of human behavior. It becomes a worldview.

"The ABM treaty is a relic of the past," Bush has said repeatedly. "It prevents freedom-loving people from exploring the future and that's why we've got to lay it aside." He has called for discussions "to explain to our friends and allies as well as Russia that our intent is to make the world more peaceful, not more dangerous. And he has said the only way to know if the system will work "is for the United States to spend the dollars and have the capacity to do research and development." Again the facts run counter to the rhetoric; and again only the rhetoric matters. Certainly the world will be a less peaceful place if Russia re-arms in response to a Bush administration abrogation of the ABM Treaty. Not to mention that our Vice President is a former Secretary of Defense, and our Secretary of State is a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And when one considers that several Bush cabinet members have ties to defense contractors or high-tech firms that would likely benefit from the dollars Bush is talking about, including Boeing (the main missile defense contractor), Lockheed Martin, Motorola, and General Electric, it seems that furthering conflict, not cooperation, might redound to their personal benefit. There is, of course, a great tradition of war mongering....

In 1932 Benito Mussolini wrote (with the help of Giovanni Gentile) an entry on Fascism for the Italian Encyclopedia.

Fascism believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace. It thus repudiates the doctrine of Pacifism -- born of a renunciation of the struggle and an act of cowardice in the face of sacrifice. War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have courage to meet it. All other trials are substitutes, which never really put men into the position where they have to make the great decision -- the alternative of life or death....

Of course the comparison to Fascism breaks down, because of the Fascist insistence on the absolute power of the state ... doesn't it?

Let's leave defense for a moment and look at the support for "faith-based" charities. Michael Lerner suggests in the May/June issue of Tikkun that "The central political agenda of America's conservative forces is to protect corporate power." He sees the funding of social services delivered by faith-based organizations as a first step in eliminating a government role in their delivery. "As the funding levels decrease, Bush will be able to say, 'Well, people should step in and create more of these local projects—and pay for them out of voluntary giving.'" Lerner goes on to assert that the way was prepared for Bush's programs by liberal and progressive administrations not paying attention to what it felt like to be on the receiving end of government services. In this context a small tax refund seems like more of a benefit than if the services that are eliminated because of it actually cared for people. (But we digress ....)

Personally, I see a darker motivation. Goebbels again: "The state needs a worldview. Christianity also conquered the state, and in the moment that it conquered the state it became to carry out practical and political activity." And Mussolini, "Fascism, now and always, believes in holiness and in heroism; that is to say, in actions influenced by no economic motive, direct or indirect....[T]he Fascist State is itself conscious and has itself a will and a personality -- thus it may be called the 'ethic' State...."

Groups such as Catholic Charities that Bush often mentions in his discussions of the faith-based initiative function primarily as secular providers of social services, and have received government funding for many years. Among the groups that would require a change in the law to receive funding, however, is Teen Challenge, a "biblically based" program that combines Christian evangelism with drug treatment. Teen Challenge executive director John Castellani was asked during an appearance before the House Government Reform subcommittee if his program accepted non-Christians. Castellani answered that people of all faiths were accepted, including Jews, some of whom return to Judaism after completing the program, and some of whom become "completed Jews." "Completed Jews" is a term used in some fundamentalist Christian circles to refer to Jews who have converted to Christianity. Castellani expressed surprise that the expression was regarded as offensive. He commented in an interview, "In a sense, it's a compliment.... They're not a Christian, they're still a Jew. They've just found another part of themselves. I thought I was being kind." Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism cited the remark as evidence that the real motivation for Bush's initiative was to fund conversion with public funds. "They engage in activities aimed at bringing them (participants) to Jesus. That's fine, but it shouldn't be done with government money."

"I'm a uniter, not a divider," Bush said, and then appointed Southern Partisan advocate and abortion opponent John Ashcroft Attorney General, Arkansas Project leader Ted Olson Solicitor General, agri-business lobbyist Ann Veneman Secretary of Agriculture, nominated anti-labor activist Linda Chavez Secretary of Labor, signed an executive order cutting off funds from agencies that provided abortion counseling abroad, reversed his campaign promise on limiting carbon dioxide, etc. As many commentators observed, despite having lost the popular vote, and having been awarded the presidency in a judicial contest, Bush acted like he had a mandate. His frequent public statements that he is President "of all the people" sound like he's reminding those who did not vote for him that he's in charge. Again, there's a heritage. Mussolini: "Fascism denies that the majority, by the simple fact that it is a majority, can direct human society; it denies that numbers alone can govern by means of a periodical consultation, and it affirms the immutable, beneficial, and fruitful inequality of mankind, which can never be permanently leveled through the mere operation of a mechanical process such as universal suffrage...."

Earlier this year Bush hawked his tax bill as assistance for people suffering from high fuel prices. More than one observer pointed out that this meant that the tax refund would go to big oil companies. Vice President Cheney told the Los Angeles Times that if he were on the Federal Electric Regulatory Commission he wouldn't do anything to help Californians with skyrocketing energy prices. In a recent column for the Dallas-Fort Worth Star Telegram, former House Speaker Jim Wright analyzes the administration's pro-business policies this way:

The growing number and variety of such administration-backed actions have significant characteristics in common: They are defended on grounds of marketplace deregulation. This high-sounding shibboleth is usually invoked to justify an action enriching some segment of big business at the expense of workers, consumers or public health. And among the major financial beneficiaries can always be discovered a number of big-scale campaign contributors.

While pursuing its pro-big-business agenda and exhorting Congress to speed up action on the tax cut, the Bush-Cheney administration does nothing to help ordinary working people....

So the free market and deregulation rhetoric do not apply when they help the disadvantaged. The thing about markets is that they have no conscience. They're amoral.

But using them to excuse individual greed that neglects human need is quite another matter. That, in any humane scale of values, borders on the immoral.

With one slight shift, the right wing of the Republican party, whose main man is currently occupying the White House, and Mussolini's party of earlier this century seem even more eerily similar. To the Fascists the state was the absolute. "...The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone...." To the right wing of the Republican party big business is absolute. But with contributors vetting agency employees, corporate lobbyists running the agencies that are supposed to monitor them, and cabinet officials participating in decisions that benefit corporations in which they retain an equity interest, big business has become the state.


Mussolini quotes are from the Internet Modern History Sourcebook

Goebbels quotes are from Knowledge and Propaganda translated from "Erkenntnis und Propaganda" Signale der neuen Zeit. 25 ausgewählte Reden von Dr.
Joseph Goebbels
Munich: Zentralverlag der NSDAP., 1934. 28-52.

Seward, Deborah "Putin Warns US on Dismantling Treaty" Associated Press. 19 Jun. 2001

"No Kyoto Alternative Seen From Bush on Europe Trip" Reuters.m 6 Jun. 2001

"Bush Calls ABM Treaty a 'Relic of the Past'" Reuters. Tuesday 12 Jun. 2001

Meckler, Laura "Bush Opponents Seize on 'Completed Jew' Comment." Associated Press 24 May 2001