If everything seems credible then nothing seems credible. You know, TV puts everybody in those boxes, side-by-side. On one side, there's this certifiable lunatic who says the Holocaust never happened. And next to him is this noted, honored historian who knows all about the Holocaust. And now, there they sit, side-by-side, they look like equals! Everything they say seems to be credible. And so, as it goes on, nothing seems credible anymore! We just stopped listening!
- TV producer Eddie Langston (Lewis Black) in Barry Levinson's "Man of the Year," starring Robin Williams as a political comedian who, thanks to a computer glitch, is elected president
In modern American politics, it's not what you say, but how you say it. Controlling the dialogue means controlling the issue. The Bush administration has been a master of this. They expertly control the national debate by naming the issues.
For example, Bush bested the Democrats in the battle over Iraq funding legislation by slapping the label of "endangering the troops" on them. So, the Congressional Democrats, the ones trying to get the soldiers out of harm's way, are branded as hurting them, while the President, who continues to keep them in the middle of a civil war with a lack of equipment and manpower (not to mention sending Reserve and National Guard units on tour after tour, failing to provide them with enough in the way of benefits, and sticking too many of the injured ones in substandard medical facilities) is portrayed as the great protector. With up being down and left being right, it's all enough to make you dizzy.
But, it works. Bush got the exact legislation he wanted as the Democrats cowered at the risk of being labeled. Then, Bush got to bask in the glow of articles that somehow both talked about him winning the battle (e.g. "Bush Celebrates Victory After Signing Iraq War Bill") and described the deal as a compromise (like in this Yahoo!/AFP article), as if Bush was a moderate guy who gave in part of the way. Again, with all the facts working against Bush, he used rhetoric to scare the Democrats into surrender.
I watched the movie "Man of the Year" on DVD over the weekend, and when Lewis Black's television producer character made the speech set out at the top of this article, I grimly nodded along. It made me think of a news item that slipped by last week without getting too much attention. In Kentucky, a creationism museum opened, drawing 4,000 guests on its first day. According to a Yahoo!/AP article, the "museum features high-tech exhibits designed by a theme-park artist, including animatronic dinosaurs and a wooden ark at least two stories tall, plus a special effects theater and planetarium."
You might ask, So what if a bunch of religious fanatics want to get together and build a building that says that animals were vegetarians until Adam committed the first sin in the Garden of Eden? The danger is in the "Man of the Year" quote. Thousands of people will walk through the halls of something that looks like any other museum, with information presented just like in other museums. Only, unlike other museums, the information will be false.
Or, as a physicist who visited the museum was quoted as saying in the Yahoo!/AP article, "It's really impressive — and it really gives the impression that they're talking about science at some point. ... [On a scale of one to five,] I'd give it a 4 for technology, 5 for propaganda. As for content, I'd give it a negative 5."
Like the quotes from the physicist and "Man of the Year" suggest, this museum will look and feel like a Holocaust museum or a slavery museum, or the Museum of Natural History, and the message is, "The information in this museum is credible." But, of course, the creationism museum is not credible. The "facts" provided by this museum can be scientifically proven to be wrong. The people offering these "facts" are basing it on the bible, not exactly an objective scientific source.
Sure, today most people will look at the creationism museum and know that its founders were pushing an agenda. But, what about the thousands who visit it in the years to come? There is a danger that, over time, looking at this legitimate-looking structure will have people think, "Hmmm, maybe the earth really is just a few thousands years old." For our society to grow and develop, we have to deal in facts, not lies, theories and beliefs dressed up like facts. Whether it's Iraq or tax cuts for the rich, the Bush administration has successfully made ideas and lies look like facts, and the Democrats have played along, acting scared at the lies as if they were facts. It has to stop.
The founders of the creationism museum were just exercising their First Amendment rights to tell the world about their crackpot beliefs. The idea behind free speech is that that best way to fight bad speech is with more speech, not with suppressing the speech. I support that ideal. I would just like to see more of the "more speech" on all of the big issues. People need to stand up and express their beliefs that there are lies in the creationism museum (the article said that there were protesters at the opening, which is a great example of "more speech"). More importantly, the Democrats have to start living up to the "more speech" part of the bargain. Now that they control Congress, they have to be strong, not scared off by Bush's labeling and rhetoric.
I'm not holding my breath, though. As I watched Robin Williams's character in "Man of the Year" take over a Presidential debate and say the things politicians are too afraid to say, I thought to myself, "If only ..." After all, who knows more about "more speech" than Robin Williams?