Those Who Repeat the Past Have a Pretty Good Incentive to Forget it

by Scott McLemee on September 18, 2006

Some weeks ago, watching our Dear Leader answer questions on television, I was overcome with a wave of pity. Not for the president, but for those poor souls, many as yet unborn, who will one day specialize in studying his administration.

Can you imagine having to read countless transcripts of George W. Bush’s speeches? Let alone being obliged to posit them as meaningful? And yet, in the fullness of time, it must come to pass.

Then again, maybe not.

Insofar as Cheney and company give thought to their place in history, it must be with a shudder at some equivalent to The Pentagon Papers being published, one day.

Presumably inquiries have already been made into the logistics of pulling off the digital equivalent of Ollie North’s document-shredding party.

Pure speculation on my part, of course. And yet it proves difficult to doubt it.

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09.20.06 at 7:19 am



Barry 09.18.06 at 6:30 am

Presumably, anybody covering political history down to the detailed level of individual speeches runs into mind-numbing repetition. In the case of this administration, it’ll fit right in with numerous other unpleasant governments’ incredible propaganda.


Steven Poole 09.18.06 at 7:58 am

I think the assumption that Bush’s speeches are not “meaningful” is regrettable, and contributes to public apathy. At least, that’s my excuse for wading through them.


sglover 09.18.06 at 8:56 am

Aw, c’mon. It can’t be any worse than slogging through the public words of, say, Czar Nicholas II or Warren Harding. Isn’t this the kind of crushing tedium for which the Deity created grad students?


Guest 09.18.06 at 12:44 pm

This goes right back to the Neocon remarks quoted by Ron Suskind in 2004: “”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

The point is not the hubris – the point is that people who take ideas seriously have a very hard time coping with people who use ideas like blunt instruments. Partly, it’s just human nature to make sense of things, even when they don’t make sense. We can’t help it. So the trouble with hearing and reading all of that bullshit over and over again is that it’s virtually impossible to say “no” forcefully enough each time. Look at where we’re at now – no one believes a word the President says, but no one does anything about it – as a direct result of the volume and depth of repetition of this Administration’s messages.

This, by the way, is a great example of the weakness of the “counterspeech” rationale in First Amendment studies.


bi 09.18.06 at 1:07 pm

Guest: That quote isn’t really hubris, it’s an expression of “nyah nyah neener neener catch me if you can!” idea which, in a way, is indeed the reality of US politics — Dubya and friends do crazy things and spew meaningless words, and there’s nothing much anyone can do about it. However forcefully one says “no”, one can’t turn the “no” into reality, which to me is the key thing.


M. Gordon 09.18.06 at 4:07 pm

Regarding this post (not the comments): I think this kind of speculative, mostly contentless jeering is a step down for the overall tone and quality of CT. I come for the thoughtful and insightful commentary. This kind of thing I could get at


asg 09.18.06 at 4:47 pm

“Dear Leader” — right, right, Bush is like Kim Jong-il! That was really clever and subtle — great job of making the point that the U.S. and North Korea are, like, the same now.


Christopher Phelps 09.19.06 at 8:22 am

The prior two posters are right to point out the venting, but the venting is warranted. McLemee is merely engaging in the sigh of the depressed. His is therefore a useful expression of our condition. Watching a Presidential news conference, in which our press corps feigns the ritual seriousness of the occasion, in which a smirking, incoherent half-grown frat boy barely can pronounce the words on his prompt sheets, in which one yearns for Cheney and Rove to come out from behind the curtain and just let us have direct access to them instead of going through this idiot, is a very painful experience.


abb1 09.19.06 at 8:41 am

Why, I heard North Korea is also engaged in a titanic struggle against Evil. Just like the U.S. now.
Coincidence? I think not…


David Lloyd-Jones 09.22.06 at 5:05 pm

The former cocaine-head American vs. the Hollywood obsessed Korean.

Two men with mad fascinations with weapons — though note that North Korea’s possession of an aircraft-carrier-killer is probably what has the whole question of the future of the Korean peninsula under heavy negotiation right now. In stark contrast to the situation in Iraq…

The always mendacious American vs. the sometimes slimy Korean.

I dunno. “Dear leader” looks like a rather tame slap at the George Bush, a man who, after all, is busily at work undermining all things American and good.

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