The Mortician's Art

The administration is now entirely focused on giving their failing policies the appearance of life by any means necessary. They are counting on the public not noticing that what is billed as a party is actually an open-casket policy funeral in which deceased is presented, through the magic of mortuary makeup, as being in the pink of health.


Take Syria for example. “Syria has begun moving parts of its vast arsenal of chemical weapons out of storage facilities, U.S. officials said, in a development that has alarmed many in Washington.”  Even though it is becoming increasingly difficult to hide the impotence of the administration in the Levant, they still pretend to matter.

The State Department reiterated U.S. warnings: “We have repeatedly made it clear that the Syrian government has a responsibility to safeguard its stockpiles of chemical weapons, and that the international community will hold accountable any Syrian officials who fail to meet that obligation,” said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

But they need not worry. The humanitarians already have that covered. “The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Sunday it now considers the conflict in Syria a civil war, meaning international humanitarian law applies throughout the country. The declaration came as opposition fighters battled Syrian government forces in Damascus. The Geneva-based group’s assessment is an important reference that helps parties in a conflict determine how much and what type of force they can or cannot use.”

Yes, that will put a limit on the outrages. Peace is busting out all over. “In an unusually public forum, the head of Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, MI6, has forecast that Iran would likely achieve a nuclear weapons capability within two years, a British newspaper reported Friday.”


American intelligence agencies have cited a 2007 assessment stating that Iran, in fact, suspended research on nuclear weapons technology in 2003 and had not decided to take the final steps needed to build a bomb.

But Britain and Israel in particular, have interpreted the same data to mean that a decision has been made to move to a nuclear weapons capability. For its part, Iran has frequently said it has no intention of building such weapons.

How did an administration which promised to renew America’s image in the Middle East come to this pass? In an article titled “Where Obama failed on forging peace in the Middle East”, Scott Wilson of the Washington Post summarized the Obama formula for disaster in these words: “It began with a bid for historic change. But it foundered ultimately on his political and tactical misjudgments, on a lack of trusted relationships and on an outdated view of a conflict that many of his closest advisers imparted to him.”

That is another way of saying it talked loudly and carried a toothpick. Or to put it another way: he got the campaign points right. It’s a pity that he got everything else wrong.

Nowhere was the contrast between the President’s promise of respect and reality more evident than in Egypt, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her way to the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood President past protesters who pelted her convoy with shoes — an insult in the Arab World. Her mission was twofold. To keep the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood from clashing and to ask “America’s once ironclad Arab ally” if it intended to wage war on Israel.


Clinton’s very next stop was Israel where she is is expected to tell Jerusalem that “Morsi, a former Muslim Brotherhood member, who told her Egypt will respect its international treaties.” That is to say they promised they would remain at peace with Israel.

Clinton’s overseas trips — even one in which all she asks a once staunch ally is whether they will invade their neighbor — are presented as triumphs and sojourns for peace. This is touted as smart diplomacy. But what it really is, once past the mortuary makeup, is a desperate effort to conceal abject failure; to make a corpse-like policy regime seem vital and to paper over the cracks until November.

In the meantime nothing will be solved, but everything that can be successfully hidden will be concealed.

Will the ruse work? Maybe Kim Jong-un won’t give the administration a chance to pull off the illusion. “New satellite imagery obtained by CNN’s Security Clearance shows increased activity at a North Korean nuclear facility.” Or maybe it won’t be Kim Jong-un at all. “In a dramatic fall from power within North Korea’s opaque hierarchy, a senior army general widely seen as a guardian of the North’s new leader was removed from all his posts, the North’s official media reported on Monday.”

Heaven forbid that another crisis emerges in the world because it will mean more work for Axelrod’s spin team.  Yet another conflict to ‘manage’ via talking points. The degree to which everything is being subordinated to appearances is illustrated by the radio ads being run by the Department of Agriculture designed — if one were cynical enough to understand it that way — to increase voter dependency on the Obama administration. The ads encourage Latinos to apply for food stamps even if they don’t need it because it’s free cheese.


The Obama Department of Agriculture has pulled the radio”novelas” that urged Spanish-speakers to wise up and get on the dole. (“In one of these, an individual tries to convince a friend to enroll in food stamps even though that friend declares: ‘I don’t need anyone’s help. My husband earns enough to take care of us,” says GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions, describing the novelas. “The first individual replies back: ‘When are you going to learn?’”)

The ads were withdrawn — but only when they became a scandal. If they were not a scandal would they be withdrawn? Perhaps not; because it seems to matter less whether a policy is working or not — or even whether it is rational or not — than whether it is seen to poll well.

As to the question: ‘when are you going to learn?’ Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post argues that the administration believes insofar as voters are concerned the answer is that the voters are never going to learn. They are betting that the voters — most especially those who live on free cheese — are infinitely gullible; that they are incapable of learning. With a little subdued lighting and makeup, they can be made to shake hands with the cadaver. Rubin gives this example:

The Obama team knew months ago that the economy would not sufficiently improve before Election Day to justify his reelection. Its polling showed simply blaming President George W. Bush wouldn’t be sufficient. The president and his political hacks concluded that it was too late and too risky to adopt a whole new second-term agenda. (It would risk offending either the base or centrists and reveal his first-term agenda to have been entirely inadequate.) So what to do?


What to do? Stage a show and fool the voters, that’s what. What surprised the spin team was that the ploy didn’t completely work, meaning only that they have to improve on the talking points.

Extend the Republican primary by running ads hitting Romney and encouraging Democrats to vote against Romney in Michigan and elsewhere. Then, before Romney could fully get his bearings, unload a barrage of negative attacks, scare mongering and thinly disguised oppo attacks through the mainstream media, taking advantage of many political reporters’ relative ignorance about the private equity field and their inclination to accept whole-hog President Obama’s version of “facts.”

But it didn’t work. Romney and Obama are still deadlocked. (The AP quoted Republican operative Carl Forti: “I don’t think . . . [Obama’s] got a choice. He has to try to change the dynamic now, but the polling indicates it’s not working. He doesn’t appear to be making any headway in the polls.”)

But if spin can’t fix the economy, why should anyone expect that the PR efforts of Hillary Clinton will have any real effect on international relations? It won’t change the facts. To quote Chevy Chase, “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.” And maybe the administration’s policies are still deceased. But that is no matter. They are still focused on the campaign. The permanent campaign. And as to governance, what on earth is that?

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