To understand how the Bush administration has lost the public opinion war on Iraq, it may be helpful to travel in H.G. Wells' time machine back to Oct. 30, 1938. The subversion of reality that Welles slyly introduced into modern American media in 1938 has reached its culmination and a jaded public is at last in open revolt.
The boundary between reality and fiction has now been blurred to such an extent by show business, the news business and government alike that almost no shows produced by any of them are instantly accepted as truth. The market for fake news has become so oversaturated that a skeptical public is finally dismissing most of it as hooey until proven otherwise.
Politicians who dive into this game by putting on their own reality shows think they are being very clever. But like Cruise, they're being busted by a backlash.
George W. Bush, -with the help of Colin Powell and some nifty props, effortlessly sold the country on Saddam WMDs. He got away with using a stunt turkey as the photo-op centerpiece during his surprise Thanksgiving 2003 visit to the troops in Iraq. His canned "Ask the President" campaign town-hall meetings -- at which any potentially hostile questioner was denied admittance or hustled out by goons -- were slick enough to be paraded before unsuspecting viewers as actual news on local TV outlets, in the tradition of Welles' "War of the Worlds" bulletins.
But the old magic is going kaput. Bush's 60-stop Social Security "presidential road show," his latest round of pre-scripted and heavily rehearsed faux town-hall meetings, hasn't repeated the success of "Ask the President." Support for private Social Security accounts actually declined as the tour played out and Bush increasingly sounded as if he were protesting too much.
The shelf life of the fakery that sold the war has also expired. On June 7, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found for the first time that a majority of Americans believe the war in Iraq has not made the United States safer. A week later Gallup found that a clear majority (59 percent) wants to withdraw some or all U.S. troops. Most Americans tell pollsters the war isn't "worth it," and the top reasons they cite, said USA Today, include "fraudulent claims and no weapons of mass destruction found" and "the belief that Iraq posed no threat to the United States."
Nor can it easily get the country to believe that success in Iraq is just around the corner. Too many still remember that marvelous aircraft-carrier spectacle marking the end of "major combat operations" in Iraq -- a fake reality show adapted, no less, from a Tom Cruise classic, "Top Gun." Some 25 months and 1,700 American deaths later, nothing short of a collaboration by Orson Welles and Steven Spielberg could make this war fly in America now.