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Commentary: State of Union an exercise in spin

Dillon Fishman
By Dillon Fishman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, February 3, 2005
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Through all of the clapping, grinning, and hand-wringing during the 2005 State of the Union address, I wondered whether anyone else would see something obvious: the speech was a powerful weapon of mass distraction.

The new weapon of mass distraction is rhetoric. Its victims are everyone who unquestioningly accepts it. The State of the Union is its latest tour de force onslaught by this administration.

The president, with the urgency and importance of an imminent crisis, claimed yesterday that social security "must" be reformed, that it is heading for "bankruptcy." This, he says, is now a matter of top national priority, warranting immediate attention. Similarly, two years ago, he told us that danger in Iraq was imminent, claiming that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and was poised to use and distribute them.

Yet, now we know that Saddam didn't have WMD's. Just weeks ago, on January 12, inspectors officially gave up looking for them. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found - no nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons posing any grave threat. Nothing. No imminence. No real danger.

Iraq posed no "imminent" threat to the United States - but now we are to believe that Social Security does?

WMD's were the reason we invaded Iraq. How soon we seem to have forgotten that. Because, now, with a successful Iraqi election, our invasion of Iraq may truly be worth it. freedom for Iraqi civilians -which is only a post-hoc justification for the war -might well come to fruition and truly make our cause just. But let us not too quickly forget the lessons of the past: excessive pomp and rhetoric is what got us into Iraq in the first place. Is Social Security the new Iraq?

Social Security today, like Iraq two years ago, poses no immediate threat. Nonpartisan studies project that Social Security will be able to pay full benefits until sometime between 2042 and 2052. Even at that time, without changing existing tax rates, Social Security will still be able to fund 70 percent of its promised benefits. And that's if we do nothing. Is that a "crisis"?

The only immediate threat that Social Security currently poses is its use as a weapon of mass distraction. Ultimately, this administration wants to eradicate Social Security because it is a socialist program, historically unpopular among Republicans. That's the real reason they want Social Security gone. Perhaps some of their criticisms and suggested revisions may be legitimate and worthy of debate and discussion. But through scare tactics, the administration is attempting to create a sense of fear and urgency where none exist. Through such jockeying, they aim to maneuver politically for a series of incremental laws leading toward the program's total privatization and elimination. Real progress on Social Security requires candor and restraint.

The rhetoric and the distraction extend beyond Social Security to matters of global importance.

Initially, Americans were told that the case for war was that Iraq needed to be controlled because of its potential weapons stockpiles and its intent to use nuclear weapons. Now, the new mantra is "spreading freedom" to the darkest corners of the world. Put another way: "You will be free - like it or not." In recent State of the Union Addresses, Americans heard talk of an "axis of evil." this address, it seems, pinpoints Syria, Iran and Egypt as the next targets for "freedom." However, freedom by force is an oxymoron.

And if we're not careful, the president's rhetoric may soon translate into a systematic, global gameplan for the proliferation of freedom by force.

But maybe we deserve the result of this powerful new weapon of mass distraction. It highlights our own apathy, laziness, and lack of vigilance toward our government.

Why should we expect our government to provide us the truth if we're not willing to demand it? Our government will feed us as much spin and rhetoric as we are willing to accept.

Dillon Fishman is a third-year law student. He can be reached at

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