Conservative radio host Dennis Prager is a powerful speaker. He brought that power to Minneapolis this week with an appearance at Orchestra Hall in a rally to save Norm Coleman and Michele Bachmann from political extinction. He made a long complicated argument that you can’t really be for changing America unless you think America is (and these are all words he used, I will reproduce the full strange passage below) “pernicious, awful, hated, bad and fascistic.”
He also outlined “an edifice of lies” that liberals believe, the most fundamental of which is that President Bush lied to get us into the war in Iraq. Prager produced his biggest round of applause with a catalog of what he said were the seven lies that liberals believe, featuring: “Bush. Did. Not. Lie. That must be said over and over and over and over and over. It is a lie that he lied. It is a large, grand edifice of lies that he lied.”
I was not at the rally, which filled Orchestra Hall with very little publicity other than promotion by the local AM radio station that calls itself The Patriot. I watched Prager’s talk online and you can too.
The event featured three national conservative radio hosts whose programs run on The Patriot: Prager, Hugh Hewitt and Michael Medved. Coleman and Bachmann spoke briefly. But Prager’s speech was the main event. I used to respect Prager for his logic and clarity before he went nuts over how awful it was that Keith Ellison swore his congressional oath of office on a Qur’an. I’ve never recovered my appreciation for him but I haven’t listened much recently.
I found his Orchestra Hall talk bizarre but also intriguing as a glimpse into how desperate the Bush-right is feeling at this moment, with Bush and almost everything he touched facing repudiation, when none of their old arguments is working except within their shrinking circle.
Prager defended Bachmann’s infamous “Hardball” interview, suggesting that she was caught off guard. If it had been him on the hot seat, he would have turned the tables by asking Chris Matthews whether there is any such thing as an “American value.” If Matthews agreed there are such things, Prager suggested, it would prove that “good people can have values that are un-American.” I’m no longer so high on Prager’s powers as a logician.
But the long passage (verbatim below) that fired up the crowd was Prager’s contemplation of why so many Americans have been resonating to Barack Obama’s trademark word “change.” Prager said it can’t just be a change of policies, since everyone running in every election wants to change some policies, but Prager finally figured out what it means and, he told the audience, “this should scare you.”
“The change is about changing America. That’s what they really believe. That’s why change has become such a big word for the Democratic Party under Barack Obama and under Nancy Pelosi and under Harry Reid.
“If you think someone is wonderful, do you want to change him or her? No. Would you like to improve them? Yes, of course anyone can be improved. … But you want to change that which you believe is essentially really flawed.
“And here is the point It has nothing to do with love of America, nothing to do with patriotism, that’s not my point
“The left has built up a caricature of the United States over the last six years. They have built up a grand edifice of lies about America and how pernicious it is, and how awful it is, how hated it is, how bad it is, how fascistic it is over the last six years that they really want to change the country. They believe what they’re saying.
“They believe: ‘Bush lied, people died.’
“These are all untruths. Let me tell you something. That is the lie. Bush. Did. Not. Lie. That must be said over and over and over and over and over. It is a lie that he lied. It is a large grand edifice of lies that he lied.
“John Howard of Australia didn’t lie. Tony Blair of the UK didn’t lie. All the other countries that believed and every single Western intelligence agency didn’t lie. They may have been mistaken but they didn’t lie.
“If you believe that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney went into Iraq to make Halliburton rich, which is what half of the left believes, then you will want this country to change.
“If you believe we were lied into a war against a peace-loving society, then you want this country to be changed.
“If you believe that our Constitution has been trampled on, though not a single one of you has had the slightest effect on your civil liberties in the last six years, then you will want this country to be changed.
“If you believe that racism is endemic to the American people, then you want this society changed.
“If you believe that John McCain has run a racist campaign as the New York Times said he has in its editorial on behalf of Barack Obama one week ago, then you want this society changed.
“If you think that Christians are plotting to take over this country and make it a theocracy, then you want this country changed.
“But here is the point: If you believe all of that, you believe seven lies. [Long applause.]
“It is an edifice of untruth. It is a bubble that the left has created. They believe that bubble exists. That’s the America they have painted, they believe it really exists so of course they want it changed.
“But my friends, you and I who live in reality, [laughter] I mean it, it is about living in reality, we understand something different.
“America has problems, but it is the greatest country in the world.
“There is a very big difference between having problems and being fundamentally flawed. And we don’t want America changed. And let me tell you something as a student of history. You only want bad societies changed. You only want bad people changed.
“I don’t want change. I want improvement.”
I trust that is enough of Prager’s theme, in context, that you get what he’s driving at. I’ll just make a few points in reply.
The idea that “improvement” is not a form of “change” is ludicrous, yet without this ludicrosity, his whole argument ceases to exist.
The Bush-did-not-lie is technically defensible in the narrowest sense. If you limit the question to did Bush honestly believe that Saddam had hidden weapons, it’s quite possible that Bush honestly believed it. He wanted to believe and disregarded contrary evidence. For a long time, as Prager argues, leaders of several other nations and several foreign intelligence agencies also believed it was likely that Saddam was hiding some illegal weapons or weapons development programs.
But the closer we got to the decision for war, the shakier the evidence for this belief. By the end, with the U.N. weapons inspectors back in Iraq, getting excellent cooperation, looking wherever they wanted with no advance notice, and finding no caches of banned weapons nor evidence of ongoing development efforts, it required a suspension of all skepticism, all diligence, all open-mindedness for Bush to continue believing in the weapons.
Maybe Bush’s mind was able to suspend all those qualities (this is nothing his admirers should be celebrating), in which case he still believed (how can we know?), in which case he wasn’t lying when he premised the decision for war on his belief in the existence of the non-existent weapons.
But if so, the lie Bush told was that he was not anxious for war, that he was doing everything possible to avoid war, and that he would launch only as a last resort.