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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Pat Robertson: Tool of the White House?

A lot of people are talking about Pat Robertson's latest outrageous statement (a fatwa?) concerning future US policy toward Venezuela's President, Hugo Chávez:
"You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it," Mr. Robertson said Monday on his show, "The 700 Club." "It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop."
Robertson, of course is the "founder and chairman of The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN)" and is host of the "The 700 Club" program on that station (which apparently reaches a million viewers per day). FYI, in case you want to boycott something you might actually watch, ABC Family Network carries Robertson's programs. ABC is owned by Disney, which also owns ESPN.

Robertson continued:
"We have the ability to take him out," he said, "and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion dollar war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator."
So much for "intelligent design," eh?

This is certainly not the first time the TV evangelist has shot off his mouth. The New York Times listed a few other famous past zingers:
In May he said the threat to the United States from activist judges was "probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings." In 1998, he warned that hurricanes and other natural disasters would sweep down on Orlando, Fla., because gay men and lesbians were flocking to Disney World on special "gay days." And he has often denounced the United Nations as a first step toward a dangerous "one world government."
Though that's an incomplete list, you may have missed them the first time.

Still, the truly remarkable point is that Robertson's comments aren't that different from "mainstream" Republican views. House Majority Leader Tom Delay said some ill-advised things about activist judges earlier this year, the entire Republican party seemed to invoke god's will to campaign against gays in the 2004 elections, and Republican Representative Helen Chenoweth (Idaho) says she has "some proof" that the federal government uses "black helicopters" to enforce environmental regulations in her state.

And remember when White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, in October 2002, that war with Iraq might be averted thanks to "the cost of one bullet"?
"Regime change is the policy in whatever form it takes," Fleischer said when asked if the White House wanted to see Saddam dead.

When a reporter pressed one final time if Fleischer intended to advocate from the White House podium that an Iraqi should put a bullet in Saddam's head, the Bush spokesman said, "Regime change is welcome in whatever form it takes." And he repeated, "Regime change is welcome in whatever form it takes."
For appearance sake, of course, Fleischer later toned down his remarks.

But he said it, lots of people heard it, and most people probably thought they saw the White House winking when it issued the denial.

In fact, plenty of right-wing supporters of George W. Bush make a habit of saying outrageous things as "private citizens" that pander to the masses. Typically, these pro-Bush figures say something outrageous and then a day or two later the White House distances itself from their comments. It certainly seems as if Robertson and other voices speak ignobly to rally the base and thus do the White House's bidding without Bush having to absorb the direct negative feedback from outraged members of the media or political opposition. It's much more efficient and beneficial for the White House than using coded phrases like "Dred Scott."

For additional examples, I searched "" for occasions when the press wanted to garner the White House's reactions to Pat Robertson's more inflammatory statements. I found a couple and won't bother reproducing the White House's entirely predictable efforts to distance themselves from the remarks. I will note, however, similar remarks from other pro-Bush voices.

This was from a press briefing, February 25, 2002:
Q Ari, on Thursday on the 700 Club, Pat Robertson said -- and I quote him directly here -- "I have taken issue with our esteemed President in regard to his stand in saying Islam is a peaceful religion. It's just not, and the Koran makes it very clear."
Christian leaders Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham said much the same thing.

This was from a press briefing, October 14, 2003:
Q Scott, a couple things. Pat Robertson said this weekend that he wanted to nuke the State Department. The direct quote is, "If I could just get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom, I think that's the answer. You've got to blow that thing up."
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has similarly accused State of being ineffective and incoherent, as well as sometimes engaging in "a deliberate and systematic effort to undermine the President's policies." According to Gingrich, State has been "appeasing dictators and propping up corrupt regimes" throughout the Middle East.

Next time a fringe Republican says something that many in the base are probably thinking, stop and ask if the statement serves White House purposes.

Conservatives might respond that MoveOn, Michael Moore, and perhaps Noam Chomsky serve the same function on the left. The difference, of course, is that the right tries to taint everyone in the Democratic Party by merely linking them to Moore. Forget what Cindy Sheehan has to say, they have argued on national television, she's in league with Moore.

This is the logical equivalent to that position: forget what George W. Bush has to say, he's in league with Pat Robertson.

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