Friday, May 23, 2014

Wag the Dog

I just finished reading the Larry Beinhart book Wag the Dog that was given to me by my mother. The cover contains a review blurb from The New Yorker that reads, "A tour de force of subversive wit." While I would agree the book was meant to be subversive, I don't think it was written from a humorous bent. Instead, I think it was more an attempt to wake people up to what could be or might be happening right beneath our noses, and how our nation's leadership has the means and the opportunity to play its citizenry like a two-dollar fiddle in order to control headlines, images, events, and, ultimately, power. This fictional account of a scheme by the president to orchestrate world events to improve his favor in national opinion polls does not seem all that far-fetched given some of the antics of our leadership that have come to light in the news despite their best efforts. I think if we ever came to know the actual truth of what our chief executives and their minions have done, we would be appalled and sickened, especially given the costs involved in terms of dollars and lives.

I had always thought of the term "wag the dog" as a cousin to the expression "put the cart before the horse". However, this idiom means to purposely divert attention from what would otherwise be of greater importance to something of lesser importance. Our government does this all the time and any reasonably connected person can likely cite multiple examples from the news. In Wag the Dog, Beinhart writes a story from the point of view of a detective caught up in a game of the U.S. president to start a war on foreign soil that is planned out by a Hollywood director, with all angles of coverage controlled and manipulated with the sole intent to boost the president's "numbers". The book uses the war against Iraq that followed their invasion of Kuwait (during the elder Bush administration) as this manufactured event. It includes a mix of accounts from the public record and fiction interpolated from real events to not only tell a story, but also to raise our level of suspicion of our country's leadership. Too often we see their motives are controlled by their huge egos, their desire to have a positive legacy, and their view of the world as some sort of game where they control the movement of the pieces. This book was both interesting from a story-telling point of view and worrisome given what the political games that I have witnessed over the years, especially considering that the bits and pieces that I am aware of are most surely just the tip of the unsightly, immoral, and sketchy truth of what goes on behind the scenes every day.