Right now America is going through an Orwellian moment. On both the foreign policy and the fiscal fronts, the Bush administration is trying to rewrite history, to explain away its current embarrassments.
Let's start with the case of the missing W.M.D. Do you remember when the C.I.A. was reviled by hawks because its analysts were reluctant to present a sufficiently alarming picture of the Iraqi threat? Your memories are no longer operative. On or about last Saturday, history was revised: see, it's the C.I.A.'s fault that the threat was overstated. Given its warnings, the administration had no choice but to invade.
A tip from Joshua Marshall, of www.talkingpointsmemo.com, led me to a stark reminder of how different the story line used to be. Last year Laurie Mylroie published a book titled "Bush vs. the Beltway: How the C.I.A. and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror." Ms. Mylroie's book came with an encomium from Richard Perle; she's known to be close to Paul Wolfowitz and to Dick Cheney's chief of staff. According to the jacket copy, "Mylroie describes how the C.I.A. and the State Department have systematically discredited critical intelligence about Saddam's regime, including indisputable evidence of its possession of weapons of mass destruction."
... Now let's turn to the administration's other big embarrassment, the budget deficit.
The fiscal 2005 budget report admits that this year's expected $521 billion deficit belies the rosy forecasts of 2001. But the report offers an explanation: stuff happens. "Today's budget deficits are the unavoidable result of the revenue erosion from the stock market collapse that began in early 2000, an economy recovering from recession and a nation confronting serious security threats."...
The trouble is that accepting that excuse requires forgetting a lot of recent history. By February 2002, when the administration released its fiscal 2003 budget, all of the bad news -- the bursting of the bubble, the recession, and, yes, 9/11 -- had already happened. Yet that budget projected only a $14 billion deficit this year, and a return to surpluses next year. Why did that forecast turn out so wrong? Because administration officials fudged the facts, as usual.
I'd like to think that the administration's crass efforts to rewrite history will backfire, that the media and the informed public won't let officials get away with this. Have we finally had enough?
Delong has popularized the phrase "I'll stop calling this administration Orwellian when they stop using 1984 as an operations manual". Krugmans is picking up that meme. Good. Orwell would approve.
Historically, excluding people directly impacted by war or disaster, the length of the American memory has been two months. As a culture we have severe short term memory loss. Has that changed?
There's only one new thing I can think of. The blogosphere (awful word) has a longer memory buttressed by cross-linking and enabled by Google. The combination of connectivity, the blog format, and Google may be producing a new kind of meta-memory, a sort of emergent cognitive phenomena. Yes, only a tiny minority actually read these blogs (in my case my wife and my mother) -- but journalists read them. In the last month I've seen at least two very well read commentators cite an external memory based on blogs. Fascinating.