RODDICK: Orwell in the White House

During a presidential debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000, the moderator asked Bush who his favorite philosopher was. After a moment of stunned silence in which you could see the poor dunce scrape the edges of his brain for residue from a college course he had long forgotten, he answered with a relieved smirk: "Christ."

If only it were so. If Christ were Bush's philosophical model, he would not be inviting moneychangers into the temple. He would not be turning ploughshares into swords. He would not be making arrangements that the rich might inherit the Earth.

The truth is, George Orwell is closer to Bush's philosophical mentor, as it is not hard to imagine Bush misunderstanding Orwell as thoroughly as he seems to miss Christ's point. Bush seems to have read Orwell's "1984" and "Animal Farm" not as cautionary tales, but as manuals for living and leadership. After all, it was his father's administration that originated the term "Collateral damage" to mollify the masses about the first Gulf War. "Collateral damage" is a lot easier to say and accept than "killing half a million innocent people, many of them children."

Bush Jr. is carrying on the family Newspeak and Doublethink tradition, with programs like "The Patriot Act" (which questions the patriotism of any citizen who exercises his constitutional right to dissent), and "Total Information Awareness" (an "anti-terrorism" program involving a massive central database of citizens' personal information accessible on demand by the government ).

Taken together, these two programs constitute the very manifestation of Orwell's Big Brother. Bush has urged Congress to approve an unprovoked invasion of Iraq by saying, "If you want to keep the peace, you've got to have the authorization to use force." In "1984," the rules of Doublethink put it this way: "War is Peace."

In "1984," the utopian culture was always at war -- a constant conflict against a shifting and indeterminate enemy, with no beginning and no end. Bush's War on Terrorism is also open-ended, and seems to have an ever-changing cast of evildoing characters: Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, North Korea, Iran .... For Both Bush and Big Brother, constant war provides constant justification for the curtailment of civil liberties and an omnipresent atmosphere of fear. Not even Orwell could have dreamed up the quintessential Thought Police statement by Bush's Attorney General John Ashcroft that dissenters "only aid terrorists" or Bush's own gem: "Either you are with us or with the terrorists."

Orwell's Doublethink instructed not only that war is peace, but that ignorance is strength and freedom slavery. Judging from his policies and proclamations, these seem to match up with Bush's approach so far.

Since before Sept. 11, the Bush administration has worked diligently to curtail freedom of the press by resisting all Freedom of Information Act requests, sealing presidential records indefinitely, briefing the media only in occasional and highly controlled press conferences, and restricting press access to theatres of war. Ignorance is all but guaranteed.

As for freedom, the American public has been told that certain sacrifices will be necessary for victory in the War on Terrorism, and that those sacrifices would come primarily in the form of privacy and civil liberties. In other words, in order to preserve liberty, we must destroy it.

Orwell was concerned with the power and persuasion of language and how, in the wrong hands, words could kill, bind, destroy, disempower, enslave and undermine civilization. For a man not known for his mastery of the English language, George W. Bush makes an unlikely but powerful case that Orwell was right.

Anita Roddick is the founder of The Body Shop and a lifelong activist. Email her at anita@anitaroddick.com.

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