November 3, 2014
by Paul Craig Roberts

Writing for Americans is not always an enjoyable experience. Many readers want to have their prejudices confirmed, not challenged. Emotions rule their reason, and they are capable of a determined resistance to facts and are not inhibited from displays of rudeness and ignorance. Indeed, some are so proud of their shortcomings that they can’t wait to show them to others. Some simply cannot read and confuse explanations with justifications as if the act of explaining something justifies the person or event explained. Thankfully, all readers are not handicapped in these ways or there would be no point in trying to inform the American people.

In a recent column I used some examples of Clinton-era scandals to make a point about the media, pointing out that the media and the American people were more interested in Clinton’s sexual escapades and in his choice of underwear than in the many anomalies associated with such serious events as the Oklahoma City bombing, Waco, and the mysterious death of a White House legal counsel.

Reaganphobes responded in an infantile way, remonstrating that the same standards should be applied to “your dear beloved Ray-Gun” as to Clinton. Those readers were unable to understand that the article was not about Clinton, but about how the media sensationalizes unimportant events in order to distract attention from serious ones. Examples from the Clinton era were used, because no question better epitomizes the level of the American public’s interest in political life than the young woman’s question to President Clinton–”boxers or briefs?”

It is doubtful that journalists and historians are capable of providing accurate understandings of any presidential term. Even those personally involved often do not know why some things happened. I have been in White House meetings from which every participant departed with a different understanding of what the president’s policy was. This was not the result of lack of clarity on the president’s part, but from the various interests present shaping the policy to their agendas.

Many Americans regard the White House as the lair of a powerful being who can snap his fingers and make things happen. The fact of the matter is that presidents have little idea of what is transpiring in the vast cabinet departments and federal agencies that constitute “their” administration. Many parts of government are empires unto themselves. The “Deep State,” about which Mike Lofgren, formerly a senior member of the Congressional staff has written, is unaccountable to anyone. But even the accountable part of the government isn’t. For example, the information flows from the cabinet departments, such as defense, state, and treasury, are reported to Assistant Secretaries, who control the flow of information to the Secretaries, who inform the President. The civil service professionals can massage the information one way, the Assistant Secretaries another, and the Secretaries yet another. If the Secretaries report the information to the White House Chief of Staff, the information can be massaged yet again. In my day before George W. Bush and Dick Cheney gave us the Gestapo-sounding Department of Homeland Security, the Secret Service reported to an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, but the official had no way of evaluating the reliability of the information. The Secret Service reported whatever it suited the Secret Service to report.

Those who think that “the President knows” can test their conviction by trying to keep up with the daily announcements from all departments and agencies of the government. It is a known fact that CEOs of large corporations, the relative size of which are tiny compared to the US government, cannot know all that is happening within their organizations.

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