George Packer -- The New Yorker -- November 7, 2008
[T]his has been the era of the permanent campaign, with the line between running for election and running the country practically erased. Bush took Karl Rove into the White House, turned policy into an arm of politics, and governed the same way he campaigned: treat the press as an out-of-favor interest group, control the message at all cost, repeat it incessantly regardless of changing facts, admit no mistakes, show no uncertainty, reward loyalists, and ignore critics or else, if necessary, destroy them. This approach to what’s known as strategic communications won Bush two elections; it also helped destroy his Presidency. Campaigning and governing are not the same. They are closer to being opposites.
In Iraq, Paul Bremer had a strategic-communications adviser named Dan Senor, who had come out of the world of Republican political operatives (a world he returned to after his year in Baghdad). Senor controlled the message coming out of the Republican Palace with all the determination of an Ari Fleischer. The message was: Iraq is on the road to democracy. Meanwhile, outside the Green Zone, the country was going up in flames. As a result, by May of 2004 no one believed what was coming out of Senor’s daily briefings. They had turned into the Iraq equivalent of the Five O’Clock Follies in Saigon.
It was worse than a simple breakdown of trust. The problem with strategic communications is that the White House that lives by it slowly becomes incapable of dealing with reality. When bad news comes, the impulse is to deny it, and that impulse turns into a mental habit. Eventually, those in power are the last to figure out the truth (in this sense, Katrina was a direct result of the kind of mentality that had already led to disaster in Iraq). The Administration can’t answer the arguments of its critics because it has long since stopped listening to them. It finds itself increasingly isolated, not just from potential supporters, but from the truth.
Click here for the complete text.