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Friday, February 17, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


Ryan Blethen / Times editorial columnist

Orwell wrote Bush's script

The resemblance grows between the Bush administration and the sinister, monolithic political party INGSOC, from George Orwell's novel "1984," with every twisted and evasive defense for the violation of American civil rights.

Bush and Co.'s battle against terrorism has turned into a power grab and a war on Americans. Fear and contorted language are the weapons of choice.

The administration's assertive actions after 9/11 might have made sense in the raw aftermath of nearly 3,000 dead. With time and distance comes perspective. Those new presidential controls awarded to help ensure the safety of Americans now look more like the political clubs wielded by INGSOC.

Orwell might have got the year wrong, but his nightmarish vision of a super-nation at perpetual war, dominated by a government only concerned about control and party preservation, could gain purchase in 2006.

I hear more of Newspeak, the restrictive language created by INGSOC, with every presidential explanation as to why the government feels compelled to spy on Americans. Orwell wrote that the idea of Newspeak was to restrict the language to the point that people would have to think in the limited language of the party.

In true INGSOC fashion, the administration has used Bushspeak to spin a story broken by The New York Times about a domestic-spying program run by the National Security Agency and approved by executive order soon after 9/11 into a necessary program needed to weed out the deeply integrated terrorists living next door.

The timing was curious when, last week, Bush revealed that a terrorist plot was thwarted in 2002. Bush talked about the plot the same day stories surfaced about the doubts a secret surveillance court judge had about the legality of domestic spying. Of course, an administration spokesperson danced around the question of whether the NSA program was involved in stopping the terrorist plot.

The use of powerful and well-placed words and images worked for INGSOC. Its slogan — war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength — fits like a truncheon in the cradle of shattered bone with Bush's recent State of the Union address:

War is peace

"There is no peace in retreat."

Freedom is slavery

"The terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America."

Ignorance is strength

"... We have benefited from responsible criticism and counsel offered by members of Congress of both parties ... Yet, there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure."

Political doublespeak is nothing new, but has become a real threat to democracy in the hands of this administration. Bush has taken communication strategy to new heights, said David Domke, associate professor of communications at the University of Washington.

"This administration has become preeminent in crafting messages for political gain," Domke said.

The Republicans have made no secret about what they will run on this year. A recent Pew poll showed that Americans believe the Democrats could lead the nation better on every issue except national security. Bush aide Karl Rove has given speeches about national security and the president skips across the nation talking about the importance of spying on Americans to keep us safe.

This strategy works only if the electorate is fearful that a hostile world is ready to overrun America. Bush's fear-mongering resembles a version of INGSOC's Two Minutes (of) Hate, in which party members watch a video of legions of the enemy army marching behind a bleating political enemy.

American democracy has buckled under the weight of Americans voting scared, a weak press diluted because of consolidation by mega-public companies, and no real political alternative.

It does not matter that the administration and, by extension, the Republican Party are only doing what is needed to hold on in November and again in the 2008 presidential election. Their actions are beginning to eclipse our civil rights, potentially reducing freedom to a dim flicker.

Ryan Blethen's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is

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