Break the Spell

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Freedom Flyer 22

Break the Spell

Bush is a master at inducing learned helplessness in the electorate, writes Renana Brooks, a clinical psychologist who specializes in language and power. He uses pessimistic language that creates fear and disables people from feeling they can solve their problems. Brooks makes these observations in a recent article entitled A Nation of Victims ( Learned helplessness is a clinical condition. It develops when people come to believe that they have no control over their environment, and that problems caused by negative events are both permanent as well as complexly related to other events. Learned helplessness destroys a person’s motivation to respond to outside threats and problems.

Brooks argues that Bush seeks to generate learned helplessness in order to break down electoral resistance to his agenda. To this end, he uses several dominating linguistic techniques including empty language, personalization, and negative framework.

Empty language refers to broad statements that are so abstract and mean so little that they are virtually impossible to oppose. Take for example Bush’s claim in the 2003 State of the Union:  "We will answer every danger and every enemy that threatens the American people." Brooks counts thirty-nine instances of empty language in that speech.

Personalization places the attention of the listener on the speaker’s personality and projects a dependent relationship between them. Turning again to the 2003 State of the Union, Bush asserts, "I will defend the freedom and security of the American people." That statement parallels his language in the weeks after 9/11: I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people. It is as if he is a superhero, and we’re supposed to sit back and let him save us.

Negative framework completes Bush’s linguistic program. It is effected by portraying the world as dark and evil. Accordingly in Bush’s terms, America faces an axis of evil. "Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, he counsels. The fight will be unlike any other we have ever seen...I know many citizens have fears tonight....Be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat." Brooks finds that catastrophic words and phrases, repeatedly drilled into a listener’s head, create a level of anxiety that overwhelms opposition to the substance of the message. At that point, it appears pointless to do anything other than cower.

How, then, will we the people break the spell of Bush’s linguistic dominatrix? Dr. Brooks advises that superior ideas won’t win the day because, people do not support Bush for the power of his ideas, but out of the despair and desperation in their hearts. People in the grip of a desperate dependency, she continues, don't respond to rational criticisms of

those upon whom they are dependent. The best way to break the dependency is to forcefully state plausible alternatives to the status quo and put the American electorate back in touch with their core optimism.

That is a tall order. It is a tall order for the three million people whose jobs have been lost since Bush took office. It is a tall order for the soldiers engaged in an unwanted and increasingly repressive occupation of Iraq, as it is for their families and the families of those who have been wounded and killed in Iraq. It is a tall order for the firemen, policemen, teachers and public servants nationwide whose budgets have been cut and workloads increased. It is a tall order for senior citizens facing threats to Medicare and Social Security benefits while healthcare costs skyrocket. Where is the optimism to be found?

Catherine Austin Fitts, former Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under both the Bush I and Clinton administrations, has an answer. During her tenure in government, Fitts learned that 85 percent of our taxes go to agencies that do not have reliable financial systems nor audited financial statements, even though a 1994 federal law mandates such transparent accounting. Additionally, in the three fiscal years 1998, 1999, and 2000 the Department of Defense reported $3.3 trillion in undocumentable adjustments, which as Fitts puts it, is government speak for theft of real taxpayer money. Fitts discovered a $59 billion loss in HUD for the same years. When she began raising alarms about this massive fraud, she was fired, and an accounting software program she developed to track the fraud was destroyed. Fitts is now a successful financial consultant who has a clear message of hope for America.

It is the following: America does not have deficits -- we have a white-collar crime drain that is a financial tapeworm. If we bring transparency to federal accounts and hold the federal government legally responsible for compliance with the laws, there will be money enough to wipe out deficits, fund social services, and attend to international responsibilities with the generosity that prosperity permits. This is a way to core American values. This is a way to optimism. Tell your congressional representatives to get the money back. Tell your favorite presidential candidate. Tell your neighbor. Contact Catherine Austin Fitts for more information at

And break the spell.

Nick Biddle

The Freedom Flyer comes out weekly and is designed for free distribution in the streets of America. To join this new national dialogue, or to contribute to it, send an email to, or go to the website of the Alliance for Democracy at

© by Nick Biddle 2003