Essentially, those Bush voters were all just believing what they wanted to believe. And I thought they were supposed to be the absolutists in the class--apparently one truth is as true as another, especially if it comes from Rush Limbaugh and Faux News.
So why do Bush supporters show such a resistance to accepting dissonant information? While it is normal for people to show some resistance, the magnitude of the denial goes beyond the ordinary. Bush supporters have succeeded in suppressing awareness of the findings of a whole series of high- profile reports about prewar Iraq that have been blazoned across the headlines of newspapers and prompted extensive, high-profile and agonizing reflection. The fact that a large portion of Americans say they are unaware that the original reasons that the US took military action--and for which Americans continue to die on a daily basis--are not turning out to be valid, are probably not due to a simple failure to pay attention to the news.
The roots of the resistance to this information very likely lie in the traumatic experience of 9/11, and equally in the near pitch-perfect leadership that President Bush showed in its immediate wake. In response to an unprecedented attack on US soil, with the prospect of further such attacks, Bush responded with a grace and resolve that provided reassurance to an anxious public. In the war with the Taliban he showed restraint as well as effectiveness. Large numbers of Americans had a powerful bonding experience with the president--a bond that they may be loath to relinquish.
While I take issue with the idea of pitch-perfect leadership (erm, the footage of his school visit in Fahrenheit 9/11) and with restraint and effectiveness characterizing his war with the Taliban (sure, if you don't count the part about letting Bin Ladin get away), I think it's true that there must be something blocking these people from parsing what is pretty widely-available information. Maybe it's a guilty conscience for the war. Or maybe they just trust authority so much that if W and Karl Rove say it, it must be true.
But here is the most prophetic statement of the whole report:
Bush appears to assume that his support is fragile. He refuses to admit to making any mistakes. He admits that he was surprised that WMD were not found, but does not say that the most reasonable conclusion is that they were never there and continues to talk about “disarming” Iraq. He asserts that he never said that Iraq was directly involved in 9/11, but maintains that there were contacts with al Qaeda in a way that implies that they were significant. Most telling, his supporters as well as his opponents overwhelmingly say that they hear him still saying that Iraq had WMD and supported al Qaeda. To remain loyal and bonded to him means to enter into this false reality.
Bush may be right. Admitting his mistakes may shatter his idealized image in a way that some supporters may not forgive. But there also risks in succeeding in getting elected based on false beliefs. The number of people in the public who see through the illusion will likely continue to grow, eating away at the implied mandate of an election. Further, the cohesion of society can be damaged by a persisting and fundamental division in the perception of what is real, undermining pathways to consensus and mutual sacrifice, and making the country increasingly difficult to govern. (Emphasis added.)
Sadly, I don't think Bush will really pay the price for this--what price is left to pay? I have no doubt as to how history will remember him, and it's the rest of us who have to rebuild this place. Perhaps people will learn to take a critical view of the information they receive. I can dream, can't I?