When it comes to humbug, hocus-pocus and pretense, you've got to hand it to this White House. There's no one who does it better.
Lincoln, Wilson and FDR looked for skilled generals who could win wars. Bush, having already lost his war and having been told such by a long line of disaffected military commanders, looked for a compliant general who could win a propaganda campaign.
He found one in David Petraeus, who appears today before Congress in all his four-starred splendor, eager to rip, read and perform the administration's flimflammery.
The White House knows Americans love magic shows, and they're not too interested in learning how the tricks are done.
Ninety-five percent -- yes, you read that right, 95 percent -- of Americans least trust "the Bush administration to resolve the war," according to a new New York Times/CBS News poll. It almost goes without saying that they have little confidence in Congress, as well. But 68 percent place "most trust in military commanders" to bring the war to a conclusion, successful or otherwise.
Americans are so trusting of these military mavens, they're even willing to suspend disbelief and agree to an extension of the needless slaughter for a while, but only if the mavens say the needless slaughter is in our best interests.
Enter the administration's smoke and mirrors, its abracadabra, its incantations and conjuries. Bush morphs into Petraeus behind the curtains and poof -- the idiotic war is gone, and a smart one appears before our very eyes. It must be a smart one, because we see and hear that military fellow, right there, telling us so.
From there, it's merely a matter of maintaining the illusion -- for about, oh, let's say, 14 months or so. And that shouldn't be a problem for the administration. It'll take that long for the same percentage of Americans who now so thoroughly distrust Bush to spot that it's Bush in the rafters, manipulating the wires.
And let's face it: the administration is starting the trick with a fairly solid base of audience gullibility.
After all, since "33 percent of all Americans, including 40 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats, say Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001," it ain't much of a trick to make a few more Americans believe that David Petraeus was personally involved in the verbal assault on Congress and reason on Sept. 10, 2007.
The most intriguing facet of the administration's performance, however, is its High Indignation launched at any suspicion of professional tomfoolery. Yesterday, for instance, on "Fox News Sunday," ticket-holder Dianne Feinstein said she thought she saw some wires above the levitating Petraeus. To which White House publicity agent Tony Fratto huffily responded: "Attacking him in this way is reprehensible."
Don't disillusion the children, Ms. Feinstein. Next thing we know you'll be telling them there's no Santa Claus, even though we've proof of his visits every year.
Enjoy the show.