Fire starter

Ben Cohen

Photo By David Robert

As one of the co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s homemade ice cream, Ben Cohen has brought comfort to more people in America than just about anyone. He wasn’t in Reno last week to bring comfort, though, unless it’s the comfort that comes with being in a crowd of like-minded people. Last week, he was in town as a representative of True Majority, and he was touring with the PantsOnFire-mobile, a 12-foot statue of President George W. Bush, whose pants are burning.

Why don’t you tell me a little about the rhinoplasty you performed on George W. Bush?

We’ve had the PantsOnFire statue going around the country for about a year, with the LED sign in front reading off his lies. It gets pulled along by this limousine-looking vehicle that has an American flag on each fender, and the problem was that if you just look at it from the front, you don’t see the flames coming out the back. Some people were thinking it was pro-Bush, and they were getting pretty angry. So we put a Pinocchio nose coming out of his face, so that people would get the idea. It occurred to me that the best thing I could use to create a Pinocchio nose would be a hoe handle. A hoe handle is contoured and sculpted somewhat. So we decided it would be a hoe for Geo.

That sounds like more of a technical response to political speech than you generally see around here. Not a lot of people are using their gardening tools to make that kind of statement.

That’s true. We don’t really have the kind of money that George has to buy a whole lot of TV ads or whatever. What we’ve got is a whole lot of volunteers. True Majority has some 500,000 members, and they’re real interested in finding a way to make their voice heard.

What do you say to people who say that it’s disrespecting the office of the president?

I think what is really disrespectful is to lead the country based on a pack of lies. I believe that the American people have a right to expect the president to tell them the truth. Many of them do, and when he’s not, then our patriotic duty is to point out the fact that the president is lying to us.

Your company has a reputation as being somewhat gentle as a corporation. Is this the most political you’ve been in recent years?

This is the most political I’ve ever been. What I’m doing doesn’t have anything to do with Ben & Jerry’s. I’m doing this as part of True Majority. I’ve never been anywhere as active as I am this time, and that’s because there’s never been anywhere near a president in my lifetime that’s been disregarding the basic tenets that the country has always stood for.

It seems the country would be united in its anger if that were all true. But half the country loves the guy.

I know. That’s certainly a big question that’s been in my mind. I really think that the difference is that there’s a lot of people who just believe the president. They don’t look beyond his words.

Or the office.

If I just listened to his words, if I didn’t know the backstory, if I didn’t know the reality of what’s going on, if I just listened to what he said, I’d say, “Yeah, I’m for him. I believe that. He cares. He’s doing the right thing.” When you hear things like the Clear Skies Initiative, you’re like, “Yeah, the guy’s cleaning up the sky.” Then you read the details, and he’s putting 20 million more tons of mercury into the air. It’s pretty manipulative stuff.

There’s another thing. The president controls the message to the media. Not just the ads he buys but whenever he does anything, the media covers it. That’s the way it is—you’re on the presidential beat, you report what the president says, uncritically. The way humans work is that if you say something over and over again … people come to believe it. It’s just the way we’re wired.