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January 19, 2006

It's About Me

From one of Andrew Sullivan's readers:

At least George Bush gets the big issue--that we have to fight this [radical Islam]. Fighting, even if you are not fighting well, is better than giving in. The Democrats still don't get it. For all of W's and the Administration's failings on the war on terror, they are hands down better than Al Gore and Kerry would have been.

I find this sort of thing baffling. What does this reader really think Al Gore or <b>John Kerry would have done differently? Given Zarqawi a key to the city? Made Osama bin-Laden Secretary of State? Offered Saddam Hussein 25 of our comeliest virgins? It's just bizarre.

But I'm going to be charitable and assume our correspondent's logic circuits didn't fully melt when the first plane hit the tower. I'll guess he assumes that both Gore and Kerry would prosecute the War on Terror, but they'd see it as more of a law enforcement and preventive activity, one priority among many. And that's what always weirds me out about these conversations, there's an implicit assumption among those recognizing Bush's incompetence but nevertheless emphasizing his necessity that what really matters in the GWOT is how fanatically absolutist you are about it. The litmus test is enthusiasm rather than ability, and lots of determination is easily favored over calm competence.

That's fine, I guess, but it sort of puts the lie to the whole thing. For some of these folks, the War on Terror isn't about protecting Americans or eradicating al-Qaeda, but about the vicarious thrill of participating, even in a passive, peripheral way, in a global, epochal conflict. And only those who sense the moment's historicity can be considered equal to the task. So Bush may be playing Mr. Magoo on the world stage, but at least he "gets it," and that's far preferable to some small-minded man who won't validate the neocon's clash-of-civilations-style fantasies.

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Comments

... Given Zarqawi a key to the city? Made Osama bin-Laden Secretary of State?

Otherwise sane people believe -- or say they believe -- precisely that.

The lady three doors down, who voted twice for Clinton, and once for Gore, told me, when Bush 'won' in 2004:

"If Gore had been President on 9/11, he would have surrendered to the terrorists, and they would have taken over, and all the women would have to wear burkas, and it would be illegal to be a Christian."

This is in Maine, a blue state.

The woman has a bachelor's degree from the flagship campus of the state university.

She's a public broadcasting supporter, at least based on the sticker on her rear window.

Sometimes I just give up.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina | Jan 19, 2006 3:38:46 PM

...they are hands down better than Al Gore and Kerry would have been.

I wrote a speech that would have won Kerry 400 electoral votes, if he would only give it.

"Ladies and gentlemen, Sen. Edwards and bitterly resent the imputation that somehow we aren't taking the terrorist threat seriously enough.

As an earnest of our good intentions, we are taking a Ryder truck full of ammonium nitrate and dragster fuel up to an Islamic center in the greater Buffalo area tomorrow, and reducing it to a smoking hole in the ground.

We can only hope that the Lord Jesus sees fit to have the sanctuary full of heathen at the time.

The media are invited along, of course.

And God bless America."

The election would have been a blow-out on the order of Landon, McGovern, or Mondale.

Kerry led on every issue except 'national security', and 'national security' is poll-speak for 'will kill, on little or no evidence, with little or no prompting, and without let or hindrance, brown people who worship the wrong god.'

I'd have been appalled, and voted Nader. Maybe you would have too.

But it would have won the election.

A few score dead Moslems, and he's President Kerry.

Makes ya proud to be an American.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina | Jan 19, 2006 3:50:33 PM

For some of these folks, the War on Terror isn't about protecting Americans or eradicating al-Qaeda, but about entering a global, epochal conflict, about feeling the hand of history grip down on their generation. And only those who sense the moment's historicity can be considered equal to the task.

Or, to put it a little differently, only someone who validates their feelings about their own importance is up to the task.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Jan 19, 2006 4:16:39 PM

Throw in some generational conflicts, too. These guys are trying desperately to prove they're the equals of their fathers, the so-called "greatest generation" who beat Hitler blah blah blah, so they have to inflate the threat to make it on the same world-historical scale. It's the Bush family dynamic writ large

Posted by: Farinata X | Jan 19, 2006 4:25:46 PM

I think it's less laudable that what you write, Ezra. I think it's just that a big core of people in the US want to vote for rightwing politics, against googoos of all stripes, and need something that sounds like a justification. "John Kerry doesn't get it" was the refrain of the 2004 election, not just among the masses but among rightwing intellectuals, because there wasn't much else to say. But I think the basic idea is that pols like Bush who don't care or even think about the public interest can be trusted because they'll save their own ass. They'll just happen to save ours along with it. "Big picture", "root cause", "do the right thing" Democrats won't necessarily. In a way, these people give the Dems -- who are of course self-interested -- too much credit and in another way -- they're broader-minded and will be smarter about things -- not enough.

Posted by: Laura | Jan 19, 2006 4:29:32 PM

For the last 40 years the Democrats have had the baggage of the NO WAR crowd. Didn't matter what war or for what reason, these people are against war in all cases, an inherently immoral position. *AND* they have been very vocal. In the past when it was to their advantage, the Democrats have embraced them and enjoyed the extra support.
Now, when there is true danger, the baggage is hard to sluff off. The voters still have the connection between the anit-war crowd and the Democrats in their minds.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Jan 19, 2006 4:30:06 PM

Anybody wonder where the Bush Administration gets its motivational posters?

Posted by: DaveL | Jan 19, 2006 4:31:21 PM

Preach it, Brother Ezra!

Seriously, though, when I went to my 10-year HS reunion this past year, a lot of the guys I went to school with were inordinately eager to discuss military strategy, Having gone to Iraq, I was continually asked for my opinion as to "what we should do over there." I quickly learned that that was code for, "never mind what *you*, the only person with military expertise here, think, here's what I think."

So I just kept quiet and drank my champagne and ate my hors d'oeuvres.

At any rate, for some really egregious examples of the form you aptly described above, there was always that cat you mocked: Steve den Beste. He and his readers were always a raging festival of world-historical self-importance.

Posted by: Raf | Jan 19, 2006 4:38:38 PM

Another thing: you can always see emails like this coming a mile away because of how deeply purple the prose is. It's like reading a really bad writer trying to channel Churchill or FDR.

From earlier in the email: No other major society has embraced the dark virtue of jihad and death as a virtue.

Dude, either it's a virtue or it's not. But it's certainly not "a dark virtue". I'm a sucker for good speechwriting, and writing in general. One of the smaller crimes of this decade was the ascension of Mark Gerson as the senior WH speechwriter. Gerson's a good craftsman, and he didn't have much to work with in the person of Bush.

However, Gerson, in his infinite wisdom, decided to make poetry out of banality and bathos, and the result is what you see here in this email. One thing I'll be glad of come January '09 is that someone else will be doing the speechifying, whether it's a Democrat or Republican.

Posted by: Raf | Jan 19, 2006 4:52:53 PM

The first clue to the failure of this mis-named adventure is the "war" part. Remember those other great "war" successes: the War on Poverty, the War on Illiteracy, the War on Drugs - etc.

Posted by: un malheureux vetu de noir | Jan 19, 2006 5:55:51 PM

One of the smaller crimes of this decade was the ascension of Mark Gerson as the senior WH speechwriter. Gerson's a good craftsman, and he didn't have much to work with in the person of Bush.

This reminds me of a quote from Neal Pollack:

September 11, 2001, has had all kinds of unintended consequences. One of the least tragic, but most irritating, has been an explosion of absolutely terrible writing.

Posted by: Constantine | Jan 19, 2006 6:37:02 PM

I have to agree with Laura. Everybody that I've heard make some stupid remark like, "I'm glad Gore didn't win now that this has happened" (heard 9/12/01 from a very educated, long time Santa Cruz resident) is somebody who would have voted for W anyway. They're just validating their beliefs.

Posted by: J Bean | Jan 19, 2006 7:39:12 PM

You really nailed it, Ezra. These guys don't feel a sense of significance or power in their own lives, and they desperately seek to belong to some sort of steely, squinty-eyed world historical quest.

To me, it's the saddest thing about the Clinton years: The country got peace and prosperity and they didn't like it. A significant portion of the populace just doesn't want to go peacefully about their business. They want huge, grand conflict that they can use to order their worldview. These people miss the Cold War and they desperately want it back.

It's a male thing, too. A masculinity thing. There is something deeply fucked up with the men of this country. All countries, really. Men don't fit in the civilized world. I'm ashamed to be one, really, except I like getting pussy.

Posted by: Realish | Jan 19, 2006 8:39:20 PM

I don't want to sound like I'm especially good at looking into the hearts of people, but the big conclusion I've drawn from the last few years of American history is that many of our fellow citizens have a deep need for an enemy. For them, Osama really delivered.

Posted by: sglover | Jan 20, 2006 1:03:41 AM

War porn addicts. Makes them feel all tough watching people die from afar.
And somehow, they just know that chickengeorge will do better than Kerry. How bad do you have to be to fuck something up worse than bush has?

Posted by: gus | Jan 20, 2006 1:56:59 AM

So if this war thing is so marvellous, why do people puke when they're faced with the reality ? Saying people have shit for brains really doesn't cover the enormity of their strategic position.

Posted by: opit | Jan 20, 2006 12:08:16 PM

These are the same people that honestly still believe Vietnam was a good war and that we lost ONLY because of criticism back home.

These same people, like Sean Hannity last night, loudly proclaim that OBL is able to make these tapes because of Democrat criticism of Iraq. Yet its these same news organizations what would still broadcasts OBLs messages regardless of whether there was a war in Iraq or not and will say nothing of the fact that OBL is still at-large because we simply didn't go after him hard enough.

This line of thinking is undeniably INSANE.

Posted by: Adrock | Jan 20, 2006 12:08:41 PM

"For some of these folks, the War on Terror isn't about protecting Americans or eradicating al-Qaeda, but about the vicarious thrill of participating, even in a passive, peripheral way, in a global, epochal conflict."

I have, reluctantly, come to the same conclusion.

"I'll guess he assumes that both Gore and Kerry would prosecute the War on Terror, but they'd see it as more of a law enforcement and preventive activity, one priority among many. And that's what always weirds me out about these conversations, there's an implicit assumption among those recognizing Bush's incompetence but nevertheless emphasizing his necessity that what really matters in the GWOT is how fanatically absolutist you are about it."

I would find this assumption easier to forgive if the people holding it would at least demand that Bush's actions match his rehtoric. In the first weeks after 9/11, Bush was determined to go after al Qaeda, but it didn't take very many months before he lost interest and turned his attention to Iraq. He neglected to included any money for Afghan reconstruction in his fiscal 2003 budget proposal.

Bush does "get it" in the sense that when bin Laden proved elusive, he selected an easier target. Invading Iraq many not have made the U.S. safer, but the pictures of Bush landing on that aircraft carrier were impressive. If Gore had been president on 9/11, he would have been more determined than Bush to protect the United States from future attacks. But Bush is fanatically absolutist about making folks feel better about themselves.

Posted by: Kenneth Almquist | Jan 21, 2006 1:12:38 AM

When bin Laden proved elusive, Kerry or Gore would have done the same blah de blah: you are all forgetting the war you approve of - but think is also being prosecuted ineffectively - in Afghanistan. I have real doubts whether someone else would have gone into Afghanistan. Doesn't anybody remember that conversation anymore?

Posted by: slickdpdx | Jan 21, 2006 10:11:52 AM

So if this war thing is so marvellous, why do people puke when they're faced with the reality

Because most people aren't faced with the reality. One American in a thousand is a soldier, one soldier in ten is an infantryman.

The number of people who have, or have a realistic expectation, of shooting or being shot at, in Iraq, wouldn't fill the Rose Bowl.

Which gives the rest of us license to cheer for 'our side' from the stands.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina | Jan 21, 2006 12:15:29 PM

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Posted by: judy | Sep 29, 2007 11:14:21 AM

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