I have to admit I’m still somewhat puzzled by those who long enabled Bush’s disaster in Iraq. I don’t mean lickspittles like Bill Kristol, but nominal Democrats whose personal insecurities and deep self-loathing required – and still require – them to imagine an allegiance and affiliation with some bizarre tribe of “hawks” who were wrong for the right reasons as opposed to those who were, in their judgment, right for the wrong reasons.
I really think it’s some bizarro-world margarita mix of self-importance and the sort of directionlessness that comes from having no fucking clue whatsoever what your life is for or about.
Honestly. This is the same class of gits who would go around after Sept. 11 talking about how it crystallized the idea in their minds about the greatness of America or some shit, quoting people saying that 3,000 dead people had made them love their own families more, etc. The worldview Bush presented to them in the aftermath of that event (and it was a quick fucking aftermath: the dust hadn’t settled before we were having mad coversations about the “9/11 generation” and a whole bunch of other self-absorbed bullshit) was one that allowed them to see themselves as part of something great.
Instead of calling that what it really is, sick fucking narcissism, we validated it through our constant media coverage of national catharsis, through our marking of every anniversary with special ceremonies, setting the speeches to music (I’m not kidding, the towers were barely down before Bush was being intercut with Josh Groban music and I nearly drove off the road when I heard it because Jesus, what a way to deal). Feeling something became the equivalent of taking part in something.
(Incidentally, the best indictment I ever saw of this syndrome was on the FX show “Rescue Me,” when a firefighter who’d lost friends at Ground Zero was asked to speak to a “grief counseling” group full of people who were miles away when the planes hit. The firefighter, understandably, loses it and tells them they’re a bunch of pussies. Sympathy, after all, having a hierarchy, and everyone not equally affected no matter how much, in a really sickway, they wanted to be.)
And people do want to be part of something, that’s the tragic part of it. An awful lot of people, good people, nice people, people living what you’d call normal lives, are just sort of ambling around trying to figure out what the fuck they’re doing here. They have jobs they hate and families that drive them nuts and leisure time that feels more like work than work does, what with travel indignities and the rush and bustle of theme parks. They’re miserable in a low-level kind of way, quiet desperation and all, and church isn’t doing it for them, and drugs are too destructive, and most of them aren’t living the lives they wanted to live. Not at all.
A lot of them feel, and rightly, not that their lives ask too much of them but too little. They feel, and rightly, that this country’s a little too easy, that you don’t have to work or scrimp or save or worry for your citizenship anymore, than you just sit back in your recliner and you’re done for the day. They feel, and rightly, a need to be called to something greater, but there is no unifying voice issuing that kind of call anymore, no Kennedy, no King. They wait for that kind of leadership, and even when they seem to have found it they say, maybe next time, when the time is right, when I’m ready, when the world is ready, when something so horrific I can’t ignore it any more jolts me out of this Barcalounger and onto my feet, then I’ll follow. Then I’ll act.
And so, when George W. Bush came along and made a good speech (it was a good speech, read it so you don’t have to hear or see him say it and you’ll realize it was a good speech and given sincerely might have been great), they jumped on the bandwagon because really, any bandwagon would have done. It had nothing to do with George Bush and nothing really to do with Sept. 11. It had everything to do with a hunger in suburbia for the kind of purpose their parents had as young people in the 1960s, the kind of purpose America had when it was led by real men and not hucksters and thieves. The kind of purpose World War II necessitated (just look at the commenters over at BlackFive the other day, on and on about the clash of civilizations) and the civil rights movement engendered, back when the people writing editorials today sincerely believed they could change the world.
In their minds, it was a lack of conviction and purpose that lost the Vietnam War. It wasn’t shitty military strategy and lousy leadership, it was that we just didn’t feel it enough. You see this over and over in criticism like Lieberman’s about “undermining” national security, as if some people with web sites are gonna fuck with the most powerful nation on the planet. You see this over and over in the right-wingers’ fear of any dissent whatsoever; it’s all about words, so words are a threat. It’s the war of ideas they’re fighting, so any questioning of their ideas is an attack.
(Keep especially in mind that today’s right-wing poser-commando creep is yesterday’s radical poser-commie asshole. See Horowitz, David.)
The real trouble was, it was bullshit from the start. If this truly had been a great cause, Bush would have called for enlistments and conservation, not spending and travel. If this truly had been the transformation of our country, Bush would have called for charity to alleviate the desperation and poverty that makes hatred of America seem like a solution. If Sept. 11 had been the wakeup call that everybody said it was, five years ago, we’d have rededicated ourselves to making this country, truly, the richest and most prosperous and free nation on earth, so that if somebody wanted to hate us for our freedoms, at least we’d deserve it.
If Sept. 11 had been the making of us, we’d be painting schools in Afghanistan, not in Iraq. And Osama would be swinging from a tall tree.
Instead, it was “go shopping” and “don’t change a thing” and “loose lips sink ships” and “Islamofascism,” and it was bewildering to those people Atrios cites who thought this was their moment and got completely and utterly hosed.
Once you’ve jumped on a bandwagon, you can’t just get off. You’ve publicly declared that this is now a new day, that we are a new country, that you are a New Man Made Of Moonbeams or something, and you’ve dedicated yourself to a president you thought was providing leadership. Leadership of the sort you’ve craved since you were a kid hearing your parents’ stories about FDR and Kennedy. Leadership of the sort you got into media and politics to provide, and now look at you, falling for the first snake oil salesman who comes along promising national greatness in an amber apothecary vial.
It takes a big bag of stones to climb out of the pool after you’ve gotten yourself into that deep end. And if our politicians and the leadership of our press had those stones they’d have recognized Bush’s insincerity the moment he started to talk about Iraq. They’d never have bought destroying a country to make it free, they’d never have listened to talk about weapons of mass destruction, they’d have laughed Condi Rice off the set of Tweety’s show. But this wasn’t about the facts anymore.
This was about the story they were telling themselves in their heads. And it couldn’t end with an apology.
This whole debate is ridiculous, anyway. The problems I’ve just enumerated are the problems of wealthy white men and women, the problems of middle class children who grew up thinking their self-esteem was some kind of goal, who substitute their emotions for action with consequences. None of this self-actualization bullshit means a damn thing to a poor kid who’s about to get his ass shot off in Fallujah because it was either combat fatigues or burger-flipping for him, and none of it means shit to the single mother working two jobs to try to feed her kids and get them to school without being shot at in the neighborhood that needed a humanitarian intervention way before Baghdad.
So that’s maybe the worst of it. Pundits and politicians taken in by Bush’s blather would have to admit they wanted to feel good about themselves more than they wanted 2,500 American soldiers to live.
Not exactly a catchy campaign slogan, is it?