“Obama, rather than trying to just kill terrorists, which is what Bush was trying to do, is trying to steal their audience. And that, that, was brilliantly achieved in this discussion, without the swagger…”For the last several election cycles, the conventional wisdom - fueled in part by George Lakoff’s work on the “strict father” framing of conservatives vs. the “nurturant parent” framing of liberals - has been that the Republicans are the “Daddy” party, that will protect us against terrorists, and Democrats are the “Mommy” party, who will fix the economy. Thus the defeat of John Kerry in 2004 is often attributed to the release of an al Qaeda tape late in the campaign, and Obama’s victory is often attributed to the economic collapse late in the 2008 campaign.Yet, Republicans’ claims that the Bush Administration kept us safe after 9/11 - not counting 9/11 itself, of course - is countered by the work of “Matthew Alexander,” who sees a policy of torture as costing many more American lives than it supposedly saves. If torture doesn’t work, then what reason would the Bush Administration have for using it?
Could it be that drastic, violent, actions are their own reward? Could it be that the strategy we’ve followed for the last eight years, had more to do with the self-esteem of our leaders, than the efficacy of their tactics? The need for evidence of one’s potency finds a parallel in a story about the history of medicine:
Barbara Ehrenreich, in For Her Own Good: 150 Years of the Experts’ Advice to Women, chronicled the gradual evolution of health care as a natural extension of women’s role in the community, to a respectable profession dominated by men. One of the turning points in this transition, was the development of “heroic medicine” - measures that that had a dramatic effect - whether or not they enhanced the patient’s health:
“Since the point was to prove that the treatment was more powerful than the disease, it followed that the more dangerous a drug or procedure, the more powerful a remedy it was presumed by most doctors to be.”
The Bush Administration’s macho approach to foreign affairs, reminds me of these early doctors, searching for evidence of their potency in the world. Invasion, extraordinary rendition, spying on Americans and torturing prisoners may not have actually make us safer, but they provided powerful evidence that something affirmative was being done to avenge the deaths on 9/11.
The personal appeal of these drastic measures is also indicated by conservatives’ many references to the TV show 24, in actual defense of torture. The idea that our leaders are heroes in TV dramas might be comforting to some; the fact that some might confuse such dramas with reality is frightening to others.Psychiatrist Justin Frank’s characterization of George W. Bush early years, marked by blowing up frogs, and branding fraternity pledges, lends further support to this idea of secondary gains from Bush Administration policies. Perhaps the heroic fantasies of a nation explain the conviction that security threats help elect Republicans, while economic threats help elect Democrats.
But now that Obama is choosing to battle for Muslim hearts and minds, rather than creating more terrorists for every one killed - perhaps it’s time to abandon the conventional wisdom that Democrats have no answers on national security.