One enters the horror house of regressive politics at one’s own great peril, though most of us and most of the rest of the world have been given little choice.
Small wonder, then, that Americans have entered into a collective mental state which might best be described as disgruntled amnesia. This freakin’ thing is not going away, so why waste time on anger or action? Besides, those are perfectly good hours that can be used for watching the game or deriding the latest loser on American Idol. And then there are those bills to be worried about...
Oh boy, are there. Nations have bills, too, and the drunken revelers at the big table, party of 300 million, are going to have one hell of a case of sticker shock when the waiter brings the check. They will, of course, do what horrified, besotted diners always do in such situations. As the source of their nauseous ill feelings migrates from the pain of too much in the stomach to the far worse pain of not enough in the wallet, the avoidance techniques will kick-in hard. Some will feel an urgent need to visit the restroom, only to somehow miraculously get lost on the way and egress through the back door instead, never to be seen again. Those remaining at the table will insist that their share should be less than other people’s, since they only ordered two bottles of the champagne, and only ate a few platefuls of the most expensive caviar.
No matter. A reckoning is (long over-) due. As many of us are wont to mumble each month (or each week), on the return journey from our mailboxes: "Bills, bills, bills...". So it is with America.
The horror stories of the regressive right – and of its most carcinogenic manifestation, the corporation now doing business as the Bush administration – are as widely dispersed as they are deeply destructive. Virtually everything they’ve put their greasy mitts upon has turned disastrous, from Iraq to Afghanistan, from civil liberties to civil rights, from Terri Schiavo to Pat Tillman, and from Hurricane Katrina to the ocean of public debt being left to our children. It is, of course, without doubt far worse than we presently know, and perhaps far worse than we’ll ever know, for surely some crimes will never be detected, and likely few will ever be punished.
But one of the greatest travesties in support of a tragedy is surely the right’s latest political tactic (if only they were so talented at military strategy) for preserving a war they sold us, only to wind up owning themselves. Fear no longer working so well, public patience fully exhausted, Democrat-bashing grown tiresome, there remains little choice any more for selling the war, the main purpose of which anyhow was always to enhance the administration’s power. It was shock and awe, alright, but you and I were the targets every bit as much as Baghdad, even if the bombs assaulting us were principally rhetorical.
What to do now? Hide behind the troops. That’s about the only plausible strategy, and even at that, it came up short and was noticeably ineffective this last week. Of course, in some ways, this is hardly new at all. These wonderful war enthusiasts who never seem to find their own way to the battlefield have been invoking the welfare-of-the-troops motif for quite some time, even as their policies display relentless scorn for the cannon fodder they march off to war, like so many worthless chess pieces.
But the latest desperate approach ups the ante by a considerable quotient. Where the likes of Bush and Cheney and their cheerleaders like Kristol and Limbaugh have previously hidden themselves behind the privates and corporals and even captains who bear the greatest brunt of their arrogance and folly, now they have crawled up the pant legs of the generals, too, in order to shield their murderous policies from public scrutiny.
If you were lucky enough this week to be in possession of a brain more powerful than a ganglion cyst, you were unlucky enough to have it deeply insulted by the spectacle of the American commander-in-chief supposedly accepting the recommendations of his Iraq field commander for how to proceed with the war. In my lifetime of observing American politics, I can hardly think of a single instance of a greater and more injurious episode in the political theater of the absurd. Richard Nixon’s attempt to placate the wolves by having the Watergate tapes listened to by only a single member of Congress – who just happened to be half-deaf – was probably more amusingly ridiculous, but, of course, infinitely less lethal.
And it’s no longer even just the White House participating in this shameless ritual. Lately, hiding behind the troops in order to protect their own careers from the cannon ball of public disgust at a massively failed and even more massively dishonest war policy has become a more ubiquitous Republican rite than perhaps even closeted homosexuality.
Here’s House Minority Leader John Boehner, for example: "As Congress prepares to take our next steps in support of our troops, we are faced with a critical choice. Will we ignore the progress we've made and play politics with the security of our nation, or will we finally listen to the generals?" God forbid anyone should ever play politics with national security, eh? You know, like scheduling a war resolution vote right before an election. Like running commercials that morph the face of a genuine war hero into Osama bin Laden’s or Saddam Hussein’s. Or like invoking the tragedy of 9/11 in every speech given by a president seeking to justify a war against a country which had absolutely nothing to do with that attack. No, please, let’s not "play politics with national security", people. Members of the GOP should never be caught dead doing that. No, the way it’s supposed to work is that other people get caught dead when they play politics with national security. You know, worthless people – like American troops and Iraqi citizens.
Then there always John "God, if you make me president I promise I’ll do anything you want for the rest of my life" McCain to consider, a man seemingly incapable anymore of bringing any possible further ruin to what was once a reasonably impressive, if certainly inflated, reputation for honesty, at least as politicians go. Having downsized the old Straight Talk Express, McCain is now running around Iowa and New Hampshire these days on the No Surrender Limited (very), a slogan that we’re supposed to believe applies to Iraq, but really is a better indicator of the desperate state of his besieged campaign. McCain is jumping up and down all across America, reminding voters how he was right all along, and how the ‘success’ of the surge in recent months vindicates his policies from the beginning. But then, of course, there’s the obligatory reference to the troops, following a stark choice that the candidate says is facing America – to win or lose in Iraq (well, he at least got one part of this right, except of course, that the choice was long ago already made): "I choose to win, I choose to stay and I choose to support these young men and women and let them win."
Another fine example comes to us from Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Robert "Buzz" Patterson, speaking this week to about a thousand right-wing ga-ga-rah-rahs who came out to counter an anti-war protest this week. Buzz said he wanted to send three messages: "Congress, quit playing games with our troops. Terrorists, we will find you and kill you. And to our troops, we're here for you, and we support you." One wonders what the heck he’s doing supporting the president with a set of themes like that, given that Bush’s three messages seem to be: "Congress, quit playing games with me as I stomp all over our troops in pursuit of my own ambitions. Terrorists, thanks for giving me political cover to become emperor – now just go hang out in Pakistan and I won’t bother you. And to our troops, we’re here for you, and we support you. Unless that means not wasting your lives on meaningless and under-equipped missions based on wholesale fabrications."
As for Bush, Cheney and the other yahoos in the administration, of course, there is no end to the repetition of this inanity used to cover their own failings. Suffice it to say that whenever one of these clowns opens his mouth in public, there are three things you are guaranteed to hear. One is "9/11", the second is "the terrorists", and the third is "support the troops".
Are there really Americans in the twentieth century whose credulity is so unmitigated that a public relations farce of this magnitude appears realistic and even compelling? Evidently so, given the number of churches and Republicans still lurking about the country. Just the same though, surely this would constitute a deep blow to any of the Founders unfortunate enough to still be around observing the latest findings from their experiment in self-governance, only to have to witness this parody in which a president pretends to accept the recommendations of his on-site military commander, recommendations which miraculously enough just happen to accord with what that president wanted to hear. Can you believe the coincidence?! Would a twelve year-old not toss his Super Mario Brothers disk in the garbage if it contained plot lines this transparently improbable?
Lemme see if I have this straight, now. We have an administration so famously arrogant, imperious and unilateralist that it rips up treaties, trashes long-term allies, shreds constitutional bulwarks and buries legal traditions going back nearly a millennium – and we’re supposed to believe that these people are taking direction from a mere general in the army? We’re supposed to accept that The Decider has recently had a feverish bout of humility, and has come to defer to some rook on his chessboard who doesn’t even come from the decidering class?