Friday, July 14, 2006

The hand that wields the dolchstoss

The entire article in Harper's is certainly worth reading; Baker takes the story back further than Goldwater (which some have argued gave rise to the power of Reagan and W.), but this part is especially noteworthy.

Baker writes about the "dagger stab," the myth of being "stabbed in the back" which keeps the US constantly looking for internal enemies to explain its external failures. He gets to Iraq here:

Again, the link was made. Soldiers of the most powerful army in the history of the world would be actively endangered if they even wondered whether the folks at home were questioning their deployment. The right was looking for a target, and it got one when Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), appalled by an FBI report on the prisons for suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay, compared them to those run by “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime—Pol Pot or others—that had no concern for human beings . . . ”
And from there goes on up to Karl Rove:

“Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers,” Rove began, riffing on a proven theme from the 2004 presidential election, which sought to link Democrats not only with the terrorist attack on 9/11 but also with a generation of Republican assertions that liberals are “soft” on domestic crime. Rove then honed in on poor Dick Durbin’s remarks: “Has there ever been a more revealing moment this year? Let me just put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals.”; (My italics.)
But what happened?

When Rove’s thunderous media offensive had finally subsided, however, a strange silence ensued. The popularity of his master, George W. Bush, continued to plunge in the opinion polls. Support for the war continued to plummet as well, and by July, Rove himself was thoroughly enmeshed in the Valerie Plame scandal, with all of the attendant implications about its manipulation of prewar intelligence. By November, Rove was forced to send out Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney themselves on a new “Strategy for Victory” campaign.
"And this week, Bush's numbers are down again, to 36%. (or, as CNN puts it, Bush has "stopped his freefall.") What happened? We have met the enemy, and he is us:

What has really robbed the conspiracy theories of their effectiveness is how the war in Iraq has been conducted. Bush and his advisers have sought to use the war not only to punish their enemies but also to reward their supporters, a bit of political juggling that led them to demand nothing from the American public as a whole. Those of us who are not actively fighting in Iraq, or who do not have close friends and family members who are doing so, have not been asked to sacrifice in any way. The richest among us have even been showered with tax cuts.

Yet in demanding so little, Bush has finally uncoupled the state from its heroic status. It is not a coincidence that modern nationalism dates from the advent of mass democracy—and mass citizen armies—that the American and French revolutions ushered in at the end of the eighteenth century. Bush’s refusal to mobilize the nation for the war in Iraq has severed that immediate identification with our army’s fortunes. Nor did it begin with the Bush Administration. The wartime tax cuts and the all-volunteer, wartime army are simply the latest manifestations of a trend that is now decades old and that has been promulgated through peace as well as war, by Democrats as well as Republicans. It cannot truly be a surprise that a society that has steadily dismantled or diminished the most basic access to health care, relief for the poor and the aged, and decent education; a society that has allowed the gap between its richest and poorest citizens to grow to unprecedented size; a society that has paid obeisance to the ideology of globalization to the point of giving away both its jobs and its debt to foreign nations, and which has just allowed one of its poorer cities to quietly drown, should choose to largely opt out of its own defense.
Why did we elect Bush? Because we are George W. Bush. As individuals, as families, as religious communities, we aren't; but as a nation, he is the perfect representative of what we are and what we want. He is the nation's Id. We are attracted and repulsed by him, which is why he's never quite won election, and has always had to cheat his way back into power. But he isn't to blame; we are.

Consider New Orleans: a Saudi Arabian prince has pledged to continue to give aid for the recovery of that city. Why?

"From jazz to jambalaya, New Orleans has made important contributions to the world community -- and now the global community is making contributions to New Orleans," said the prince.
Name me one American politician, one US Senator or Representative, who has said as much about the important contributions to the world community that New Orleans has made. We haven't just opted out of our own defense; we've opted out of our own culture.

We've made it clear to everyone but ourselves: it's money that matters. We don't even want culture: we want consumables. Who knew what life was like for the majority of people in New Orleans before Katrina? Who cared? And who cares now? And I will say, though it aggravates some in left blogistan to hear it: this is not just an ethical issue, it is a spiritual one.

As a culture, we seem to have lost our sense of humanity. Considering our history, perhaps we never had one. Certainly in pockets, in small places, we did; but as a nation, we don't seem to have one at all. If we did, we discarded it readily and rapidly. And I think that sense of humanity, which is a matter of spirituality, is as important to the survival of a community as food, shelter, or even defense. Right now, we have to accept, that this is what we asked for, this is what we wanted, and now, we've go it.

What we do from here, will require some good old fashioned soul-searching. Even the ethics of Sartre, with its emphasis on responsibility, would be a good start. Responsibility seems to be something that, as a nation, we want nothing do with. But it is as critical to a group as boundaries and identity and "core values." Unless we accept responsibility, none of the principles that make a group possible, that give it cohesion and purpose, are worth anything. Even great heroes like Beowulf accepted the responsibility of sacrifice for their community, just as his kingdom accepted the responsibility of his sacrifice (which ended the threat of the dragon, but left them defenseless before the other kings in the area).

It is time we figured out how to stop being consumers, or "political animals," and started being human beings again.

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