Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist
Opportunists: Things Coming to a Head
In third volume of the CS Lewis "Perelandra" trilogy, That Hideous Strength (1945), one of the characters say this -
And that's where we are now. You can learn about the CS Lewis book here, if you're into theological science fiction, but the passage came to mind thinking about events at the end of the day, Thursday, November 17 - a day full of "the possibilities of even apparent neutrality" diminishing real fast.
The national dialog - if there is such a thing, some ongoing discussion of who we are, what we stand for, and what we should do about threats and risk, about those among us in trouble, about what we should or should not build and all the rest - is getting sharper, as in more pointed, as in nasty. The administration is clearly on the ropes, and elsewhere in the pages there are notes on the plummeting polls - massive disapproval and mistrust, with over two-thirds of us thinking the country is going in the wrong direction.
That last poll question is intentionally ambiguous, and used in most polls. It measures discomfort, and doesn't have anything to do with what we should be doing or not doing. It measures the level of "not this" - the sense that something is very wrong, without naming it. It doesn't specify the war is bothering people - the reason we waged it always changing and the execution of our occupation and creating a government we'd like there not going that well - or the high price of gasoline and heating oil, or seeing New Orleans effectively be wiped off the map while the federal government held back and almost criminally bumbled around, or tax policy or low job growth or pension funds going under or the world thinking we're clueless bullies and turning on us - or anything else. It's not all the Republican scandals either - Frist under investigation and DeLay indicted and incompetent cronies in key job exposed. That's part of it - minor notes, grace notes as they say in music. It's rather a sense that something is fundamentally wrong, or really, many things are wrong.
That this distress centers on the war is a matter of the war, with the daily toll of dead Americans and chaos in the world (the bombing in Amman didn't help at all), being the best hook on which to hang all the anxiety. Free-floating anxiety makes people crazy. The war, as a place to ground that anxiety, is quite useful. You can focus. This is making us safer? This is showing what we stand for and what our values really are? This is a reason our kids should face death? This will make the world respect us, when it seems now no one even fears us? This is a reason to give up any number of our traditional rights regarding privacy, and some freedoms? This was something we had to do - the threat was real and no one but us and the Brits understood the real truth?
There's no real anti-war movement like the one that we had in the late sixties. Michael Moore and Cindy Sheehan are not a movement. No one is burning draft cards - we don't have one. No one is forming a human ring around the Pentagon and singing Country Joe and the Fish songs. Jane Fonda? Those days are long gone.
What we have now is more dangerous and powerful, perhaps because it is disorganized and leaderless. There's a massive amount of basic discomfort out there, and the questions seem to arise naturally. So whom do you blame for this shift in the zeitgeist?
The press seems to be following, and reporting things they never reported before - inconsistencies, lies (or at least deceptions) - catching a ride on national mood. You don't grab readers and viewers, and maintain you ability to sell ad space and stay in business, offering a product no one wants. They wanted Michael Jackson on trial. They wanted wall-to-wall coverage of the missing attractive young white woman of the week. They wanted Anderson Cooper, angry, ripping into politicians in New Orleans. Now they want this. You cannot blame the press of these low poll numbers. In many ways each component of the broadcast and cable media is just one more business, providing what folks want and hoping they'll sit through the ads between the news items. Print journalism needs circulation. That's what you sell your advertisers, the folks who pay for it all. These guys are not opposing the administration. They're riding the wave.
You could blame the Democrats for the low polls numbers, but that's a joke. They're massively disorganized, as usual, and having trouble riding the wave. Some can't even find a surfboard. Some can't even find the beach. Hillary Clinton is pro-war, Howard Dean is anti-war, and array of others fall in-between the two, or outside the whole issue, watching and wondering what to say.
The problem is the questions that have come up about the war are widespread and free-floating. The press echoes them, and this amplifies them, a few opportunistic politicians decide it's safe to rephrase them (and hope to appear courageous doing so), but the questions are embedded in the "general public" now.
What to do?
Starting with the president's Veterans Day speech, and followed by speeches over the few days (see Parting Shot: Did so! Did Not! Did So! Did Not!), you mount a "conceptual attack."
Anyone who argues we lied to you about why we had to got to war is "rewriting history" and a coward.
By mid-week, the vice president was chiming in, as the BBC summarizes here -
But he's got it wrong. It's not the Democrats. It's a whole lot of people with reasonable good memories. Much more than half the public smells a rat. They remember what was said. And that of course means the Democrats actually are being opportunistic. If folks feel this way, they'll go with that.
One writer puts it this way -
Duncan Black adds this -
Now, as of a new poll Thursday, November 17, thirty-four percent of the public has the same unwavering belief in this guy's rightness.
And that's were, as Doctor Dimble, the character in that CS Lewis novel, had it right. "The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder."
As in this - Hawkish Democrat Calls for Iraq Pullout (Liz Sidoti, Associated Press, Thursday, November 17, 2005) -
Well, yeah. It's pretty obvious we have, with this war, made things worse, in a lot of ways, and staying there is fueling a resistance, and creating generations of angry people who are learning how to make really effective bombs. It's madness. Why not cut the bullshit?
Is it pretty obvious? The administration continues channeling the late Graucho Marx - "Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?" To matter how many times you say it, is still sounds absurd.
Of course the Republicans said Murtha's position was really "abandonment and surrender" - and said he and folks like him were playing politics with the war and recklessly pushing a "cut and run" strategy. AP quotes House Speaker Dennis Hastert - "They want us to retreat. They want us to wave the white flag of surrender to the terrorists of the world." And California's suave David Dreier - "It would be an absolute mistake and a real insult to the lives that have been lost." Hey! Remember that one from Vietnam days? So many have died if we get out now that will mean they died for nothing, so let's send more troops, even if the reason for it all is gone, because we don't want the families of those who've died to think their folks died for nothing, and since there is nothing, more dying will be something? oh heck, you remember the argument.
Anyway, Murtha pulled this off two days after the senate, controlled by the Republicans, defeated that Democratic thing to force Bush to lay out a timetable for withdrawal - but demanded progress reports and said they'd kind of like to see next year that "conditions are created for the phased withdrawal," pretty please.
Murtha cut to the chase. Get all the troops out in six months.
Of course no one has the balls to agree with him. Other Democrats are running for cover - they say they love the guy be we just can't do this. They'd like to be reelected, and they'd rather avoid the "abandonment and surrender" onus. It's an image thing. The Democrats are the wimps, remember? Have to change that rap.
Murtha doesn't give a damn about image. So Vice President Dick Cheney says that Democrats are spouting "one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges" about the Bush administration's use of intelligence before the war?
He says this: "I like guys who've never been there that criticize us who've been there. I like that. I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."
And as for Bush? "I resent the fact, on Veterans Day, he criticized Democrats for criticizing them."
Who's he to talk? Well, he has his Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, and retired from the Marine Corps reserves as a colonel in 1990 - after 37 years as a Marine. He's known as an authority on national security - he's been there thirty-seven years and used to be trusted, before this. He voted for this war. Enthusiastically.
AP says he's known "as a friend and champion of officers at the Pentagon and in the war zone," and it's "widely believed in Congress that Murtha often speaks for those in uniform and could be echoing what U.S. commanders in the field and in the Pentagon are saying privately about the conflict."
California's Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, says that cannot be so - "This falloff of support among Democratic ranks is not shared by the war-fighting forces. It's not shared by our troops."
But two or three times a year Murtha travels to Iraq - to assess the war on the ground - and we're told he often visits wounded troops in hospitals here, and he sometimes just calls up generals to get firsthand accounts of this and that.
Who are you going to believe? There's no direct evidence. The Republicans, and specifically Bush and Cheney, have been saying, "Trust us." Have they ever been wrong?
Ah well. Decide.
The whole Murtha address is here, and opens with this -
And the rest is tightly reasoned, with supporting evidence.
But note he says, "The American public is way ahead of us."
People know when they're being conned. He too is riding the wave. And, he says, just doing his job -
Oh my, this is causing no end of controversy.
Over at the Washington Monthly Kevin Drum suggests this may be a Walter Cronkite moment -
And he notices this comment over at the hyper-conservative National Review -
Note also Republican Senator Hagel is a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations saying this -
So some smart-ass reporter asks the president, while he's in Korea for whatever it is he's doing there, whether he agrees with Senator Hegel, or the Vice president. The answer was quick - the vice president.
Tim Grieve here -
Who needs an anti-war movement? We got one, without the funky music and hippies.
And the press is tagging along, adding what they can, as in this from Knight-Ridder - In Challenging War's Critics, Administration Tinkers With Truth - a point-by-point analysis of just who's telling the truth and who is rewriting history, with what is asserted, what is the context, and what are the facts. The facts are biased against the administration. And this is one of those rare news articles containing, and the end of the he-said, she-said stuff, looks at what was said by one side and says, flat-out, "This isn't true." They actually use those words! Damn.
For the very pretentious elitists - Trahison des clercs ("The Treason of Clerks") is the principal work (1927) of the French writer Julien Benda (1867-1956). The 'clerks' in question are the educated members of Benda's own generation, especially in France and Italy; their 'treason' was their failure to stand firm for Enlightenment ideals ('knowledge values') against the rising tide of nationalism and irrationalism ('action values'). In a more general way it is the kind of treason committed wherever dangerous fads are not being exposed and denounced by the educated class.
The press represents the clerks in this case - so no more treason?
Other evidence that things are changing?
House Democrats Defeat Spending Bill
Jim Abrams - Associated Press - Thursday, November 17, 2005; 3:17 PM
Someone thinks not ending food stamps and helping the poor have heat in their homes this winter might be a good thing? Citizens shouldn't die? How odd. The whole thing is that folks should take personal responsibility and anyone who is poor has chosen to be poor isn't selling these days?
And Michael Crowley got this email from one of the Democrats in the fray -
And in the other house, this, the same day - Legislation Renewing Patriot Act Stalls -
The want a requirement that the government inform targets of a "sneak and peek" search warrant within seven days to thirty days - and those are the warrants that allow police to conduct secret searches of people's homes or businesses and inform them later. The want to have a rule that requires judicial review when authorities use the Patriot Act law to search financial, medical, library, school and other records. They want seven-year limits on rules on wiretapping, obtaining business records under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and standards for monitoring "lone wolf" terrorists who may be operating independent of a foreign agent or power. And they want a new requirement that the Justice Department report to Congress annually on its use of national security letters - secret requests for the phone, business and Internet records of ordinary people.
The old counterargument is that if you want such limitations you want the terrorists to win and you hate America. That seems to have lots its effectiveness.
The world is changing.