Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist
The game is winding down, the one started on the nursery school playground...
When you seem to have lost the game you play on, doing your best. It's the right thing to do. And it is possible things may, by some miracle, shift - the other team goes suddenly cold, you get a good call or two from the officials, you get a series of improbable, unlikely, impossible scores. Who knows how such things happen? You can always hope. You play on. That's kind of what the White House seems to doing these days. Everything seems to go wrong, but you put on your game face, you suck it up - choose your own sports cliché - but you plow ahead. It's the manly thing to do.
So what's this about the "manliness" of our leaders - the three strong daddy guys, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, who say not to worry, not to ask questions and just know they will protect us all us children who fret over things we don't understand?
Well, Monday, March 20th, everyone was pointing to Kurt Kleiner in the Toronto Star where he reported on some amusing research from Berkeley, California -
And there you have it. The whiney, insecure kids just never grew up. They still need a strong, stern daddy who will explain things, or refuse to explain things, and who will make it all better, or say he will in a way that reduces anxiety. The kids who hang loose and explore things just grew up. Someone plays "strong daddy" and demands this behavior or that? They just shrug. Of course the males in this "confident" group do, later, turn introspective. They get all thoughtful and that sort of thing. They want to figure things out, and ask questions, and consider details. That's not very manly, of course. You might call it "adult" or something.
Somehow this explains a lot about American politics.
One side doesn't understand why everyone doesn't want a strong daddy. The world is scary and no ordinary guy or gal has any power to do anything about it. A strong daddy is what you need.
The other side is puzzled as why you want one at all. The world is interesting, or challenging or whatever, and you figure out how to deal with it. What's the problem?
There is no way to bridge the gap. The whole matter looks to be a function of fairly fixed personality traits. No one is going to switch sides.
The State of Play
Sunday the 19th was three years to the day since the start of the invasion of Iraq (other comments on that here), and oddly enough, three public figures called for one of the three strong daddies to go away.
This is unusual. But you could look it up, as here smiling Senator Joe Biden of Delaware says Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld really ought to resign. And here Pennsylvania congressman John Murtha says, yep, he should go. But you'd expect that from these two. Murtha is a blunt, no-nonsense ex-military guy who's just fed up with what's happening to our Army and reserves, and convinced we're creating more problems for ourselves by occupying a Muslim and mostly Arab nation smack in the middle of the Middle East. Biden is an opportunist. He'd like to be president one day.
The odd call for resignation came from General Paul D. Eaton in the New York Times here. This is the man who, for two years, was in charge of training Iraqi forces to bring them up to snuff. So he's not the grump from Pennsylvania, nor the master politician from Delaware. He's been on the inside.
He says this -
Eaton was in the other group in nursery school, it seems. Daddy says "trust me I know what I'm doing" and he doesn't take his word for it. He looks at what's been done, and what is being done, and draws his own conclusions. Not an obedient kid, it seems. As a military man his has no issues with authority per se, but he makes the assumption he's allowed to think things through, assuming too that senior officers should think and add to the discussion of what's the best way to proceed. That's not the model at work in this administration. The place is run by the "other" kids.
Of course, the same day the Washington Post gave Rumsfeld his column inches to explain why we're doing what we're doing, and why we have to do it his way. His killer line was this "Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis."
Huh? Well, THAT will shut up the critics. Who likes Hitler? That will scare the uppity kids.
The University of Michigan Middle East expert Juan Cole has a few things to say about that here, and CNN gathered other reaction here - Henry Kissinger: "In Germany, the opposition was completely crushed; there was no significant resistance movement." Zbigniew Brzezinski: "That is really absolutely crazy to anyone who knows history. There was no alternative to our presence. The Germans were totally crushed. For Secretary Rumsfeld to be talking this way suggests either he doesn't know history or he's simply demagoguing."
You think? Well, it keeps the kids in line.
And, going back to the sport analogy, when you're down four touchdown with thirty second to play, well, you try a trick play. What could it hurt?
Others see things differently, kind of like when the end of the game will never come because they're replaying a loop of the last controversial penalty, breaking for commercials, then going back to the instant reply.
Matthew Yglesias captures that here -
But one suspects Yglesias an post this on May 20, 2007, and May 20, 2008, and May 20, 2009, and so on.
There was similar ennui from the NYU journalism professor and noted author Eric Alterman with this -
Ah, but the "everyday people" he is citing, the sixty percent who disapprove of the war (and by similar numbers disapprove of many other policies of the administration), are the "hang loose" personalities from the Berkeley study. There's that thirty-three percent in the latest polling who still trust daddy, or all three daddies in this case.
But things are taking an odd turn. It's March madness. Some of us old folks remember March 16, 1968. That's the date of the My Lai massacre (those younger might go here). Vietnam. Our guys wiping out a village of woman and children, for no good reason. Turned everything around. Upset a lot of people. All our fine talk about the rightness of what we were doing became a whole lot harder to advertise. The "moral high ground" was lost, as they say, particularly when only one Lieutenant took the rap on got some jail time. We said that closed the case. That was a hard sell.
In any event, in the big game you don't want one of your linemen making the bonehead play that ruins everything.
And if Abu Ghraib and some events at Guantánamo weren't enough now we have Haditha.
Well, it doesn't really count as March madness, as the event happened on 19 November last year. Marines this time. The Pentagon and Naval Criminal Investigative Service have opened an investigation (the Marines are traditionally part of the Navy). Time magazine covers it here - a raid where we captured a bad guy, but fifteen civilians, including six women and children, died. Was it civilians unfortunately in the way? The building just collapsed and that was that?
We say so. The local police say no. It may be that our guys lost one of there own and got angry and things spun out of control. A cameraman working for Reuters in Haditha at the time said bodies were left lying in the street for hours after the attack. One source here has the women and children handcuffed and shot in the head, execution-style. ABC News covers it here with video of the aftermath shot by an Iraqi journalism student, but who did what? That there is now a formal investigation is not a good sign. We've been forced to look into this. Abandoning the usual "sorry, fog of war" line is not a good sign. Ah, maybe it's nothing - things happened just as the guys said.
But that "moral high ground" is damned slippery.
Of course, the other side finds it slippery too, as in this item from Afghanistan, where the government is seeking to execute a fellow because, sixteen years ago, he converted to Christianity. That's a capital offense there (and my be in the new Iraq we created). But they may let him live. Their moral high ground? He has the right to convert back to Islam. As the judge there said - "We will invite him again because the religion of Islam is one of tolerance. We will ask him if he has changed his mind. If so we will forgive him." Why does that remind one of Pat Robertson and the Jews who he says are damned forever, but could, if they choose, convert to Christianity and not be?
Just how did the one group of kids from the Berkeley study come to rule the world?
But back to sports. Monday, March 20th the "daddy in chief" spoke in Cleveland. He assumed the role of coach, rallying the team - and sports dads are a pain.
It was the usual - we're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here, the oceans don't protect us anymore, we have an enemy that hides in cave and 9/11 changed everything, and his job is to make decisions and protect us.
How did it go? As the Washington Post reports here it may have been a mistake to make this an open forum after the speech. The audience was not pre-selected and coached, just selected to be generally friendly. The president said "glad to answer some questions." Bad move. They ran trough lunch. He got grumpy - "Anybody work here in this town?" And they missed the obvious punch line as "Think Progress" notes here - "Not as many as used to, sir." The unemployment rate there has increased twenty-nine percent in the last five years. But they were polite.
There was that embarrassing question - "Do you believe terrorism and the war in Iraq are signs of Armageddon?" He said he hadn't thought of it that way, the rambled on for ten minutes or more, dancing around the question. He never answered it. It was a tight spot. Say yes for the base and the moderates go ballistic. Say no and lose the base. It's hard work being president, as he said over and over in his debates with Kerry. Amusing. Who knows what he believes? Motivating a team is hard work too.
As for who is standing with him, the Cleveland Plain Dealer noted this -
His local team didn't even show up? Hard work indeed.
Maybe they know how things seem. Most believe there is a mess of our own making over in Iraq, and, as James Walcott here demonstrates with anecdote and evidence, that's just what it is.
And there is that censure thing the senator from Wisconsin, Russ Feingold, is pushing. Digby at Hullabaloo has a long post on that here. The concept of censuring the president for breaking the law, admitting it, and then saying he will continue to do so, spooked a lot of folks in his own party, and made the Republicans grin. The Democrats had blow it again. Then the polling showed almost half the country agreed it should be done, including a fifth of the Republicans surveyed. Oops. Maybe Feingold isn't a grandstanding madman.
As Digby puts it -
But, but, but... Daddy said it was just fine and legal as the day is long. It seems of the two nursery school groups the "hang loose" kids who grew up to think a bit are coming out of the shadows.
If you're a coach trying to rally the team, this is not good. They don't like last-minute rule changes. We have the rule book, if you want to think about the constitution that way. It means something else now? No fair. How can you play a game to win when the rules keep changing? If our daddy is coaching our team it gets hard to trust him when he does stuff like that.
And the team is demoralized, as Ron Beasley notes here, pointing to a columnist for The Independent (UK), Johann Hari, saying he trusted the daddy-coach-protector, but he grew up.
Hari says this (British spelling retained) -
But it couldn't a fine idea bungled? He gave up on that -
And he decided not to look a motivation, until he did -
Welcome to the other side of the nursery school playground. It's where you should have been in the first place.
Of course, the game is still in progress. We're told we must win. We need to define that, even if the daddy-coach-protector says it's not out business.
Pop up these items for additional thoughts.
That question to the president at the press conference in Cleveland - "Do you believe terrorism and the war in Iraq are signs of Armageddon?" - can be seen in a larger context. Read Alan Brinkley's review of the new hot book "American Theocracy," by Kevin Phillips. The review in the New York Times Review of Books is here -
And Kevin Phillips is the guy who wrote "The Emerging Republican Majority" and went to work for Nixon to make it so.
In the same issue there is a review of "Manliness," by Harvey C. Mansfield. That book, and the man, were discussed in these pages the same day here, but Walter Kirn opens with this -
Hey, he doesn't like the book. But Mansfield was in DC last week speaking to the right-wing think-tank. The whole matter looks to be a function of fairly fixed personality traits. No one is going to switch sides.