Page Two: Flip It and Reverse It

Bush abandons troublesome action for the sanctity of meaningless battles and ideological purity

Page Two

Given that this week we celebrated the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, this column was going to be another one focused on the Constitution and the American government. Unfortunately, last week I blew the lead on "Page Two" and actually didn't articulate the point of the column anywhere clearly within it. The subhead, composed by staff, reflects what the column actually says rather than what was intended: "A Prayer Too Far: By engaging in an impossible immigration debate, Bush has again betrayed his spiritual backers."

Actually, the point of the column was pretty much exactly the opposite of that. What I wrote in the first paragraph was insufficient; I should have gone on at greater length to more clearly make the point. I didn't remedy this oversight in the rest of the column.

What I should have written was something more along the lines of (bold parts are what I should have added):

"Listening to the current debate on illegal immigration makes it startlingly clear as to what a huge disservice, in actually invading Iraq, Bush has done to his core voters, the religious right wing of the Republican Party. He has missed, I'm afraid, their deep, spiritual religiosity and genuine disinterest in the material world. Political rhetoric is about purity of vision and prayer. The goal is to articulate a clear, morally correct, good-old-American-common-sense position, one that is untainted by possible consequence but clearly expresses major frustrations with the failures of government due to the influence and manipulative powers of those who have differing opinions (i.e., Democrats). The action is prayer – it is railing against the night and the coming of the dark. Actual action can only muddy the purity of the ideas and could even dent the passion and certainty of the convictions with which they are expressed.

I wanted to consider the current American politics in which words are better than actions and intentions are far more important than results. The holy act is the proclamation of insisted-upon, righteous, ideological convictions, both morally anchored and originated. Ideally, in respect of the blessed Limbaugh, all this should be delivered with a tone asserting moral and intellectual superiority, combined with an underlying scoffing that dismisses any other view as corrupted and just too ridiculous. These convictions can only be betrayed, trivialized, and/or muddied by anything as mundane as corrective responses, proactive considerations, or actual legislative actions.

The very messy, complex, and unpredictable real world should not be allowed to interfere with the pristine, spiritual one. Our world, by definition, is secular, corrupt, and inclined toward evil. Dipping holy thoughts into the polluted cesspool of mundane humanity is acquiescence to the spineless/liberal-left/communist, devil-worshipping Democrats' deluded, humanist yet dehumanizing, ideological epidemic. By invading Iraq, Bush actually followed through on what the right was insisting needed to be done and which they asserted would easily solve the problem. At the time, it seemed the holiest of crusades. But, as has happened since Eve first took a bite of the apple offered by the snake, knowledge has polluted idealism, reality betrayed ideology. Nothing about the actual invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, except ending the unarguable evil of Saddam Hussein's government, has come close to being as neat, predicable, easy, and effortless as the rhetoric was insisting it would be.

The argument was that, despite a dozen years of economic sanctions, Hussein was a military threat, a demented dictator ready and able to go to war and disrupt the uneasy, not-actual-peace of the Middle East. His regime was also a direct threat to this country, the argument continued – not just internationally, but in terms of terrorist actions within our borders: Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and he would not only use them but also supply them to terrorists and other enemies of the American people. Even if he didn't have them, he was still directly connected to the fundamentalist Muslim terrorists. Even if he wasn't connected and was not actually involved, then, at least spiritually, his government participated in 9/11. Finally, if nothing else, Hussein was an evil dictator who needed to be overthrown so democracy could be given to the Iraqi people.

Not surprisingly, most of these arguments still thrive. In denial of all evidence, true believers were thrilled by the victory – ignoring that this was the most powerful, massive, and technologically advanced national military in the history of the world, crushing a Third World, strutting, self-deluded, would-be-powerful psychopath's defense. Instrumental to the buildup was the claim that 12 years of economic sanctions had been toothless and ineffective. Ignored in the victory celebration was how well they had actually worked. Sure, Hussein and the core group made and kept hundreds of millions in the black market, but mostly this was diverted to building endlessly elaborate mosques and personal residences. The military defense was ill-equipped, unprepared, and lacking any air force.

The discussion over WMD and the al Qaeda/Iraq connections is still very much alive, with regular finds of caches of supporting documents discovered. They just have yet to be offered up by our government to mainstream focus.

Ignoring some of these realities, dismissing others, the right has charged gallantly ahead, gaining considerable ground. Not in Iraq, however; we are referring to ideological ground. In the course of U.S. history, the office of the president has rarely been so much more powerful than the other two branches of government. The assault against an independent judiciary, which is relatively constant from all political sides, has never been as overt, successful, and crippling. Much of the checks-and-balances system built into our government has been neutered. The very legitimacy of such a system is under question, with some of it dismantled and almost all of it threatened. The separation of church and state is being successfully challenged. The Bill of Rights is being systematically reconceived. "Conservatives" have cheered the president's assault on both individuals' and the press' rights and freedom (the very same actions extending the power and authority of his office). Who cares about Iraq?

Well, actually, many people. Oddly, after the invasion, the pro-war rhetoric did not just continue but, in terms of arrogant self-assurance, escalated. Long after it became obvious that all the reasons given for the invasion, as well as the ideas about what would happen afterward, were wrong, the defenders ranted on, unimpeded by reality or any sense of personal responsibility. Instead, positions became even more rigid and encompassing. Consciously and almost entirely, the evolving view of many Americans, as well as much the rest of the world, came to regard how ill-considered, politically motivated rather than knowledge-based, misguided, ideologically idealistic, narrowly focused, and stinking of a disconnected chauvinistic world view this misadventure was proving itself to be. The most dizzying heights of self-satisfied, self-righteous, thick-headed oblivion came a few years into the invasion, when, so certain of their superiority, the old we-could-have-won-in Vietnam arguments were removed from hiding, dusted off, and not only again championed but also applied to Iraq.

The Chronicle politics staff actively discourages me from listening to talk-hate radio. Under pressure, I abstained for a couple of months. The talk was all of the righteousness of Iraq, the redemption of Vietnam, and how the press and the left were distorting our success and morally restricting our military efforts in Iraq. When, six to eight weeks later, I turned the radio back on, the talk was all of illegal immigrants. It was pitched just as hysterically as the discussion over Iraq; the villains were even more easily identified: the politicians, liberals, Democrats – the mysterious forces of the soulless other who were incomprehensibly doing the devil's bidding as they deliberately tried to destroy this country.

Currently, we are witnessing the evolution of the right-wing Republican endgame strategy for Iraq. It has little to do with the actual disastrous consequences of the invasion and the enormous international and national impact. This is not to offer conspiracy theories. Rather, I think these kinds of wide-ranging political campaigns are more like avalanches. They start slowly, often with carefully crafted messages added to general feelings and easily distracted, mass political passions, until a momentum is reached that storms downward, picking up speed, sources, ideas, accusations – the flotsam and jetsam of political street dialogue – until it is a force unto itself and uncontrollable. Which doesn't argue that intentional specific targets, catch-phrases, and positions are not constantly being inserted into the rushing, irrational tidal wave.

Even this is not a nefarious conspiracy; I think it represents mostly true believers, convinced they are doing good against the evil or indifference of others. This is true regardless of labels that they attach to themselves or which are attached by others: liberals, conservatives, communists, racists, fundamentalists, atheists, environmentalists, pro-business advocates, Republicans, Democrats. It is true of those who believe the country is literally going to hell, as well as those who believe the problem is the former's aggressive legislative agenda to prevent that from happening.

The insistence that those who hold opinions different from yours are consciously doing evil is the cancer. The politics of blame, rather than those of action, are safer – if basically destructive rather than helpful.

I dislike the current Republican leadership and right-wing campaigns. But I don't think they are evil or demonically directed. I think they represent a very strange, and different from my own, world-view. Thinking someone is misinformed, maybe stupid, definitely wrong is not the same as thinking someone is a malevolent villain consciously destroying decency and deliberately doing evil.

So Bush, by actually following up the assured and reassuring, extreme rhetoric on Iraq with action, undercuts the faithful. By petty action, the divine was treated as the mundane. The sense of tackling overwhelming odds on a God-blessed and God-serving, righteous crusade against a broad array of consciously evil enemies at home and nonbelievers bent on destroying our civilization abroad, lost nobility, purity, and righteousness. Better to rant against illegal immigration, fume at the failure of the flag-burning constitutional amendment, and campaign against gay marriage! These are problems that are not really that important, to which solutions, when they exist, are fabulist, allowing the pure and indignant to slip the bounds of earthly limitations.

Now is not the time to be tagged by the mimetic and tripped up by the untidy but instead to accept the sanctity, moral superiority, and divine blessings of one's group and family. Let us pray, "Forgive me my own trespasses as I condemn those I even imagine to trespass against me. ..." end story

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

religious right, Iraq war, immigration reform, George W. Bush, Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Page Two, A Prayer Too Far, Saddam Hussein, 9 / 11, September 11, al Qaeda / Iraq connection, al Qaeda, Bill of Rights, Vietnam war, talk radio, hate radio, Republican leadership

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