Posted tagged ‘George W. Bush’

Ross Douthat Is Mature and You’re Not

March 16, 2010

New York Times right-wing Boy Wonder Ross Douthat has a sad because The Green Zone isn’t mature enough to handle the tragedy of George W. Bush:

Americans believe in evil, but we’re uncomfortable with tragedy. We accept that there are wicked people in the world, with malice in their hearts and a devil whispering in their ears. But the idea that many debacles flow from choices made by decent, well-intentioned human beings is more difficult for us to wrap our minds around.

Note the presumptive “we,” beloved of hacks from the beginning of time, and how from it one may assume the Wide Stance of the Expert, from which p.o.v. the writer is then able to issue further pronouncements about, uh, “us.”


This is apparent in our politics, where we’re swift to impute the worst of motives to anyone slightly to our left or right. It’s apparent in our popular culture, thick with white hats and black hats, superheroes and supervillains. But it’s most egregious where the two spheres intersect: in our political fictions, which are nearly always Manichaean, simplistic and naïve.

Never mind that all popular culture of every society pits superheroes against supervillains, or at least good guys vs. bad guys, because that’s what makes it “popular.” The punch line here is the word “naïve.” When right-wingers have nothing substantive to say, they play the Vice-Principal card and call you “immature.”

Such, we are told, is the new Paul Greengrass/Matt Damon action film The Green Zone, which, per Douthat, “refuses to stare real tragedy in the face, preferring the comforts of a ‘Bush lied, people died’ reductionism.”

And what does he mean by real tragedy? Is it the needless death of tens of thousands of children, women, babies, elders, and other non-combatants of a country that was no threat to the country that invaded it? Is it the forced exodus of a million people fleeing their homes? Is it the killing and maiming of U.S. soldiers in an action that, while ostensibly (or so we were told, by the decent, well-intentioned human beings who knew it wasn’t true) retaliating against a force that attacked us on 9-11, in fact attacked a country completely unconnected to that event? Is it how a population’s anger and fear were manipulated in order to support a military adventure it could not afford and did not need but was determined to promote regardless?

No. The very thought, Douthat suggests, is “naïve.” Here is how he describes the events of 2003:

The narrative of the Iraq invasion, properly told, resembles a story out of Shakespeare. You had a nation reeling from a terrorist attack and hungry for a response that would be righteous, bold and comprehensive. You had an inexperienced president trying to tackle a problem that his predecessors (one of them his own father) had left to fester since the first gulf war. You had a cause — the removal of a brutal dictator, and the spread of democracy to the Arab world — that inspired a swath of the liberal intelligentsia to play George Orwell and embrace the case for war. You had a casus belli — those weapons of mass destruction — that even many of the invasion’s opponents believed to be a real danger to world peace. And you had Saddam Hussein himself, the dictator in his labyrinth, apparently convinced that pretending to have W.M.D. was the best way to keep his grip on power.

Readers born after 2003, who today are at most six years old, may find this account plausible. The rest of us know better and can see it for the selectively incomplete, essentially false piece of historical revisionism that it is.

You had a nation that was hungry for a response, yes, and for whom the first part of that response, in Afghanistan, was thought to be adequate and well-chosen, but was abandoned by those decent, etc., people. Douthat forgets to mention it. You had, in his poignant phrase, “an inexperienced president” whose anti-intellectualism, spiteful insecurity, and provincial ignorance caused him to consciously ignore the knowledge of experts and their explicit warnings of this terrorist attack, and to focus, instead, on tax cuts for his patrons (in a time of “war”) and on vacations.

You had a defensible but non-urgent goal–the removal of Saddam Hussein, one of history’s monsters–as a pre-defined objective, to which all “fact gathering” and “deliberations” and “debates” were subordinated (and the selection of which owed much more to the vainglory of the president, and the egos of the Secretary of Defense and the Vice-President, than to any matters of national security).

You had a “casus belli” about which the president, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, and sundry other decent, well-intentioned human beings, knowingly lied, catastrophizing and sowing fear for no other reason than to advance this pre-determined agenda. “We know where the weapons of mass destruction are,” quoth Donald Rumsfeld. “They’re near Tikrit.”

And, to the extent that you had a liberal intelligentsia and a general population supporting the war, it was because they had been deceived into thinking it necessary for their own safety. “Surely,” people thought, “they wouldn’t lie about that. Surely they wouldn’t falsify and manipulate the facts over something as horrible and scarring and brutalizing to all concerned as going to war.”

But to Douthat, this is the “naïve” version of events. According to his version, these were decent people trying their hardest to do right. It is refuted and demolished by a ton of documentary evidence, but never mind.

Douthat cites an essay in Washington Monthly by Chris Lehmann in 2005 about political fiction:

From Mark Twain’s “Gilded Age” and Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men” to their more recent imitators, our novelists have never been terribly interested in the actual challenges of political life. Instead, Lehmann suggested, they usually cast the entire mess as “a great ethical contaminant and task their protagonists with escaping its many perils with both their lives and their moral compasses intact.”

As it happens, this is a pretty good description of the arc of “Green Zone.” But it’s a lousy recipe for real art, which is supposed to be interested in the humanity of all its subjects, not just the ones who didn’t work for Rumsfeld’s Department of Defense.

Setting aside the fact that the last thing I want to hear from a conservative columnist in The New York Times is his theory about “real art,” in fact Lehmann’s description strikes me as a pretty good recipe for real art. The proper domain of art–certainly of drama, even in a mainstream studio movie–is human subjectivity: the personality, its changes, its confrontation with the outside world. Confronting a protagonist with “a great ethical contaminant” is–talk about “tragedy”–a theme and a method that
goes back to the Greeks, if not to the earliest legends.

Douthat, young aspiring conservative that he is, cannot admit that the entire Iraq debacle was in fact a circus of ethical contamination, from the witting lies that sold it, to the Cavalcade of Amateurs sent to restore order after the fall of Saddam, to the cubic feet of cash lost, stolen, or squandered on the free-for-all that they oversaw. Some political stories do indeed deserve a nuanced dramatization in which no side has clean hands and everyone is ethically compromised. There may even be such stories to be found in the war in Iraq. But not among the Bush administration.

Finally, no column from the Times stable of right-wing pundits (Douthat, Brooks) would be complete without a bit of hypocritical, concern-troll hand-wringing over “our ongoing polarization.”

Our nation might be less divided, and our debates less poisonous, if more artists were capable of showing us the ironies, ambiguities and tragedies inherent in our politics — rather than comforting us with portraits of a world divided cleanly into good and evil.

What you mean “us,” right man?

Perhaps the youthful Douthat was himself born after 2003, and so wasn’t present during the dawn of our current age of poisonous partisanship, birthed by Richard Nixon (or do I mean Joseph McCarthy?), nurtured by Lee Atwater, and thriving even unto our present time under the ministry of Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes, Ann Coulter, Fox News, Jim DeMint, Glenn Beck, Michelle Bachmann, and all the other professional liars, foaming demagogues, and clinically insane loons for whom Ross Douthat has such redeeming sympathy.

From the current disinformation campaign of Dick Cheney, to the pants-on-fire mendacity of Karl Rove’s new memoir, to the sad laments of Douthat and David Brooks and every other wingnut pundit whose paycheck depends on defending the indefensible, this is their current project: re-define the past, absolve the guilty of crimes, whitewash the lies, and profess respect for the tragedy of how decent, well-meaning people understandably made some mistakes.

They will never stop. And why should they? What else do they have to do?


Still Cracked: Kristol

January 19, 2009

COWARDLY LION: What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the ‘ape’ in apricot? Whatta they all got that I ain’t got?


C. L.: Ya can say that again…

Poor us! We’re just about to bid a fond good riddance to George W. Bush and we believed, in our simple hearts, that William “I’m Wrong About Everything” Kristol would have the decency, or be compelled, to exit the op-ed acreage of the New York Times. But now look! He’s still at it.

At least a/o today, Mon., 1/19/09. Because there he goes again, combining as only he can the pseudo-sympathy of the concern troll, the selective vision of the knee-jerk partisan, the wingnut welfare recipient’s dutiful endorsement of monsters, and the wrong-about-everything wrongness, about everything, of Bill “Yes, Wrong. About Everything” Kristol.

Thus, about the near-departed, this:

…I don’t think keeping us safe has been Bush’s most impressive achievement. That was winning the war in Iraq, and in particular, his refusal to accept defeat when so many counseled him to do so in late 2006. His ordering the surge of troops to Iraq in January 2007 was an act of personal courage and of presidential leadership.

Bill Kristol may be the only remaining human on earth, counting Laura, who believes George W. Bush capable of “personal courage.” As even the Cowardly Lion knew, courage consists of the ability to do something you don’t want to do, at some risk of harm to yourself, or your loved ones, or your football team, or at least somebody or something you care about. Bush, whose every public action up to and during his presidency has consisted of not-displaying courage, similarly did not display it in promoting “the surge.”

What did Bush have to lose? The “political capital” he claimed was his after the election of 2004? His various fantasies (“Reforming Social Security–Now Not As Social And With Less Security”) had been repudiated in 2005. The loss by Republicans of their majority in Congress after the election of 2006 had further devalued that (minimal, largely imaginary) nest egg of influence. By the time of the surge in January of 2007, no one could speak of Bush’s political capital with a straight face, and almost no one except B. “I.W.A.E.” K. wanted to.

His “popularity”? Please. Bush, the structural integrity of whose personality depends on ignoring the outside world, has never had any problem converting the raw ore of others’ disdain, however merited, into the refined gold of self-aggrandizing martyrdom. Being unpopular proves he’s right. After all, those who disagree with him are “the elite.” He–born rich, son of a president and grandson of a Senator, private school, Yale, Harvard, “ranch,” etc.–is a cowboy who lives by his “gut.”

You saw it in his final press conference. The over-burdened military, the botched action in Afghanistan (the Taliban resurgent, relations with Pakistan a mess, Bin Laden still releasing product), Israeli-Palestinian relations as poisoned as ever, the economy in ruins, plus New Orleans still a national disgrace, the obscenely expensive and bungled “liberation” of Iraq, the widespread corruption of K Street, torture and Gitmo and that whole nightmare, and national debts and deficits requiring mainframes to calculate: these are “setbacks” that happened to him. And yet–cocky, smug, and blind to every reality outside his ever-simmering resentments–he has the gall to assure us that, when all is said and done, the “burdens” of the office are “overrated.”

Well, they are if you ignore them, yes.

Kristol tells us, in hushed tones, that Bush (“a man who normally keeps to schedule”) recently spent, not the allotted two hours, but over four hours with the families of the fallen, offering consolation. I’m sure he did, and that he loved every second of it–not because he enjoys seeing others suffer (although he does, if they’re the right others), but because temporarily adopting the avatar of the Deeply Moved Commander is part of his Live Action Role-Playing Game of Wartime President, and nothing moves him as deeply as when, being deeply moved by others, he finds himself deeply moved.

God forbid that, rather than sympathize with widows and bereft parents (after concealing every reality of what killed their husbands and sons from the public eye, prosecuting the war that killed them on the cheap, and dummying up the pretext for the horror that brought this all about), he should have looked past his grandiose, quasi-religious ambitions and Dad-besting fantasies, and not bothered foisting upon us this unnecessary catastrophe in the first place.

What Bush showed in the surge was not personal courage. It was stubbornness. And it was perfectly in character. It was the obstinacy of the proudly self-ignorant aristocrat who knows that Daddy will bail out his business failures, Mommy will yell at him but not require that he grow up, and the world–his world, consisting of his kind of people and their courtiers and sycophants–will always paper over his most egregious failures with a gentleman’s C, regardless of whoever else is killed, maimed, left homeless or terrified, bankrupted, imprisoned, or tortured.

Why shouldn’t Bill “I Am In Error Regarding All Phenomena” Kristol find that praiseworthy? He’s Bill Kristol, and he’s wrong about everything.