On February 17th, George W. Bush, President of the United States of America, said the follwing during a discussion on the war on terror:
I knew we’re at war when they attacked us. As a matter of fact, I was down here in Florida. It didn’t take long to figure out what was going on. And I vowed that day that I would not rest, so long as I was the President, in protecting the people. So a lot of my decision-making is based upon the attack. And I know we’re at war, see — I knew it then, and the enemy has, unfortunately, proved me right because they continue to attack. In order to win the war against the enemy you got to understand the nature of the enemy.
Where to begin? This sounds like the ravings of a madman. I remember 9-11, and it seemed to take the President quite a long time to figure out what was going on. What enemy? Who continues to attack? What is he talking about?
While it would be easy (and fun!) to marvel at such fundamentally unhinged talk, it does occur to me that there are deeper issues at work here, examination of which can give us clues to some Republican strengths, and how to defeat them.
Bush continued in that speech:
First of all, these people are cold-blooded killers, people who will kill the innocent in order to achieve a tactical objective and a strategic objective. They have no conscience. You can’t negotiate with these people. You cannot reason with them. You must bring them to justice.
Still no idea who “they” are. Not really a surprise, since Bush thinks the enemy is, well, whoever he thinks it is. But underneath the silliness lurks a distressing truth. Anyone who has read Chris Hedges’ excellent book, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, will remember the point he makes about victimhood. He describes how every side in a conflict seeks to position itself as the victim. That way, any actions they take can be justified because they were taken in self-defense. Bush is performing this maneuver by the book.
It is true we were attacked on 9-11. Bush transfers all the victimhood of that event into an incoherent set of ideas about some “they” who are out there, bloodthirsty and relentless, waiting to victimize us. Obviously, he intends this blanket to cover the Iraq War as well, even though, in that instance, no Iraqi involvement in 9-11 was ever demonstrated. By portraying the US as perpetually about to be victimized again, almost anything can be justified.
There was a creepier instance of this dynamic during the audience Q & A. As you know, audiences at Bush appearances are screened to ensure sympathy and applause, so softballs and compliments are not surprising. One question, though, did surprise me:
Q: We appreciate it. How do you — earlier you shared with us some intimacy about how you make decisions, and I felt that was heartfelt. How do you keep it together? What do you really think about when the biggest story this week was Dick Cheney’s hunting trip, and not Al Gore blasting our troops and being treasonous in his regard to this war on terror in the Middle East? (Applause.) How do you keep it together?
Don’t you see? The media is victimizing Republicans all the time! Imagine, covering a story about the current vice president possibly committing a crime, over a private citizen giving a speech on another continent! How dare they? If you don’t believe me, the President’s answer has a key phrase about the media’s victimization of Republicans:
So to answer your question — and I appreciate that — first, I’m wise enough not to fall into your trap because — (laughter) — there are some keen reporters paying attention to every word I’m saying. (Laughter.) But I really don’t let that bother me. I got my perspective, and I got my priorities. My faith is a priority. My family is a priority. And — (applause.)
Ha ha! Of course he can’t answer your question. There’s reporters listening. Never mind that reporters represent the people, and work to disseminate the information necessary to be an informed citizen. They’re bad, one assumes, because they might spread dissent, which is also bad, because if you don’t believe in the president, how will you know who the enemies are?
The very way that Bush’s operation sets up these appearances shows a paranoid sense of imminent victimhood. I mean, he’s supposed to be the President of all citizens, isn’t he? So why won’t he speak in front of them? Under the current system, you get ridiculous insanity like this:
Q: Thank you for being our President. We are all way better off and very safe —
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks. My high honor, by the way. (Applause.)
Well great! I’m glad they can fill a room with morons! This Republican party is starting to behave like a separate population, feeling victimized by the culture, the media, the government, until it justifies anything in retaliation. The fact that it is all made up does not matter. My friend and I were talking the other day about whether the Republicans would accept a Democrat President. We weren’t sure, and it dawned on me that I’m not sure how seriously the Republicans take their duty as citizens if the people they want are not in charge. Scary stuff.
We must break apart these invented structures of victimhood. The only way this will happen is by questioning the vague assertions that we are fighting a ruthless enemy, or that 9-11 changed everything. We must get rid of this stupid term, the War on Terror. And we must force the Republicans to reconcile with reality, or else we face a dark path.