May 24, 2004
Rats and Men
by P.M. Carpenter
For some time, right-wing commentators have been watching troubled waters slop over the gunwale of our foundering ship of state. They are finally deserting. Their collective retreat to safety and sanity began like all nervous stampedes: just a few scurrying tails, rapidly swelling to a me-too swarm.
The Iraq Mess was the last-straw cause of the abandonment effect. The left, of course, was stricken with fear and loathing immediately upon George W. Bush’s stumble into national politics (we didn’t much care as long as he kept his crosshairs fixed on the backward outback of Texas), but we’re more perspicacious than the right, so, so much for that.
The Weekly Standard’s Robert Kagan seems to have triggered the stampede in early May when he wrote in disgust that "all but the most blindly devoted Bush supporters can see that Bush administration officials have no clue about what to do in Iraq." Shortly thereafter the Washington Post’s George Will chimed in agreement by writing the dazzlingly obvious: "This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts."
Once neoconservative Kagan and paleo-Burkean Will unleashed the war-wearied hounds, it was safe for "all but the most blindly devoted" to speak out on most every topic. Thus spake the other Zarathustras. From conservative think tankers to conservative economists to conservative and libertarian wonks came a critical deluge.
"There doesn’t seem to be a clear policy vision," said one. Policy proposals are politically driven and rammed through the professional bureaucratic apparatus "not for analysis, but for sale," said another.
One prominent right-wing institute sponsored a boldly titled forum, "The Triumph of the Hacks," and even right-wing broadcasters are, at last, excoriating on air. "There’s a lot of [executive-branch] mistakes that are now killing American soldiers," declared FOX’s Bill O’Reilly; "this false deadline" for Iraqi sovereignty "in time for a presidential election is no way to win a war," squealed MSNBC’s usually steely Joe Scarborough.
Another conservative of think-tank consequence mused anonymously that the Bush administration is suffering from an "exhaustion of power," concluding that in the last few months "ideology has confronted reality, and ideology has bent."
However wrong this particular think-tanker is in chronology and conclusions -- that the power-exhaustion was recent and that ideology has done the bending -- at least he hit on the analytical core of it all: the collision between the administration’s ideology and world reality.
Yet BushThink has always been less of an ideology and more the stuff that adolescent fantasy is made of. A collision, yes, but no rupture between it and reality ever took place; its detached pathology has been a rare constant. From day one the administration’s foreign and domestic policies -- without exception -- have been tailored to fit the administration and -- without exception -- not the needs of the national family.
Characteristic of the yet-developed reptilian brain of immature teenagers, the White House is conspicuous in its brooding, sulking, distrust, secrecy, and hostility to outside opinion. The world is all wrong and it is all right. No one understands the Bushie Babes, the Bushie Babes believe, so they slink and slither in the night and whisper amongst themselves behind closed doors.
As ideologies go, to mature minds it’s a mystifying one, just as immature teenagers are mystifying to the mature.
The Bushies’ only qualifying strain of ideology is the pursuit and exercise of unlimited power for power’s sake, and they’ve bent this principle by not so much as one degree. Theirs is a mindset of mindless direction and autocratic aim: flex every muscle and crush the opposition, merely because they think they can.
The singular goal is power, but how much is enough?
"More," opined Key Largo’s good-guy Humphrey Bogart to Edward G. Robinson as gangster Johnny Rocco -- whereupon Rocco happily grasps his futile ambition: "Yeah, that's what I want. More."
John Huston’s 1948 film was an allegoric commentary on the era’s rising tide of right-wing power mongering. The film can be rewatched in contemporary terms -- and with contemporary unease.
Still, watching today’s deserting rats somewhat alleviates the pain. Should he indeed "stay the course," Bush’s ship of state may be virtually abandoned by November.
otherwise noted, all original