Only a week now until the day 50 or 60 million people will vote to grant George W. Bush "four more years" so that he can finish the job of driving the country and the world into an abyss. I still don't get it. Maybe I'm just wired wrong. Maybe it's not an advantage to have an entirely functional frontal lobe. I guess that's my problem: I think too much. Maybe if I just stopped thinking, I could understand George Bush and the millions who will vote for him.
This dangerous proclivity for cognitive reasoning was made painfully obvious to me after a recent conversation that I made the mistake of starting while perched upon a bar-stool at McCabe's, our friendly neighborhood pub (I think I've mentioned before that we don't live anywhere near McCabe's, but it is in a nice neighborhood...).
Last Thursday, as the Cardinals were putting away the Astros in the final game of the NLCS a woman took a seat to my left and placed a take-out order with Ken, the bartender. While ordering, she made a comment to Ken about the election, but cut off any further discussion by saying "let's not go there." I took that to mean that she and the bartender -- who I knew had already early-voted for John Kerry -- were on opposite sides of the political fence, but I wasn't sure.
A few moments later, the patron seated on my right lit up another cigarette -- probably his third in the 15 minutes I'd been seated next to him -- but had the courtesy to ask if the smoke was bothering me. It was, but it was my choice to come into a bar where people smoke, so I didn't think I was within my rights to tell him to put out his cigarette (we liberal-types, we are accommodating to a fault, aren't we?).
After a few more minutes of choking on this guy's fumes, I decided to move over one seat -- which put me next to the woman who was now drinking a glass of white wine and waiting for her take-out order. Being curious, but not wanting to start anything, I just asked her "Bush or Kerry?" and when she said "Bush," I started to wonder if the guy trying to kill me with his cigarette smoke wouldn't be a more suitable companion for rest the evening.
I guess my mistake was sitting there fulminating. Not wanting to start an argument, I steamed inside instead.
Why? Why would anybody vote for this guy? Can't you see that Bush and Vice President Strangelove ("make the wrong choice and your children will die...") are formenting a culture of fear among the populace? Can't you see this is how the Nazis got rooted in Germany in the 1930s? Who says 'it can't happen here?' Can't you see that their reliance on "faith" and a direct line to God violate every secular principal this Republic stands for? Can't you see that they have turned America's shining beacon of liberty into a dim, flickering neon bulb?
These are the sorts of questions that were simmering inside my over-active frontal lobe as I watched Roger Clemens struggle through the fifth inning. I've been following Clemens' career since I predicted in the spring of 1986 that he would face Dwight Gooden (anybody besides me remember him?) in that year's World Series. But this night The Rocket was running out of fuel, and his manager left him in one inning too long.
That's exactly what We The People will do if we re-undefeat (I just cannot bring myself to say "re-elect") George W. Bush. Except an election is not a baseball game. We don't get to go back out to the mound after another few months or a year and call for a replacement from the bull-pen. Four years is four years, and as Frank Rich points out in a recent New York Times, unlike during the Nixon years, this time there is no Democrat majority in either house of Congress to instigate an impeachment once the full extent of Bush's malfeasance becomes clear.
Those are the thoughts that were flashing through my mind, while I tried instead to concentrate on the ball game. But when the take out order was finally delivered, when my neighbor at the bar had paid her tab and was down to her last few sips of wine, I could hold back no longer. I just had to ask,
If only I coulda kept my mouth shot for another 30 or 60 seconds... but noooo.....
"I'm a moderate Republican," she started, as if to dispel the notion that she actually adheres to any of Bush's less savory policies, as if professing her own moderation would somehow absolve her from the sin of voting for this pseudo-conservative cabal.
Then she explained, "I think it sends the wrong signal to our allies and our enemies to change leadership in the midst of a critical time for our country and the world."
"So, let me understand," I replied "you think it's more important to keep the leadership we've got even if that leadership has proven to be misguided?"
"I think it's important that we present a consistent message to our allies and our enemies," she said, adding "and the President has been decisive."
There it was: The D-Word. "The President is decisive." Yessirree, there's no questioning that. The man certainly makes decisions. So I asked, "does it not also matter that the president make the right decisions?"
I thought I was asking a reasonable enough question, but apparently there was something provocative in my tone of voice, some steam that must have gotten out from the prior long minutes of quietly fuming. I don't think it was what I said, but apparently the way I said it that must have revealed my pent-up, confusion, frustration -- and yes, my fear -- that John Kerry will not carry the day on November 2nd.
I must have asked the question in a way that carried the hidden subtext: "how can you be so fucking stupid??" because the next thing I know, this woman is absolutely firing on me.
In an angry and dismissive tone, she accused me of demonstrating "the condescension of intellectual arrogance." Those were her exact words. I think she meant that I was accusing Bush -- and by extension, anybody who votes for him, including her -- of being stupid.
Mind you, I hadn't actually said that, but I guess there was something embodied in my tone of voice that implied that. That, or maybe she'd seen the bumper sticker on the back of my car: "M - The Moron." Otherwise, I can't imagine where she got that idea....
Actually, the really frightening thing was, she was right. I am intellectually condescending. I do think Bush is stupid. And I cannot comprehend how anybody would vote for a guy whose policies are clearly -- to me, anyway -- so ill-conceived and poorly executed.
However, I can see how it's easy to buy into Bush's rhetoric. I think he tugs on all the right heart-strings when he says that we ultimately have less to fear from prosperous, constitutional democracies than we do from oppressive, impoverished, theocratic regimes. But if "freedom is on the march," then how come so many people are running from its onslaught?
Maybe because I am a liberal (and, unlike a lot of my brethren, I'm not afraid to use that time-honored word...), and by definition filled with some measure of self-doubt (translation: guilt?), that I reeled from the accusation of "intellectual arrogance." Hell, I've been accused of being arrogant all my life, but this was the first time I'd ever been accused of intellectual arrogance. And I don't think she was complimenting me by calling me an "intellectual," either.
Actually, this was not the first time I'd enountered a similar concept. In that instant, I recalled a warning from Bob, an ostensibly Republican friend who has told me he's voting for Kerry this time around. When I was writing about "How To Talk To A Republican," Bob cautioned me: "When I encounter people who profess to be liberal-minded Democrats, who approach me with a "you must be crazy" mindset, I find it a turnoff - particularly because, by definition, a liberal should be open-minded & willing to accept other people's differences of opinion."
Well, here I had just done exactly what Bob had warned me about, and here was this woman -- by this time I'd finally determined that her name was Beth -- calling me on it.
The next thing I know, I'm apologizing for my "intellectual arrogance," and Beth has gathered up her take out order and disappeared into the night. End of conversation, and another Bush vote unconverted. I sat at the bar, fuming and festering as Roger Clemens gave up the go-ahead (and ultimately winning) runs to the Cardinals. As Roger was failing, so had I. And then it suddenly struck me:
I'd been Bushwacked!
Beth never did get around to explaining to me why Bush's policies are the right approach for America and the world. She never had to defend the invasion Iraq, the depletion of the treasury, the abuses at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, the sky-rocketing price of oil, the anemic economic recovery, or any of Bush's other failed policies. All she had to do was accuse me of "condescending intellectual arrogance," and the conversation was over. Touche' Fini. Another one bites the dust.
That's when I realized all over again how frighteningly brilliant the Bush campaign has been, what a weird, distorted world we're living in. It has managed to instill a complete disconnect between "being decisive" and the actual quality of the decisions that are being made. And, like lemmings to the cliff, people are buying it by the multitude.
People! We have got to look past the words and consider the deeds. You don't win a "war on terror" by making "hard decisions," you win by making the right decisions! It's not enough to be resolute, you also have to be smart!
Bush said we needed to disarm Saddam Hussein, and then it turned out he'd been disarmed for more than a decade. Then Bush said we'd gone into liberate the people of Iraq from their oppressors - and then we took over Abu Ghraib and became their oppressors! Now all he has left is "the world is better off without Saddam Hussein" a shibboleth that puts anybody who challenges the contention in the uncomfortable position of sounding like they think Hitler would have made a great drinking buddy.
This "decisiveness" -v- "the decisions" argument reminds me of a story I heard years ago about a yacht racer. Racing yachts, despite their enormous cost, never really go very fast. 25 knots -- about 28 mph -- is fast even for a big sail boat. Once upon a time, some big fast boat was picking up speed as it surfed down the face of a big wave, the wind billowing its spinnakers. Somebody in the crew calls out, "Captain, we're off course!" The captain looks down at his compass and nods, and then looks at his knotmeter and yells back, "Never mind our course... look how FAST we're going!!"
I can't help but thinking that everybody who votes for George Bush has got a streak of that skipper somewhere in their soul. "Bush is decisive," they say to themselves, "he stands up to the terrorists." Never mind that his decisions are debatable at best, and that Iraq has turned into a terrorist recruiting center. "It sends the wrong signal to our allies and our enemies to change horses," they say. Never mind that this horse is already under water and drowning fast. The minute you imply that Bush has made big mistakes, you are guilty of "condescending intellectual arrogance," and that's the end of the discussion.
But I'm not alone here, folks. You don't have to ascribe to Maureen Dowd's form of couch-side Bush-bashing to come to these conclusions, or Paul Krugman or Bob Herbert's diatribes to grasp the disconnect between Bush and Reality.
If you want to understand the impact of Bush's policies on his own self-proclaimed "War on Terror," then read Seymour Hersh or Bob Woodward or Richard Clarke or James Bamford and see that this war in Iraq is possibly the most collossal foreign policy blunder in the history of our Republic, and the only blunder that could possibly be greater would be to re-instate the team that is responsible for it.
Or listen to listen to this NPR report about the impact Bush's policies have had in the Middle East: How is it possible that 18 months after Saddam's statue was toppled in Baghdad, "anti-American anger in the Arab world is at an all-time high" ?
When you read or listen to books and stories like this, you begin to realize that the most disturbing thing is that Bush's "decisiveness" has begun to erode and discredit the world's fundamental idea of what "democracy" is. "There was a time when young Arabs looked to America as a symbol of hope," the narrator says. Now, "opinion polls show this generation no longer sees the United States as the model for a better life."
One advocate of political reform in the region goes so far as to say that he has "erased the word 'democracy'" from his political vocabulary because it has become perceived as a rhetorical trojan horse for American imperialism and our lifestyle of consumption. Welcome to your new democracy, Mr. Muslim. You are now in control of your own destiny now. So, what will it be? A Whopper or a Big Mac? Coke or Pepsi? Paper or Plastic?
That's what Bush's policies have accomplished: he has so bungled this "war on terror" and the invasion of Iraq that he has made the word "democracy" an anathema in the Middle East and perhaps beyond. If ever there has been a "high crime and misdemeanor," this is it.
Unfortunately, it is now "intellectual arrogance" to ask the obvious questions, and so the questions remain: is George W. Bush making the right decisions? And when I see people fail to make that leap of logic, failing to consider the long-term implications of Bush's policies, then, yeah, I fall into the condescending trap of my poorly suppressed intellectual arrogance.
It occurs to me, upon further reflection on my bar-stool debacle, that there is a deeper issue here: somehow, in the last 20 years -- and especially since the Newt Gingrich era -- we have lost the ability to talk to each other. That's what I lament about that exchange at the bar -- not that I couldn't convert a Bush voter, but that my communication skills are so deficient that I couldn't even get past the "your guy is stupid" lead-in to the conversation.
As Jon Stewart tried to explain to the guys on CNN's Crossfire -- and as I discovered on that barstool the other night -- political discourse in America now consists of one guy calling another guy stupid followed by 30 minutes or an hour of incomprehensible shouting.
So if Bush wins, I have nobody to blame but myself. Despite chiming in on a regular basis in these "Weekly Screeds," it's my fault that this woman and millions like her are going to vote for Bush. I've spent too much time preaching to my choir and not enough learning how to communicate with the heathen, unconverted multitudes -- and it is our souls that are lost.
The sad truth may be that these people are voting for George Bush just because we think he's stupid. And the punishment for our crimes of intellectual arrogance? Four more years in the purgatory of George Bush's America -- assuming the world actually survives another four years.
Ooops. There I go again.
But if the Red Sox -- a team from Boston -- can pull of a last minute upset, then maybe that's a sign of things to come. Maybe John Kerry -- a senator from Boston -- can likewise pull off a list minute miracle.
Anyway, that's my condescending, intellectually arrogrant opinion, and it should be yours, too.