Monday, August 28, 2006

When attitude is more important that action

Matthew Yglesia is filling in for Joshua Marshall, who is out on vacation, at Talking Points Memo. He wrote a short piece today I think is worth reading and thinking about. I’ve reprinted the entire piece here:
I feel like I should say something about the Katrina anniversary, but I
honestly don't know what to say about it. Fortunately, DK had a bunch of good
Katrina-related content over the weekend. Sheryl Gay Stolberg's article on the
contrasting images of 9/11 Bush and Katrina Bush offers some food for

In particular, the centrality of 9/11 to Bush's political persona
has always struck me as under-analyzed. It's a strange thing primarily because
Bush didn't really do anything on 9/11 or its immediate aftermath. Terrorists
hijacked four planes and sought to crash them into buildings. They succeeded in
doing so with three of the planes. Thousands died. The physical destruction was
enormous. It was terrible. But it wasn't quite as bad as it could have been. The
passengers on one plane downed it before it could reach its target. Many people
were evacuated from the World Trade Center and their lives were saved. But none
of the good work that was done on that day -- and there was some good, heroic
work done -- was done by the president or had anything in particular to do with

Rather, the good vibes about 9/11 Bush all, in essence, relate to a
series of speeches he gave in the days following the event (his immediate
evening-of speech was poorly receieved). And I think they were good speeches.
The rubble/bullhorn event was a good event. The address to a joint session of
congress was great, too. But what does that all really amount to?

Not nothing. Providing inspirational rhetorical leadership in a
time of panic is legitimately part of the president's job. But it still doesn't
add up to very much. A speech is just a speech. It's not, moreover, like this
was a DeGaulle or Churchill type situation where the disaster struck and then a
new leader stepped forward to take the reigns of authority from those who had
failed and gave a speech to mark a new beginning. His popularity skyrocketed
because, having failed to foil a serious terrorist plot, he made a series of
pleasing remarks about the plot. And ever since that day, I think this dynamic
has been infecting our national strategy. The main goal, in essence, is to do
things that signify the adoption of an appropriate attitude toward hostile
elements in the world rather than to evaluate possible courses of action in
terms of their effects.

The debate on Iraq is just awash in this. The war gets discussed as
if it's a metaphor of some kind. A good opportunity to demonstrate resolve or
commitment, or else the lack thereof. A place where our stick-to-it-iveness will
show how strongly we feel that democracy is good. A shadow theater wherein we
send messages to al-Qaeda or Iran or what have you have. But, of course, Iraq is
a real place. The soldiers and civilians in that country are real people. They
shoot real bullets and detonate real explosives. And so the question has to be,
what, actually, is being achieved? What more might realistically be achieved?
What are the consequences -- not intentions, not desires, not hopes, but
consequences -- of our policies?

1 comment:

Bill Garnett said...

Matthew Yglesia has well spoken and has captured also my sense of this situation in which we find ourselves.

"You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time -- but you can't fool all the people all the time". Bush is in over his head and the country is suffering on account of his lack of leadership, priorities, inability to bring solutions successfully to our many and serious common national problems.