Saturday, September 15, 2007

Grand Unification Theory

"And tonight, our moral and strategic imperatives are one: We must help Iraq defeat those who threaten its future and also threaten ours."

For a long time now, a certain "grand unification" trope has marked the rhetoric of George W. Bush. In Thursday night's address to the nation, it was in full force. For the president, two things that may in fact have little in common—say, strategic imperatives and abstract morality—are the same—indeed, unified!

What? You think protecting the homeland from terrorist attacks and engaging in regime-change and a long-term occupation of a foreign power don’t seem to be compatible? It all makes sense once you understand that our cold, Machiavellian calculus leads us to what we always knew was true in our heart!

Much of grand unification can be accomplished by simply defining national interest and "strategic imperatives" in the fuzziest and hokiest manner possible. The United States, as nanny to the world, must support all those "young democracies" among which Iraq is the one we really care about. This feels good, but it says nothing about the consequences of invading and upturning a country, even less about the kind of policies a country will pursue once its demos is given the vote.

More Bushian logic: we need a "free" Iraq because this will inherently be "good for America." What, you say that a free Iraq might decide that its interests are not the same—perhaps even opposed—to America’s? --Basta with the pessimism! Don’t you understand that democracy and American interests are one!

That such rhetoric and logic dominated Bush’s speech is evidence of a certain Gersonian legacy amongst current White House speech-writers. Michael Gerson was the mind behind Bush’s Second Inaugural and coined (or really likes to claim to have coined) much that is quintessentially Bushian—"compassionate conservatism," "tyranny of low expectation," and some more one-liners so maudlin I can’t bear to reproduce them here.

Saint Michael might have left the White House in 2006; however, his rhetorical tropes have remained. Indeed, Gersonian rhetoric seems indestructible: no matter how bad Iraq gets, no matter how little support Bush musters among the public, few in the White House seem capable of thinking outside the Gersonian box of grand unification. The man who wrote "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one," and "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands" could have penned Thursday night’s speech. The same cadences, the same sentimentality as a substitute for logic, it’s all still there.

For all the talk of a new strategy, the same two or three half-formed ideas are still swirling around inside George Bush’s head.


Kyle R. Cupp said...

I have little doubt what Edmund Burke would think of President Bush's plan to remake the Middle East and his lofty abstract language in defense of that end.

rhatican said...

The flimsy thinking behind (what you appropriately spoof as) the "grand unification theory" as well as its attendant tinny rhetoric (e.g., "return on success" - Success?) are traceable, I do believe, to the same absence of a genuine "vision thing" that hamstrung Poppy's presidency. It's harder to discern in W's case, it expresses itself differently, because 43 came into office acutely aware of the criticism leveled at his father along these lines. The son has therefore tried ever since, desperately, to (over)compensate for what may amount to a genetic disorder. At heart both Bushes are thoroughly cynical, unserious men who secretly snicker - whether they are always fully conscious of it or not - at people who hold beliefs and have principles. They will claim allegiance to such persons when they think it advantageous politically ("Read my lips.") or otherwise (more on that in a second) - but that's as far as it goes. The bottom line is still the same: the Bushes don't really believe in anything.

What we are witnessing, in part, is what happens when a president clumsily - complete with the tear-filled, phony ardor of a poor method actor - pretends to have a vision. He came up with all this malarkey about "Democracy" after talking to Sharansky (upon, allegedly, reading the man's book). Someone with a real vision about such matters would have thought them through for many years prior to his inauguration, not come up with them on the fly in the middle of a crisis.

So, you may ask, if all this is true, why doesn't W emulate his father and jettison his expediently adopted, ersatz belief system (in Poppy's case, of course, the impulse manifested itself in raising taxes)? Why doesn't Shrub just pull out of Iraq now that the going has gotten tough?

And that's the Hell of of it all. 43

rhatican said...


And that's the Hell of it all. 43 is more interested in showing the critics of his father and the historians that he is different from the old man he is willing to pretend he deeply believes in something (even though he doesn't) to the bitter end. That's why he is so ridiculous, why his theory on Democracy doesn't hold water, why he doesn't make sense: He never really had a belief system in the first place. He is just, ever so cynically, putting on a show - exactly like his dad at the '88 Convention.