The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, March 14, 2003  

I'd Say Stop the Bleeding, But It's Too Much Fun to Watch

I've subscribed to the New York Observer for several years and usually have found it a refreshing, informative, and entertaining read. However, I no longer live in New York, and, as such, the weekly paper's appeal for me had waned. My subscription will expire before too long and I recently decided not to renew.

What a difference a day, or in this case, a week, makes.

The Observer's editors came out swinging, punches flying, and shooting darts in the latest edition (March 17), with a front-page editorial, "Smug President Has Painted U.S. Into a Corner." In it the editors pummel President George W. Bush mercilessly, using the kind of language we should have been hearing for almost a year now from the rest of the American media. The editorial is written with the acid-tongue contempt and intellectualy disdain, much deserved, of course, that has become almost the exclusive province of bloggers and the real liberal media (including The Nation, In These Times, and The Progressive). It is a welcome change of pace, and long overdue.

The editorial bears quoting at some length, but should be read in its entirety:

As the nation slouches toward war, the sentries of our democracy are whirling asunder and threatening to dismember their nation. On one hand, a callow and blustering President has assured us that his goal is right by confusing the despot in Iraq and the atrocities of 9/11. On the other hand, those political leaders who oppose going to war have failed through a shockingly craven silence that seems strange and almost calculated; never have opponents of a war seemed so lame and dumbstruck, almost as though they were watching an engineer drive a locomotive right into the side of a building.

Many politicians in their hearts, and at their dinner tables, call the war a folly, a potential disaster; their courage on the street is nil. "This chamber is hauntingly silent," Senator Robert Byrd told the Senate last month. "We are sleepwalking through history."

Meanwhile, the playing field is controlled by a blustering, bullying President who -- though truly committed -- seems to have regressed to his Yale persona of male cheerleader at a grim pep rally, exhorting through fear and intimidation. As he said last week, "We don’t need anyone’s permission."

The callow, smug, inarticulate man who was the lead player in a farce called "White House News Conference" gave us no new reasons to go to war, no sense of the dangers involved and no confidence in his leadership. The television appearance itself -- more a blustering tape loop than exchange with the press -- could only be called a national disgrace; President George W. Bush’s performance in front of a docile collection of game-show hosts posing as reporters ought to frighten all of us. We live in terrible times, dangerous times, and all this man can do is mouth platitudes and assertions put on his podium cards by his war-crazed handlers. Eight times he interchanged the war on Iraq with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and eight times he was unchallenged.

Amazingly, in the immediate aftermath of the President’s disgraceful performance, news outlets described him as "solemn" and "determined." These pieces must have been put together before the President actually spoke, because there was nothing solemn or determined about him; "clueless" and "lost" would have been closer.

It is astonishing that this mediocre President apparently has cowed the alleged opposition party, the Democrats, into reticence, as the elected officials who usually rush for the mascara for Sunday-morning talk shows have been hiding under Washington toadstools….

Somehow, the Bush administration’s cowboys have done the unthinkable. They have alienated friends, ruined international relationships, squandered the good will and sympathy that the Sept. 11 atrocities inspired, and turned America into a global villain. All of this, while Saddam Hussein smiles and watches the world turn in his favor, inheriting the gusts of international opinion that Mr. Bush has mind-bogglingly forfeited. Rarely in modern times has such a blundering swap taken place….

Thanks to the President and his hubristic crew of ideologues, America and Europe are not united, as they should be, in the face of global Islamic militancy. Instead, many people talk about the end of America’s strategic alliance with Western Europe. Instead of France and Germany, some say, we will simply align ourselves with the post-Communist states of Eastern Europe -- like, say, Bulgaria.

Osama bin Laden did not create this sad state of affairs. George W. Bush did.

Rarely in the face of war has the leadership in this country -- both the executive and the opposition -- served it so badly….

These are hyperbolic and misinformed times. So it was hardly surprising to hear a television commentator report, just before the President’s press conference, that Mr. Bush was not expected to use the opportunity to declare war on Iraq. It did not occur to the reporter -- any more than it has to Mr. Bush and his bunch of crusaders -- that no President has ever declared war, because no President has ever had that power. Congress declares war; it’s in the Constitution….Why? The Founders understood that the power to declare war was so awesome and so serious that it should not be one person’s decision. The test of this nation at this moment may not be creating democracy in Iraq; it may be in reacquainting the American people and their institutions and President with the glory and responsibility of American democracy itself.

That's some mighty strong language, and it's about time we started hearing it. I'd say stop the bleeding, but the entire exercise is just too much fun -- and yet all too sad as well -- to watch. Needless to say, I will eagerly renew my subscription to the Observer, and I will be equally pleased to start giving subscriptions to others as gifts.

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