Democracy is great in theory, but in practice The People are often wrong. And they’re pretty gullible, so it’s not unknown for them to be cheated. Then what?
Suppose you see the current situation as fraught with danger and the call as critical. In your opinion most of the decisions of the last couple of decades have been wrong, so wrong that they’ve led to the current problems. If someone doesn’t act soon to change that, we’re all in trouble. The People need someone to stand up and do the right thing, to help everyone realize the right approach. Of course most of them will criticize that person, but that’s symptomatic of the disease itself, which hopefully the right example, the right leadership, can modify. If only we could find someone with such strength…
And how would we recognize him or her? Partly, no doubt, by a willingness to separate from the herd and pursue the correct policy, prepared for the inevitable criticism. Strength under fire is vital for a real leader, and democracy needs leadership.
Or maybe not. Perhaps it’s the whole leadership thing that keeps getting us in trouble. Jerry’s thesis, belatedly adopted recently by others less acute — that Bush has been something of a psychological captive to his father issues — is, I think, quite accurate. Everyone knows both Bush and Cheney skipped the Vietnam war despite their vocal support for it. Today they appear to agree that the perception of strength is vital, but they don’t seem to care a whit for the real thing. In this way, their positions have been consistent: they view themselves as towers of strength despite the facts. A rickety position at best.
I think the Vice President has perfected the art of selective belief, also known as cherry-picking the intelligence. This is a thing Americans understand, uncomfortably, much like they understood Clinton’s famous ability to compartmentalize. He really did feel your pain. Then he really did walk into the next room and sign a bill that screwed you. He wasn’t faking either one of them. This has been an important skill for statesmen for a long time; for example, here’s Gibbon mitigating the accusations that Constantine “used the altars of the Church as a convenient footstool to the throne”:
In an age of religious fervour, the most artful statesmen are observed to feel some of the enthusiasm which they inspire; and the most orthodox saints assume the dangerous privilege of defending the cause of truth by the arms of deceit and falsehood. Personal interest is often the standard of our belief, as well as of our practice…
The President, however, seems to be living in a fantasy much like Ralph Wiggum’s dreams in “Lisa the Vegetarian”: he’s a Viking. He knows Machiavelli’s answer to the question — Is it better for a Prince to be loved or feared by his people? — but he misses the true meaning. Probably he read about Machiavelli, or more likely saw a TV documentary. I believe it was in James Bamford’s A Pretext for War that I read the intelligence briefer’s velvet diss of Bush as a multimodal learner. Apparently they kept having to make the daily brief shorter and shorter, and eventually there might have been some PowerPoint involved.
It seems to me now that the model of leadership employed by the Vice President, and therefore by the President, involves some feelings I can identify with:
For example, if Dick Cheney succeeds in his designs, the Middle East will be on fire, terrorism will haunt the farthest reaches of the globe, the US heartland will learn what the intelligence community means by “blowback”, and we’ll all be in big trouble.
At least, that’s how it seems to me. Of course, no one really cares how it seems to me because my power to change things is limited. But if I believed these things at the same time I occupied a position of significant power, I can’t imagine not being tempted to exercise that power to save the Republic, if that’s what I had convinced myself was at stake. Ideology is often a cover for self-interest, and all power corrupts.
In sum, it’s looking like we need someone to point us in the direction of The Path. Of what, after all, does leadership consist? For instance, does a statement like this qualify?
“I would never have expected any president, if we knew then what we know now, to come to ask for a vote. There would not have been a vote, and I certainly would not have voted for it.”
Only slightly better than “We were never ‘Stay the course’”.
It certainly seems that for different reasons Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush both need to rebel against the Common Wisdom.
The President, as Jerry has long maintained, is still struggling with his father issues. The Vice President, on the other hand, has adopted a world view that appears to draw strength from criticism. Which makes sense in a sort of Seinfeldian way, but is highly suboptimal as a foreign policy strategy.
As much as I agree with most of the article, I have to disagree with the last bit from Maureen Dowd:
You must have a real talent for derangement to stay wrong every step of the way, to remain in complete denial about Iraq’s civil war, to have a total misunderstanding of Arab culture, to be completely oblivious to the American mood and to be absolutely blind to how democracy works.
To my mind the Vice President is quite aware of how democracy works, and feels it his duty to subvert those workings. But she’s right to say
Mr. Cheney has turned his perversity into foreign policy.
He assumes that the more people think he’s crazy, the saner he must be. In Dr. No’s nutty world-view, anti-Americanism is a compliment. The proof that America is right is that everyone thinks it isn’t.
This is not bipartisanship, it’s bipolarity.