Matt Welch

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September 11
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© 1986-2004


Commenters to Reason's Web site channelled my old 8th grade tormenter Kenny Hira, though far less effectively than he, calling me (surprise!) a "girlie-man," a "little baby," suggesting that I had my "arms wrapp[ed] around your knees, pissing in your little shorts," warning me to "figure out which side you are on," and so on. A half-dozen different people used some variation on the word "pussy."

Odd choices of words for people who are quick tell you that Democrats are not "adult" enough to be entrusted with foreign policy. But then, the Republicans worked hard all convention (and campaign season) to contrast Bush's iron resolve with that of European appeasers from 65 years ago, the almost non-existent Democratic opponents of the 2001 Afghanistan War, and by extension, John Kerry.

"George Bush wants to grab terrorists by the throat and not let them go to get a better grip," Miller said, squeezing his claws together to nail the visual. "From John Kerry, they get a 'yes-no-maybe' bowl of mush that can only encourage our enemies and confuse our friends."

Schwarzenegger seconded the motion: "[Bush] knows you don't reason with terrorists. You defeat them."

A great point -- especially if Kerry or anyone near him was talking about "reasoning" with terrorists, or offering them a fresh bowl of mush. His position is more "nuanced," and against that rhetorical wall of sternness and accusatory innuendo any nuance can seem like retreat.

But there was a real elephant in Madison Square Garden, and I'm not talking about the Republicans' mascot. The phrase "I'm tougher than you," while a winning sentiment on the playground, is not, on its own, sufficient to fight and win a complicated, multi-front war against a shadowy, stateless enemy. Bush's toughness, though repeatedly declared by Republicans, was not enough to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden and the senior leadership of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; it didn't prevent an unforeseen and deteriorating post-war situation in Iraq; it didn't forestall massive and costly intelligence screw-ups, and it hasn't reformed the venal House of Saud in any noticeable way. An argument can even be made that the Bush's abrasive self-assurance in global affairs has in fact increased the cost in treasure and lives to American interventionism abroad.

Certainly, framing the issue is important, and John Kerry has not yet convinced Americans that he has a strong and appropriate basic plan going forward in the war on terror. But facts matter, too, and as the pro-war commentator Andrew Sullivan wrote this week, "the gap between the president's rhetoric -- which could have been crafted a year ago -- and the reality on the ground keeps growing."

It almost feels whiny and weak (or as Zell Miller would say, being "against, against, against") to point these things out. When Rudy Giuliani tells me, in an uproariously sympathetic speech, that Bush's leadership will trigger a new flowering of democracy in the Middle East and a subsequent drop-off in terror, of course I want to believe him. Who wouldn't?

But instead of telling us just how that might happen, especially in light of the past three years' worth of disappointments, the Bush Administration is simply trying to cancel out John Kerry as an adult option; to the point of having Vice-President Dick Cheney scare people with talk about how "if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again, that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and that we'll fall back into the pre-9/11 mindset."

The intimation is clear: Girlie-men can't be trusted with war powers, and in fact don't truly understand the implications of what those 19 evil men did three years ago today.

This is where the logic of the Republicans' 8th-grade campaign finally begins to eat its own tail. For if half or more of us who went through that atrocious morning are being deemed, by our most powerful leaders, as too dumb to know what it meant, and too chicken to prevent it from happening again, the backlash could get personal. Some wounds are too deep to play politics with.

© 1986-2004; All rights reserved.

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© 1986-2004; All rights reserved.

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