Posted on Wednesday, September 26, 2007
“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” —H. L. Mencken, 1920
One of democracy’s unwritten rules, observed almost as assiduously by pundits as politicians, is that one must always flatter the people. So it’s mandatory in examining the ludicrous flapdoodle surrounding MoveOn. org’s juvenile insult to Gen. David
Petraeus to say that, unlike TV commentators, the American public didn’t fall hard for a general in dress uniform. (Incidentally, when did military haberdashers start dressing soldiers like South American generalissimos? I don’t recall Gen. Dwight Eisenhower decorated like a Christmas tree.) Indeed, the most remarkable thing about Petraeus’ appearance was how few minds it changed. According to a USA Today/Gallup poll, the percentage of Americans who say it was a mistake to invade
Iraq went from 54 to 58 percent after his testimony. A strong majority now favors withdrawal from that tortured country ASAP. They do disagree about the meaning of “soon,” with most people thinking months rather than years. Petraeus appears to have bought President Bush some time inside the Washington Beltway, outside it little or none.
What the MoveOn. org controversy really showed, however, is that when push comes to shove, most professional pundits and politicians act as if the wise and sovereign American public were as easily bamboozled as a herd of goats. That’s because many are. The invincible ignorance and gullibility of millions of voters has become the Great Unmentionable of American politics.
Anyway, here’s a brief summary: On the day of Petraeus’ congressional testimony, MoveOn. org, an organization of online liberal activists, took out a full page ad in The New York Times childishly headlined, “General Petraeus or General Betray Us ?”
How you know it’s stupid is that MoveOn. org stole it directly from radio blow hard Rush Limbaugh. He’s used it to describe Sen. Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska Republican, Vietnam combat veteran and Iraq war critic. Asked about being called “Sen. Betrayus” on ABC’s “This Week,” Hagel blew it off.
“Rush has to make a living,” he said. “And he has a right to say whatever he wants.”
Limbaugh routinely calls Sen. Barack Obama “Osama,” Sen. Hillary Clinton “Hitlery” and former Sen. John Edwards “the Breck Girl.” He’s a real laugh riot.
The text of the MoveOn. org ad questioned Petraeus’ creative way with statistics. Many of his optimistic numbers are disputed by intelligence agencies as the result of Enron-style bookkeeping.
“If a bullet went through the back of the head, it’s sectarian,” one intelligence official told The Washington Post. “If it went through the front, it’s criminal.”
But the White House prefers to discuss symbols, not substance, so to close last week’s news conference, Bush fielded a softball question about the MoveOn. org ad.
“I thought that the ad was disgusting,” he said. “I felt like the ad was an attack, not only on General Petraeus, but on the U.S. military.... [M] ost Democrats are [more] afraid of irritating a left-wing group like MoveOn. org... than they are of irritating the United States military.”
On cue, Washington courtiers pressed scented hankies to their nostrils and swooned like Scarlett O’Hara. Oh, the incivility! Never mind the nine American soldiers who died the day of Patraeus’ testimony, the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis or that Petraeus’ brilliant new strategy consists mainly of arming rival Sunni and Shiite militias for the civil war certain to sink to greater depths of barbarity after Americans leave.
Know how many people live in Anbar province, where all this vaunted progress allegedly has taken place? Five percent of Iraq’s population. It’s like pacifying Utah while New York and LA are in flames.
But hey, let’s talk manners and symbolism instead. Because although Abraham Lincoln never actually said it, you can, in fact, fool some of the people damn near all of the time. To America’s influential moron-American community, Petraeus equals the military, which equals the flag, which equals the United States of America. Meanwhile, Republicans, emphatically including Bush, who had no problem with a GOP attack ad portraying Sen. Max Cleland, who lost two legs and an arm in Vietnam, as a supporter of Osama bin Laden, pretended outrage at the MoveOn. org ad.
Because there’s no crybaby like a Republican crybaby, a Senate resolution was quickly written and passed. Knowing their constituents, 22 Democrats voted for it, inflaming many on the left who accused them of cowardice. Everybody needs to calm down. These media epiphenomena have the life span of fruit flies. The real cowards, and the likeliest losers, are Republicans facing reelection in 2008 who are too intimidated by nonsense like this from breaking with Bush. Meanwhile, this ghastly, pointless war drags on.
—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.