French political scientist Pierre Rosanvallon was not describing the Bush administration when he wrote, “[They] speak like Tocqueville but continue to think like Robespierre.” Had he been referring to the Bushies rather than to France’s elites, he might have said that they speak like Tocqueville but act like Robespierre.
Rosanvallon argues that France’s big cheeses have retained an attachment to their Jacobin heritage – expressed in a powerful, centralized, universalist state that aggrandizes abstractions and subordinates communities to a national general will. This is a description that fits Bushian America far better than it does the so-called “surrender monkeys.”
I’ll add a qualification. As classical liberal thinkers like Ludwig von Mises and Frédéric Bastiat observed, elites can rule only if they represent ideologies that are widely embraced. The Jacobins relied on the people of Paris for support during the Reign of Terror. And, as John Kerry has learned, Bush can count on the support of the 42% of Americans who actually believe Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11. And this is why Kerry has been progressively cozying up to Bush on Iraq.
Of course Kerry is no paragon of principle. But, and I realize I’m being exceedingly charitable, I suspect he knows the invasion of Iraq was wrong and unwarranted rather than just premature and insensitive. Most Americans are still unwilling to entertain that truth, however. To his credit, Kerry discussing Iraq thrashes about like a fish out of water because it takes an effort to for him to lie about it.
George Bush, on the other hand, lives a lie effortlessly. He stays on message not because he is”steadfast and strong and determined,” a mantra steadfastly chanted throughout the presidential debates, but because he is incapable of telling right from wrong or fact from fiction on Iraq. The Lie is his reality.
Empirical truths are irrelevant to this White House. As a senior Bush adviser told author Ron Suskind, “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. … We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”
So come Nov. 2, the American people will be forced to choose between a man whose Iraq policy excludes reality (Bush) and a man who is prepared to hold the truth about Iraq hostage to political expediency (Kerry).
Kerry’s pragmatic cynicism accounts for the contradictions that plagued his position throughout his campaign and especially during the debates. “The president made a mistake in invading Iraq” was negated by “Saddam Hussein was a threat,” which was then gainsaid by a description of a “menacing” Iraq crippled by sanctions, crisscrossed by inspectors, patrolled (and bombed) by American and British no-fly-zone pilots.
Kerry first modified his message when the Democratic base turned on the antiwar candidate, Howard Dean. Determined to avoid Dean’s fate, Kerry determined to confine his comments on the invasion of Iraq to criticism of military tactics. (Both Bush and Kerry understand that most Americans prefer to probe military rather than moral failings.) By the time Bush declared, during the debates, that “We change tactics when we need to, but we never change our beliefs, the strategic beliefs that are necessary to protect this country in the world,” Kerry was on the same page.
Similarly, Kerry soon mastered a line about the president’s miscalculations having resulted not in an obscene squandering of lives, but merely in an “overextended military.” Therefore, according to Kerry, while “the president made a mistake in invading Iraq,” Americans were dying daily there for a “noble cause.” Go figure!
At most, Kerry is prepared to venture that “You don’t take America to war unless you have the plan to win the peace,” a proposition that accommodates waging just about any war so long as a winning strategy is in place.
His Pavlovian training also conditioned Kerry, the consummate political canine, to realize that it had been an immense miscalculation to promise to “reduce [terrorism] to a nuisance, comparing it to prostitution, [and] illegal gambling,” as Bush jeered. Once America commits body and soul to a program of war – be it against drugs, poverty or cancer – The People prefer to remain suspended in a state of heightened emotional arousal. The prospects of an all-encompassing global war against terror, pitting “good”against “evil,” is closer to the voter’s excitable heart than Kerry’s more modest, less Armageddon-like measures.
Modest and measured is definitely not a part of the “strong and resolute and determined” profile Kerry is cultivating. Duly, Bush commanded his spineless rival to shut up about “the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time.” And Kerry complied.
True to Bush’s bloody revolt against reality, he said at the debates that “Saddam Hussein had no intention of disarming” and that “to think that another round of resolutions would have caused Saddam Hussein to disarm, disclose, is ludicrous.” But Saddam was “unarmed.” He had no weapons of mass destruction – none were found, and none were under construction. To complain that negotiations to disarm an already unarmed Iraq would have failed is utterly risible but to be expected from Bush, whose reasoning skills are rationed and whose moral compass is busted. Nevertheless, Kerry’s cowardly convergence demanded yet another concession. “The president needed the authority to use force in order to be able to get [Saddam] to do something,” he intoned.
Although Kerry has furtively edged ever closer to Bush on Iraq, he has thus far spared us his own version of Bush’s (voracious) pet project: “spread[ing] freedom and liberty around the world.”
Proposition one: Bush said he believed “that God wants everybody to be free.”
Proposition two: Bush affirmed his belief “in the transformational power of liberty.”
Proposition three: Bush vowed to “unleash the armies of compassion,” and “continue to spread freedom.”
Ergo: Bush believes that by “spreading” Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité (as defined by him) he is doing the work of God.
May God help us.