Saturday, September 16, 2006

Forever Squaring Circles
Maybe I should be a pundit, because I just noticed that Maureen Dowd today wrote the blog entry I've been thinking about but not previously set down for the last few days. To save myself a little time, I'll start by quoting here here:

He roams the country but never strays from Bushworld, going from military bases to conservative powwows to Republican Hill allies to sworn Bush supporters to sympathetic columnists.

“It helps crystallize my thought to answer your questions,” he told conservative columnists called to the Oval Office this week. But he made it clear that his thoughts were contentedly calcified: “Let me just first tell you that I’ve never been more convinced that the decisions I made are the right decisions. I’m oftentimes asked about, well, you’re stubborn and all this. If you believe in a strategy, in Washington, D.C., you’ve got to stick to that strategy, see.”
Besides saying he’s in “a struggle between good and evil” — which inflames many Muslims — W. told the columnists he thought America might be experiencing “a Third Awakening,” a religious fervor, because people he meets in rope lines tell him they’re praying for him. That could also be because W.’s policies have led to so much global chaos and hatred for America, his supporters know he needs more prayers.

As I'd planned to do here, Dowd captures what I thought were two of the more interesting stories of the week: Bush's assertion, to a gathering of reporters, that he's "never been more convinced" of the rightness of his decisions, and his observation, based on his experiences, that the country was undergoing a "third awakening" of religious fervor.

President Bush said yesterday that he senses a "Third Awakening" of religious devotion in the United States that has coincided with the nation's struggle with international terrorists, a war that he depicted as "a confrontation between good and evil."

Bush told a group of conservative journalists that he notices more open expressions of faith among people he meets during his travels, and he suggested that might signal a broader revival similar to other religious movements in history. Bush noted that some of Abraham Lincoln's strongest supporters were religious people "who saw life in terms of good and evil" and who believed that slavery was evil. Many of his own supporters, he said, see the current conflict in similar terms.

"A lot of people in America see this as a confrontation between good and evil, including me," Bush said during a 1 1/2 -hour Oval Office conversation on cultural changes and a battle with terrorists that he sees lasting decades.

There seem to be two points here, which Bush has chosen to connect. On the one hand, there's some notion about a growing religious fervor in the United States, which some have argued is a "Third Awakening," following trends in the mid-18th and early 19th centuries. Bush believes we're in the midst of another now, and he's certainly entitled to his opinion.

But then there's the other hand.

Based on his comments yesterday, the president is under the impression that he's driving this "Third Awakening" personally, by allegedly launching a war on terror. In other words, Bush is not only taking responsibility for Americans turning to Christianity in greater numbers, he also believes the war on terror is a motivating factor, if not the motivating factor.

Taken together, the picture here is of Bush more firmly ensconced in his own reality than probably any president ever has been. We know, from many accounts by administration insiders and unquoted sources, that this is not a man who welcomes dissenting views or bad news; by Bush's own account, he doesn't really read the newspapers. If he turns on the TV for news, it's a safe bet he's watching Fox. It's a perfectly sealed worldview in which he hears no criticism and faces no blowback.

Thus, Bush becomes ever more certain of his world-historical prescience--and because his relatively rare public appearances are limited to friendly audiences, and only the dogmatic "Christians" who view their faith with a loyalty better suited to one's favorite football team are solidly left in his camp, he meets a lot of "believers."

This is like if I decided I'd only watch televised porn and only leave the house to visit adult bookstores, peepshows, and gatherings of the porn industry, and thus concluded that Americans were much more into kinky group sex than I'd previously noticed. The difference, of course, is that my (theoretical) view of the rising tide of national perversion doesn't color life-and-death decisions.

And that my certitude about this doesn't lead me to push for a change in natiotnal policy that, for the first time in our history, condones torture. I can't really put this any better than one of Josh Marshall's guest bloggers did on his blog today:

The torture debate in Congress--I never expected to write such words--is as surreal to me as watching the collapse of the Twin Towers. If the Democrats are able to take control of at least one chamber in November, then surely the President's pro-torture bill will be viewed in hindsight as the nadir of the Bush presidency. If not, how much lower can things go?

I am beyond being able to assess the political implications, one way or the other, of this spectacle. Regardless of which version of the bill finally passes, this debate is a black mark on the soul of the nation. Of course passage of a pro-torture bill will diminish U.S. standing internationally and jeopardize the safety and well-being of U.S. servicemen in future engagements. But merely having this debate has already accomplished that. Does anyone honestly believe that if Congress rebuffs the President in every respect that the rule of law and the inviolability of human rights will have been vindicated? Of course not.

The Republicans have defined deviancy down for the whole world, including every two-bit dictator and wild-eyed terrorist.

This surreal "debate" underscores something that has seemed clear to me for a long time now: the Bush/Cheney/Rove crowd utterly fails to comprehend what truly constitutes America's greatness. The reason we are the most successful nation in human history isn't, as they seem to think, because we have a lot of guns and a lot of money. We have those things because of our greatness--and we have (hopefully not "had") the greatness because our ideals traditionally have spoken to the best in human nature. We've fallen far from that standard, and perhaps the saddest thing is that there's nobody in the country with both the courage and stature to state this directly and get a real hearing from Americans of all political persuasions.

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