From the Archives (from August 2010):From politicalprof on Tumblr
So, I published this in 2010, but in light of the Republican response to the terror attacks in Paris, I thought it deserved a second airing:
One of the great ironies of the last 20 years, really since the fall of the Soviet Union, is that many politicians, many Republicans, present themselves as aggressive defenders of American freedom, but they are in fact cowards.
You know the type. These are the politicians who insist that the United States needs to fund its military far beyond anything anyone else in the world can even imagine doing, all the while seeing bogeymen around everywhere, all on the verge of destroying the United States. Likewise, they demand that the US use violence to impose its will and punish those who transgress our desires. They are the disciples of American triumphalism.
Yet at the same time, they quiver in the face of the eternal bogeyman. The “Ground Zero” mosque, some FOX commentators have told us, will be a “terrorist command center” in the heart of Manhattan. We are told we have to spy on our fellow citizens because the bad guy is coming to get us. Saddam Hussein is Osama bin Laden’s neighbor in terror, they insisted, and so we had to go over there before “they” came over here.
Now, I get the point. Fear, like sex, sells, and when you need to keep a defense industry alive, or when you need to advance a political agenda, it helps to have a public sold on the notion that some bad guy is on the verge of destroying you. And since the United States actually does have enemies, and actually does need to be able to defend itself as well as enact a foreign policy that supports its central role in world politics today, bogeyman claims seem credible. They “make sense” to the American people. (Which is, however, not to say that the United States really needs to have a military that is more expensive than that of the next 50 countries in the world combined–most of whom are our very close allies.)
But here’s the thing. The United States is really, stupendously, impossibly strong. For all of its social ills it is remarkably stable domestically. Its social, political and cultural influence is globally pervasive. It has fought at least one utterly ridiculous war–Iraq–and possibly two (Afghanistan) with very little impact on the daily lives of American citizens. (The limited domestic effect of the Iraq war is, of course, one of the sad reasons Americans have tolerated it for as long as they have.) Its people endured 8 years of one of the worst Presidents in American history and have beaten back at least the first wave of what might well have become another Great Depression. And through it all, children went to school and college, cars got bought and sold, and American Idol winners got chosen. American society, like the Dude, abides.
Even on that horrible day, 9/11, the core strength of the United States was clear–as was the profound weakness of our attackers. After all, the terrorists that day had to steal American airplanes to enact their violence on the nation. This is not at all the same thing as the Soviet Union launching 20,000 nuclear weapons against American and allied targets. Or of Hitler sending 3,000,000 men 1500 miles into Russia, killing tens of millions as they fought for three years.
And, of course, rather than wilting after those attacks, Americans–and the rest of the world–grew stronger.
So even if the “Ground Zero” mosque were actually a “terrorist command center” (which of course it isn’t), the truth is that “they” can’t beat us. They can hurt us, but they can’t beat us. American culture is too big, too complex, and way, way too powerful to be beaten by something as weak and pitiful as a group of people seeking to impose their perverted understanding of 7th century Islamic values on the world at large.
It seems clear to me that the fear mongers and pro-violence blowhards are actually plain, old fashioned cowards. They see monsters under the bed. And then, not being idiots, they fashion a political agenda that serves their interests.
But cowardice like that ultimately hurts the United States. Our best security is in living up to our ideals, not recoiling from them when things get tough.
What America needs is heroes who believe in its ideals, not blowhards who trade in fear for political purposes.