Yesterday, Peter hypothesized that the widely vocalized dislike of our current president has less to do with factual knowledge than with our need to focus our fears about terrorism onto someone, anyone we can blame and hate in its place.
When I think about it, his theory makes complete sense. After all, if someone you love dies of an unstoppable disease, such as cancer, who’s the first person to take blame for the death: why, the doctor of course. Oh, if only the doctor had been competent enough to recognize the symptoms earlier, used an alternate healing method, been more deft with his surgeon’s knife, and on and on. It’s much, much harder to admit that the people we love will eventually die, and sometimes they do so sooner than expected. You can’t do anything about that, but you can sue the doctor.
And back in the political sphere, for many Americans, the 2000 election effectively made George W. Bush the presidential equivalent of the doctor your HMO stuck you with instead of the guy you wanted. None of the people we knew, including ourselves, were particularly passionate about either George W. Bush or Al Gore for president, until it looked like the person we’d voted for was going to have the presidency torn away from him due to underhanded politicking. I hated the nationwide tension in the weeks after the election. Bush kept winning the recounts, which would only get Al Gore to insist on yet another recount, by another standard. It was so painful and nerve-racking I seriously wished George W. Bush would concede to Al Gore, just to stop the nightmare. Peter pointed out that conceding, especially if you won, would set an ugly precedent in U.S. history that would make voting itself irrelevant. But if George W. Bush had done as I wished, and conceded, I would be readily inclined to blame any governmental failing on Al Gore, suppose George W. Bush would have done better, and resent Bush for conceding so easily.
And so we come to 9/11. It was another nightmare that left me in shock. You could almost feel the national relief when we invaded Afghanistan because finally we were doing something about Al-Qaida and that nasty ueber-villain Osama bin Laden.
But now, 6 years later, no one’s happy. Why? Because the bad guys, the ones who want to hurt us, are clearly still out there. Osama bin Laden is still on the run, or at least, safely presumed as such. He pops up every so often, gloating and taunting us with video communiques. Creepy men with thick Middle-Eastern accents capture hapless Westerners and brutally behead them on camera, with documentary video streamed onto the internet. Iraqi insurgents detonate their own children in order to take out American soldiers. The British Navy–the freakin’ British Navy–can’t even keep its own people from being captured by the Iranian coast guard and held hostage.
And we can’t pretend all the trouble is out in the Middle East, either. A set of coordinated bombings in Madrid by Islamist extremists and compatriots crippled the metropolitan transporation system, killed 191 peoople, and wounded over 2000. Bombs blew up Tube trains and a bus in London, thanks to a teeny gang of homegrown Islamists. And taking insult to some innocuous cartoons, Muslims blockaded Danish embassies with signs saying stuff like “Behead those who insult Islam” and “Be prepared for the real Holocaust.” And their threats aren’t empty ones: Dutchman Theo van Gogh pissed off a lot of people with his opinions, but when he made a film that criticized Islam, he got killed for it. If I were a European, I swear sometimes I’d just want to put a pillow over my head and cry. It’s bad enough being an American and wondering who’s going to nuke us or one of our friends first: Iran or North Korea?
In the face of all this, even the president of arguably the most powerful nation on Earth, is helpless. The nasties are out in force, and many of us wish all this horror would just go away. It’s hard to focus our anger and hatred on the ever-morphing faces of our enemies: sometimes, they’re a grinning old Arab, but just as often, they’re the soft-spoken boys next door. And if we happen to recognize a terrorist, and call him out for it, we may just end up being the star of a new snuff film on the internet.
It’s much easier to take all that fear and hate Bush for it. He’s not doing enough, or he’s doing too much; in any case, he’s obviously doing the wrong thing. The bad guys are still out there, ready and eager to kill us, no matter what we do. Truth is, you can’t personally do anything about the bad guys, but you can talk trash about your president. And that, my friends, is the what’s at the heart of Bush hatred.