Posted by Alli (126.96.36.199) on January 23, 2002 at 15:18:25:
To complain is to be unAmerican
The president wants to make the US safer for the Republican party
Wednesday January 23, 2002
My fellow non-Americans (and also any Americans who might happen to be listening)... That start in itself makes this state-of-the-union column more inclusive than President Bush's own state of the union address will be when he stands in front of the massed ranks of Congress next Tuesday to make his most important speech since the post-September 11 epic.
He will be addressing the American people. Anyone else who happens to be listening will be an eavesdropper. To a large extent, that's how it always is in this country, most especially in an even-numbered year, whether or not the election directly involves the president himself. And it's particularly true with this president. The past few months have changed things, but not in the way outsiders like to think. The world has not become more interdependent. Instead, as seen from the Oval Office, it has become divided into three: the United States; countries willing to do the US's bidding; and nuisances/enemies. It's not a good idea to be a nuisance/enemy.
But the essential fact is that the union - as presidents like to say on these occasions - is strong. Very strong. September 11 has bound the country together in a remarkable fashion that has confounded sceptics (including this one) and surprised even the administration. The transport secretary, Norman Mineta, was able to say last week that "patience is the new patriotism" apropos the continuing chaos at the airports; and no one howled him down.
Airport check-ins are like the old Soviet bread queues, but without the shared black humour. Complaining is considered unAmerican, even though the security procedures are ludicrous, with solemn searches of elderly ladies' flat heels and kids' baseball caps - while luggage, despite a tightening of the law last week, can still be loaded on to planes with nothing to stop them having enough explosive to blow up Rhode Island. It's not a political issue here, just as the treatment of the detainees in Guantanamo - which so troubles the bleeding-heart pinkos of the Mail on Sunday - is not an issue. If they weren't bad guys, they wouldn't be there. End of subject.
There are fewer flags around than there were a couple of months back, but the post-September spirit has not diminished. Americans want to do their bit, but aren't sure how to. So it comes out mainly as an acceptance of their rulers' good intentions and competence. Sure, there is a hardcore who share the widespread European view that the president is a dangerous chump incapable of simultaneously chewing a pretzel and watching TV. In that sense, the analogy with the Reagan administration is a close one, because, now as then, it is the view of a small minority.
And, truly, a year has gone by and the administration has not - by its own lights - cocked up much, except for losing control of the Senate. It has resisted the temptation to invade half the developing world. So far, it has barely been singed by the flames of Enron, even though the words Bush and Cheney are carved into the burning logs. There is even some tentative polling evidence (cf Britain in 1992) that economic troubles might make voters more inclined to huddle closer to the party of the right.
You hear justification for the public's support in strange little ways. For instance, two separate state department officials - both liberals - have recently told me that staff morale is higher than for at least a decade. Why? Because both Clinton's secretaries of state, Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright, were useless managers incapable of relating to (or making proper use of) the ordinary Joes at the desks, whereas Colin Powell knows how the thoughtful word or gesture can make all the difference to the troops.
The administration's good intentions are not that obvious to me. Bipartisanship is the word they plan to use to screw the opposition. Karl Rove, Bush's political Svengali, has told the party that security will be a Republican issue in this year's mid-term elections. And he is probably the orchestrator of the current demonisation campaign against Senator Tom Daschle, their most dangerous opponent. My theory is that if Al Gore had been president on September 11, there would have been no bipartisanship at all. The Democrats would have been in their ninth year in the White House; and the right would have blamed Clinton and Gore for leaving the country defenceless. We might now be in the middle of impeachment hearings.
Whatever high-flown rhetoric comes from the president next week, the reality is clear-cut. It's a successful administration, so far. The White House is not concerned with making the world safer, it wants to make America safer. And it wants to make the country safer for the Republican party. That's politics, by the way.
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