I think I'm going to try and turn this post into an essay at some point when I can squeeze more time out my average day.
The concept of American inconstancy, or American fickleness with regards to our politics, isn't anything new and has been remarked on by far better men that me. However, since we are still engaged in the War on Terror (and will be so for as long as Bush sits in the Oval Office, he's assured us), the issue needs to be revisited at length. This is one of the many things I believe Norman Podhoretz has achieved with the essay he wrote for Commentary Magazine (subsequently posted at the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, here). Note: this is a 19-page essay, not a quick-read, so print it out and go someplace quiet for an hour or so.
If you read this blog, you already know that I am a "neoconservative" at least concerning foreign policy, but actually in many other areas as well. Although I dislike the label, it is useful in describing my point of view to others. But beneath labels and beneath rhetoric, I am essentially a one-issue voter: I care about winning the war on terror. In my mind, all other political considerations (yes, including immigration and even judges) must take a backseat, since all are predicated on our ability to maintain our own security. It's very simple: if we fail in this, the other issues won't matter.
I heard an interview on the Hugh Hewitt Show yesterday with GEN John Abizaid, and he made a remark which I took to be an indirect rebuke of everything written recently with the pens of men like George Will and William F. Buckley: he said he noticed during his trips to the United States from his base in Qatar that the country didn't seem to be very cognizant that there was a war going on. There was no broad kind of awareness of the war that he could easily pick up from random television viewing or newspaper-browsing.
I'm sad to say that I agree with him. It is something that has bothered me for quite some time. However, I am not content with the pat response to this phenomenon found on so many radio talk shows or conservative opinion pieces: namely that this is the result of the Bush administration not making the case to the public. Sorry, but I'm not buying that. That smacks, to me, of an all-too typical American cop-out, and one that conservatives in particular should be wary of: after all, we are the ones who continually remind other Americans that we should behave as grown-ups and that being an American is "advanced citizenship." To turn and claim that it is up to our president to hold our hands and remind us daily of how dire the consequences of losing this war really are, strikes me as petulant and childish. We are responsible for our destiny as a nation folks -- not George W. Bush, not Donald Rumsfeld, and not GEN John Abizaid. They work for us, not the other way round. Hearing Abizaid's remark made me feel genuinely ashamed to be a conservative.
Inconstancy -- reflected in our apathy toward the war and our mindless obsession with trivialities -- seems to me a relatively new phenomenon. I don't believe the citizens of this country had such problems during WWII. I am, of course, too young to be able to say that I know this from my own experience, but judging from the photos and stories and films from that era, the war was never far from the minds of people at home. On the contrary, many of them felt a kinship with the GI "over there," because they worked in a factory building planes or bombs or ships -- or else did their duty by buying war bonds, etc. No one was holding their hands. It didn't require daily or even weekly press conferences by the president to keep the American war machine humming (although there were plenty of them, the populace didn't need them to stay focused).
So what is different? And can it ever change? Will this or any future generation of Americans ever again be willing to unite together and stick through tough times until the war is won? Have we forever lost our ability to absorb the sacrifices necessary in any conflict, much less one so dire as the survival of western civilization itself? Will it take a nuclear weapon being detonated in a metropolitan American city? Would even that horror wake us from our slumber, or would we turn our rhetorical guns on ourselves even more fiercely than we already do? Are the Mullahs and the Imams right about us, after all? Are we the weak horse? Will they find to be true what Imperial Japan found to be a lie 50 years ago ... that we were a "paper tiger?"
It's easy for pundits like George Will and W.F. Buckley to take shots at Bush. They sit in the cheap seats. They don't have 3,000 Americans (and getting close to 3,000 soldiers) on their conscience. They don't have to understand the complexities of developing and implementing policy in the Middle East (although they evidently think they do). They are free to imagine Bush is a fool or is surrounded by them, and to say as much to their hundreds of thousands of readers -- but they don't have to make the decisions or deal with the consequences. They don't have to constantly readjust their rhetoric in order to maintain influence with a Congress and Senate-full of similarly-pressured men and women also trying to stay alive politically.
And so the betrayal -- yes, betrayal -- of Bush by Mr. Will and his ilk has become a cause for celebration for the enemies of freedom both here and abroad. Small men with pens once again bite at the heels of their betters, as they have so often in the past: from Abraham Lincoln to Teddy Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan. And each passing generation they gain more influence while possessing less of a sense of responsibility.
I wish I had an answer, but I don't.