Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Race to Replace an Adolescent President

Many see Bush as an adolescent president. The put-down nicknames. Addressing a prime minister as "Yo, Blair". Yelling "air assault" on his bicycle. The Beavis and Butthead laugh. The cockiness. The dumb jokes. The disdain for learning. The insecurity. The petulance and stubbornness. The intellectual laziness. The tendency to surround himself with fawning sycophants. Yes, all the hallmarks of a spoiled adolescent. But there is one adolescent trait that stands out above all others: the swaggering machismo, the willingness to punch first and think later, the fear of being seen as weak. The wanna-be tough guy.

That's Bush. And even though the contenders for the Republican nomination are running as fast as they can from a hugely unpopular president, there is one aspect of Bush's personality that they all want to make their own. Yes, the adolescent aggression. Just look at the pathetic display of psuedo-cajones at last night's Republican debate in South Carolina. As Digby notes, they "sound like a bunch of psychotic 12 year olds" for whom it's "all about the codpiece".

Dispiritingly, many of the candidates were only too willing to embrace the intrinsic evil of torture, except for John McCain, who has actually been tortured, and the contrarian Ron Paul. Specifically, both Giuliani and Tancredo backed waterboarding, a technique perfected by the Khmer Rouge. Pumped-up Rudy wants them to use "every method they can think of". Keeping up with the both the adolescent theme and the Republican penchant for blurring reality and fantasy, Tancredo says he wants Jack Bauer (to huge applause, of course). Romney just looked sinister when he all-too-enthusiastically invoked the Orwellian phrase "enhanced interrogation techniques" with a manic glint in his eye. He also wants to double the size of Guantanamo (again, to applause). Even Brownback, a nominal Catholic, expressed his support for torture. Clearly, somebody needs to tell Brownback that supporting torture is not really that different from supporting abortion, in that both positions are underpinned by consequentialism. And if Romney loves torturing people so much, how genuine do you think his conversion to the pro-life cause actually was?

Think about this. Only 20 percent of the Republican candidates think there is something very wrong with torturing people. In fact, as John Dickerson noted, " some candidates appeared ready to do the torturing themselves". And this is supposed to be the "moral values" party? God help us.

But there was one ray of hope on the podium last night: Ron Paul. Although I certainly don't support his libertarianism, he was the only candidate who spoke common sense. The only candidate who looked like an adult rather than a strutting teenage boy. And while the other candidates thumped their chests and parroted brainless slogans such as how they "hate us for our freedom" (the award for supreme stupidity goes to Tancredo for claiming that it's a dictate of the Muslim religion to kill Americans) , Ron Paul actually told the truth. He talked about the blowback that comes from Americans intervening in the middle east. What's more, he even raised the role of America in deposing the legitimate Iranian government in 1953 in support of shah Pahlavi, who brutal dictatorship brought about the 1979 revolution. We know what happened thereafter. He related to history, culture, context. Wow. How rare and and yet how refreshing.

Just look at the Iraq debacle. Anybody with even superficial knowledge of the colonialist carve-up of the Ottoman empire and the underlying ethnic divisions would have realized that the sailing would not be smooth. Add to this toxic mix the perception that the US government is overly-biased toward Israel and in the thrall of the energy industry, and... well, the results won't be pleasant. And of course, the infantile machismo that not only refuses to face reality but actively supports even harsher methods, including torture, only makes things worse. As Andrew Sullivan noted, "The more Arabs and Muslims feel alienated and attacked by the U.S.. the more support terror will get, and the more power al Qaeda gains". Somewhere, in some cave, Osama Bin Laden is laughing. Don't these juvenile clowns realize how much damage they are doing?

And yet, only a single candidate in ten is intellectually capable and brave enough to think through the issues. This ability of course, is not prized in adolescent culture. Already, there are ominous signs that Paul is on the verge of being shunned and boycotted by the conservative movement. How utterly depressing.


shadhu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
shadhu said...

Very well put, MM. My worries however run deeper than the moral bankruptcy and immature swagger of the Republican candidates. I worry about a very large portion of this society—people in significant numbers remain fixated on the good vs. evil world view, and readily subscribe to the apocalyptic, Hobbesian mentality sold by the hard right. The Republican candidates are shamelessly falling over each other trying to pander to these people.

At the end of the day, the blame for the ills of this administration goes beyond the neocon klutzes in the Oval Office, it goes to those millions who have blindly supported and bought into this crazy crusade.

Anonymous said...

MM, another great post. In case you haven't already, you should check out and participate in the online bookclub on Torture with Michael Otterman--

paulieweaver said...

MM, I've just come recently to your blog. Keep up the original thinking. It's truly appreciated in an online world that functions more as a partisan echo chamber.

That said, I can't believe how un-taken I am by all the Republican candidates with the exception of Ron Paul--and I'm no libertarian of any stripe. Certainly not a Republican either. Would you consider writing more on Ron Paul?

Chris said...

I also like Ron Paul very much. He's a pro-life OB-GYN from Texas but with none of the adolescent swagger. Unfortunately, he's much too decent to survive the campaign trail. Witness the beating he took at last night's debate by media darling, thrice married, pro-abort, former Catholic Giuliani.

Morning's Minion said...

I actually haven't heard much of Paul prior to these debates. He stands out partly becauses the others are so abysmal, and have have turned into caricatures of themselves. I also am not on board with his economically libertarian leanings. But still, the fact that a presidential candidate brought up the Iranian coup of 1953 and US complicity was simply staggering in its freshness.