Monday, November 21, 2005

Welcome To The Schmuck

So now that the Republican agenda and the neocon war and Social Security Reform and Intelligent Design and the White House’s best and brightest seem to be circling the drain, the upcoming bird flu pandemic is actually polling higher than Bush’s popularity, and the condemnation of the right has become increasingly bolder and frequent, it’s worth taking a moment to look back to see how we got here.

The most popular opinion seems to be that the Bush regime got hit by too many things at the same time: Katrina, DeLay, Frist, Scooter, Iraq, Elections, etc. And, true, all of these things played a part.

But something started bubbling in the back of my brain yesterday as I watched Rep. John Murtha on Meet The Press defending his call for the US to pull out of Iraq:

We got to--this is not a war of words, this is a real war where people are getting killed. Fifteen thousand people have been wounded, and half of them are desperately wounded, blinded, without their arms.

I mean, it breaks my heart when I go out there and see these kids. I see wives who can't look at their husbands because they've been so disfigured. I saw a young fella that was paralyzed from the neck down and his three children were standing there crying with his wife and his mother…

But, you know, I'm convinced that the people--I have never seen such an outpouring in the 32 years I've been in Congress, of support and people with tears in their eyes, people walking along clapping when I'm walking through the halls of Congress, saying something needed to be said. So they're thirsting for a solution to this and the president can't hide behind rhetoric and neither can the vice president.

Murtha’s roll call of the maimed reminded me of how little we’d been allowed to see of this war. Even our war dead were off limits to us. And we certainly weren’t supposed to criticize it for fear of being labeled unpatriotic. So how does a combat-decorated Vietnam vet get to this point?

Of course, you didn’t expect that the shock-and-smear swiftboat crowd would leave a combat vet unsullied. This kind of thing is their specialty. A Bush spokesman, obviously working against a deadline, immediately compared him to Michael Moore. And VP Dick “5-Deferment” Cheney quickly shot back with a sneer:

The president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory or their backbone. But we're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history.

Better yet was Congresswoman Jean Schmidt who, on the House floor, actually had the gall to say that a Marine “asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do.”

Shockingly, Bush, whose poll numbers are now within spitting distance of Nixon’s at the time of his resignation, is way ahead of Cheney in having figured out that labeling their foes unpatriotic, especially those that served their country, no longer works and, in fact, now does more harm than good.

This kinder, gentler Bush told reporters “I heard somebody say, `Well, maybe so-and-so is not patriotic because they disagree with my position.' I totally reject that thought.”

After calling Murtha a “fine man and a good man,” Bush concluded, “I know the decision to call for the immediate withdrawal of our troops by Congressman Murtha was done in a careful and thoughtful way. I disagree with his position."

Let’s face it, he isn’t about to make this same speech about Alec Baldwin or someone who isn’t a decorated vet, but it was fascinating to see him forced to sound like a President.

Over on ABC, they were trying to figure out what the tipping point was for this huge shift in public opinion. They went through the litany I listed above, but the moment I would point to wasn’t among them.

Cindy Sheehan. Remember her?

That crazy, loony mom that everyone on the right laughed at and smeared? The one whose kid died in Iraq? The one that swore she’d wait until Bush found the guts to talk to her face to face?

Would we have gotten here without her? I suppose so. But I’m convinced we wouldn’t have arrived here as fast. And I’m doubly convinced that the spectacle of this lone mother bringing the war to Bush’s doorstep enabled many others to finally find their own courage and give voice to their own doubts.

Worst of all for the White House, Bush’s refusal to see her threw a number of things into stark relief. For one, the complete disdain this administration has for the public and, for another, how frightened they were by anyone who threatened to make the war seem real, the way Murtha did when he ran off that list of the injured. A real mother with a real son who really died was something they could not afford to admit existed.

But I think that’s what first planted a kernel of doubt in people’s minds and made them more receptive to the idea that they might have been sold a bill of goods.

If it’s true that all historical events occur the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce, Bush reenacted the Cindy Sheehan affair in Beijing this weekend when, after a reporter requested a follow-up question, he replied “No, you may not” and strode toward a nearby set of doors. As he strained to open them, it became clear they were locked.

"I was trying to escape,” Bush said. “Obviously, it didn't work.”

No, sir. It didn’t.


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