George W. Bush became a war president after 9/11, and he clearly relished his new war. His image as warrior president created such a strong bond with the public that it provided attack-proof cover for any actions he took on the domestic scene. In the words of columnist Robert Reno, George W. Bush’s “approval ratings soar like turkey buzzards on a shaft of hot air.” He was almost politically invincible. Bush decided to use his popularity to “drive a narrow, right-wing agenda,” and seasoned observers thought, “It won’t work. It sells the country short and it will ultimately sell the Bush presidency short.” Many noted that the younger Bush was the political son of Ronald Reagan. Yet, as analyst David Gergen has noted, George W. Bush was “much farther to the right of Reagan.” He found a “radical conservatism that runs through much of the Bush policy.” Unlike Reagan, however, Bush avoided right-wing rhetoric. He talked like a moderate but governed as a radical conservative. The war and his status as warrior president helped his standing with his religious supporters. They were inclined to support war because it offered “expression of two primal aspirations... the embrace of radical good, and the urge to become part of something...larger...but also sacred and eternal.” It seemed that the war was part of God’s master plan and that Bush had to be God’s chosen instrument. The president was aware of this sentiment and played to it with “There is a reason why I’m here.” For many Americans, 9/11 brought enormous humiliation and vulnerability shock, which released an enormous amount of aggressive energy and produced a great deal of “with us or against us” collective identification with the Bush presidency.
For more than two decades, Republican rhetoric in the culture wars had portrayed the nation as under attack from within by liberals bent on destroying traditional culture and values. Now the nation was also under attack from terrorists bent on killing Americans. It was the perfect “ moral panic,” a term social scientists use for scares based “upon fear of threats to society from moral deviants of the worst kind. In general, sociologist Jeffrey Victor wrote, Amoral panics begin when events occur that cause a great many people to feel threatened by an internal enemy, hidden deep within their society. Secret groups of foreign terrorists [ sleeper cells], believed to be fanatics who kill without guilt, fit the bill perfectly.” Moral panics can provide a political party with an enormous advantage, and they can also be used to justify abuses of government power. They are sometimes accompanied by loud demands that people with “wrong” opinions be silenced and watched.
September 11, 2001 was the decisive date in the Second Bush presidency. After a somewhat shaky start, President Bush convinced almost all Americans that he was up to leading the nation through a long-term war against terrorism. He spoke the words of anger and revenge that bespoke the nation’s word, and consistently spoke of his determination to combat terrorism. The Bush administration soon learned how to politicize “counter-terrorism as a way of insuring electoral victories....” Thomas Friedman observed, “In fighting this kind of war, President Bush and his advisers would do themselves a huge favor by not talking too much. They are already starting to contradict themselves.” His talk about an “axis of evil” may have done more harm than good in our dealings with others, particularly North Korea. On the other hand, his words gave his fellow citizens emotional strength in very difficult times, and the public rewarded him with great popularity. Through its excessive rhetoric and desire to cash in politically from the crisis, the administration fed something approaching a collective psychosis among many, perhaps most Americans. Carl G. Jung had written that the gigantic catastrophes that threatened his time came not from physical or biological events but from “psychic epidemics,” wherein several millions of human beings may be smitten with a new madness...” in which “modern man is battered by the elemental forces of his own psyche. Many citizens, and the president himself, seemed to let the daemonic or darker side of their nature, in the words of Rollo May “take over the whole person [or even much of the nation] ....violence is the daemonic gone awry.” At the same time, there was a tendency to view their actions as above reproach and even believe they were involved in a Messianic mission and that their leader, George W. Bush was God’s instrument, doing God’s will. Jung thought it was necessary to pretend “to be seekers after God in order not to face the truth that they were ordinary egoists.”
The war lifted Bush to the status of a warrior hero. There was a newfound sense of national unity that all but guaranteed Bush a second term and dampened chances of Democratic gains in Congress, despite a serious recession. Almost everyone recognized the simple fact that a well financed group of terrorists had the ability to deprive Americans of their customary security by horrendous attacks on our home ground and that they had every intention of doing so at times of their own choosing. The nation was wounded and intensely aware of its vulnerability. It had taken casualties and there was no safe place to go to recover and lick its wounds because murderous terrorists could easily penetrate the homeland. Worse still, hundreds of them possibly live here already, waiting to strike. People were numbed with shock. The President saw the need to keep the nation focused on this long-term problem and repeatedly spoke about the threats facing the nation. By continually focusing on external threats, the administration helped a large part of society take on some of the features of a cult. People became dependent upon their leader and inclined to follow him and the administration in lockstep. Rash and untrue statements made by their leader about his opponents were seen as “just politics” or as factual, while criticisms of Bush, even if entirely factual, were seen as “Bush bashing.”
The war-inspired popularity of the president so intimidates his normal critics that they lost the courage to fully voice their criticism. The verbal war on dissent of any kind had the effect of damaging the political process, disrupting thought, and debilitating candor. In effect, President George W. Bush declared a very long-term war on terrorism. As Paul Starr noted, he made a dangerously unlimited bid for the extraordinary authority and heightened deference that presidents enjoy only in wartime.” Opting to place the nation on a long-term war setting had no dangerous consequences for the president. He remained extraordinarily popular even 14 months later when only 32% of the American people thought the US was winning the war against terrorism. New failures and disasters in Iraq seemed to deepen the commitment of many to the president. Growing out of 9/11 was what could be called the politics of fear. It created “a broader self-censorship apparent in the United States that has made public and media discussions of the politics of terrorism very difficult.” George W. Bush continually referred to himself as a “war president” and said he had “war on my mind.” Opponents abroad were reduced to “evildoers,” a term endlessly employed. His discussions of aspects of the war were simple and endlessly repetitive, which encouraged people to reduce the terrible problem to the simplest terms. Many simply said “they hit us, and well hit them.” Continual talk about the horrors of terrorism and the president’s role as a war president determined to protect America planted in the mass consciousness the image of him as unmatched protector of t he fatherland. Moreover, the rhetoric of continual war against terror fanned an emotional excitement that made heightened suggestibility. Hence, a majority of Americans believed Iraqis were involved in 9/11 three years after this had been proven not to be the case. Because successful political exploitation of the crisis required continual demonization of Muslims who disliked the United States, there could be no thorough discussion of ways to dissuade young Muslims from joining the terrorists because this would entail admission of the fact that the terrorists claim they are reacting to what they think are unjust policies.
The crisis invited political exploitation. The administration continuously pointed to the threats the American people faced. Many were frightened, overwhelmed, and despondent and saw Bush as a beacon of strength, action and control. They concluded the nation’s situation was bordering on desperate and that only Bush could provide the answers. Bush’s role in attacking terrorism after the September 11 attack on America gave him the stature of a world leader and practically ended criticism of his foreign policy. Traumatized by the horrible events of that day, Americans decided that matters of national security were truly questions of their personal security. The attacks had been launched on American soil, and it appeared that others would be very difficult to deter. Fearful people are inclined to vote conservative, and 9-11 created millions of very frightened people who came to depend upon George W. Bush for their personal protection.
Concerned for the security of their families, many women became more hawkish than men. Once, women whose voting pattern led them to be called “soccer mom’s because they were concerned about the environment and compassionate policies. The soccer mom was no longer the best term for describing the largest identifiable group of female voters; it was the “security mom,” who saw Bush as the defender of her family. Erica Walter, a writer and security mom, exclaimed, “In George W. Bush people see a contained, channeled virility. They see a man who does what he says, whose every speech and act is not calculated” Kate O’Beirne, another writer all but swooned over Bush in his flight suit ”look at George Bush in that flight suit.” G. Gordon Liddy noted that the landing motif emphasized Bush’s “manly qualities” and Chris Matthews called that photo op “this guy’s greatest moment.” Bush’s carrier landing with the sign “Mission Accomplished” seemed contrived and foolish to sophisticates, but it projected a macho image to many very fearful people who needed a protector or big daddy. Similarly, his subsequent “Bring Em On” comments were criticized as provocative, but they very reassuring to a majority of Americans. Bush’s handlers worked hard to present him as an effective dispenser of justice and as a blunt natural leader reared on the tough values of the Old West. Critics complained that his what they thought policies were those of a reckless cowboy, but a majority of voters found this exactly what they sought.
Many people in a wartime situation have a great need to believe that their leader is capable of protecting them under any circumstances. No matter how many mistakes Bush made in this effort, they would stick with him. The psychology of war confers far greater significance on mythic reality than upon sensory reality. Many people have a powerful need to find meaning in life, and the war on terrorism confers this. Americas become of representatives of the GOOD and the terrorists are Absolute EVIL. These simple good-bad dichotomies erase any other concerns people might have. This outlook has a way of silencing people’s “authentic culture and humane culture.” They lose the ability to understand that their opponents might have some legitimate grievances. Declaration of a universal war on terror guarantees that a large number of people will bestow a heroic image on themselves and their leader, George. W. Bush.
In similar crises in the past, the Right has used fear of external enemies to attempt to limit political dissent and ignite a populist nationalism that would be beneficial to them politically, and sharply restrict the flow of information in the name of national security. Patriotic symbols were appropriated by the Right and proved to be a powerful means of consolidating support which “not only generates solidarity, unity, and remembrance, but also mistrust, divisions, and amnesia.” The government promoted the slogan “United We Stand,” which soon appeared on bumper stickers and in the windows of stores, offices, and homes. Susan Sontag suggested it equated “dissent with lack of patriotism.” White House press secretary pointedly warned, “People have to watch what they say and do.” After the attack the very conservative American Council of Trustees and Alumni published a list of professors it accused of being “short on patriotism,” and Daniel Pipes, working for Campus Watch, posted a list of professors whose views on Middle East affairs lead to “left-leaning groupthink.” Right-wing groups launched efforts to put entertainers and celebrities on a tight leash if they were critical of Bush’s war on Iraq. Advertisers were encouraged to drop sponsorship of television programs that featured theses people. An organization called “Right March” sold a recording called “Hey Hollywood!’, in which a singer urged critics of Bush to leave the United States.
The “Attack on America” was a searing experience for all Americans and Bush because it focused on a shocked but reinvigorated nation’s unity. It also showered great political benefits upon the president. As war leader, he immediately acquired more legitimacy than men who had been elected to that office without burdens like the dispute over Florida’s electoral votes. Once seen as an inarticulate bumbler by many, he was now viewed as an articulate, highly effective leader. In what appeared to be an unspoken agreement, the nation generally accepted a moratorium of serious criticism of his policies, particularly those dealing with foreign policy and fighting terrorism. The moratorium was slightly breached a year later when some very gently raised questions about proposed preemptive strike against Iraq. By early March 2006, 69% of Republicans still believed that the Iraq War had been a success. However only 37% of Independents and 30% of Democrats agreed with them. The quick victory in the Iraq war in 2003 had been followed by the deaths of more than 2300 American soldiers, and civil strife had escalated to the point where civil war seemed a possibility. President Bush’s popularity had fallen well below 40% . However, disillusionment with the situation in Iraq did not seem to diminish by much the potency of the war on terror as a potent Republican issue.
Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum
"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.
- Sherman De Brosse
- Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!