Where There’s a Will There’s No Way
by Sean G. Murphy
December 1, 2006
So this is all the not-so-Grand Old Party’s got?
With the so recently smug and abrasive and—so they thought—safe Republican wing of the Republican party tripping over their tails to distance themselves from the same president whose coattails they could not cling to more cravenly in ‘02 and ‘04, this is the post-thumpin’ reality: rally around the one thing you still all can agree on—being out of power is overrated. After failing to sufficiently fire up the base with the tried and untrue anti-gay hate mongering hysteria, and the public inevitably crying wolf on the terror card, the GOP needed a miracle. And damn it if poor John Kerry didn’t do his darndest to deliver, courtesy of his ham-tongued delivery of a joke at Bush’s expense, proving once again that Kerry is oddly uncomfortable in his own skin, and even more so when he slips into the political wet-suit that truly exposes his extemporaneous shortcomings. And yet. Once even Kerry’s inimitable ability to sabotage the cause proved not to be the fodder Fox News could whip into Election Day deliverance, it was eventually, inevitably time for a reckoning. (And even Kerry’s latest gaffe was not without its side benefit: now, mercifully, his self immolation has obliterated further discussion of a potential phoenix-like rising from the ashes for an ill-fated re-run in ‘08).
So: losing the House hurt. Losing the Senate really hurt. But losing because the balance broke on Jim Webb—a lifelong Republican and military hawk turned Democrat mostly over disgust with the utter incompetence with which the Iraq imbroglio was planned and carried out—beating out the incumbent George “Macaca” Allen, who not so long ago was considered a frontrunner for the next election? That was the unkindest cut of all, and adds another element to the “Orwell couldn’t write this stuff” vibe that has seemingly guided our surreal state of domestic affairs at least since that unfortunate recount in Florida.
Anyway: Webb is experienced and intelligent enough to understand that with the considerable resentment and astonishment (and humiliation) his upset has engendered, the wing nuts of the Right would be gunning for him early and often. It’s to his credit—yet again—that he displayed his unconventional and unpredictable nature by deciding to (figuratively) throw the first punch. As has been well documented at this point, Webb could not stomach the passive-aggressive overtures from Bush, and used the opportunity to remind the Decider that he—and the majority of voters in Virginia, not to mention the rest of the country—wants a change of course in Iraq. Afterward (and one can imagine the awed and hushed tones of the reporters looking to confirm the fact that someone had the effrontery to look George W. Bush in the eye and speak to him like a man), Webb subsequently summarized his feelings in typically curt fashion: “I’m not particularly interested in having a picture of me and (Bush) on my wall.” It’s a rather sad commentary on the mainstream media’s generally supine stance on all-things Bush that Webb’s remark has served to generate such umbrage. But it’s hardly surprising.
First into the fray (presumably because Charles Krauthammer was too busy gnashing his teeth to type) is the oleaginous George Will, who has weighed in with the unique panache befitting that most insular and entrenched beltway insider he happens to be. Indeed, the entire thrust of his diatribe is exactly backward: he accuses Webb of being a “pompous poseur” for taking it upon himself to actually speak his mind and refusing to pal around for a photo op with the man who bravely said “bring ‘em on”. By flipping the (obviously sacred) script of having the courage of his convictions once face to face with power, Webb has crossed the type of line that real poseurs like John McCain are too calculating and cowardly to even approach.
Conveniently, Will finds it within himself to be more outraged by Webb’s ostensible incivility than the troublesome fact that American troops are still in Iraq, and no less a connoisseur of quagmires than Henry Kissinger has now declared the situation unwinnable. Speaking of that, where exactly does Will stand on Iraq these days? We certainly know where The Decider stands. Never mind the fact that this same man (a uniter not a divider, remember) literally spent the last few months on the campaign trail doing what he’s done best: drumming up unfounded fear and preying on the baser instincts of the base. Of the myriad abuses of logic and the language that our commander-in-chief has committed, it might be difficult to top the bottoming-out moment when he declared, “However they put it, the Democrat approach to Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses.” This kind of gutter-dwelling pabulum was appalling and offensive enough to any Democrat (or self-respecting Republican, for that matter), and that is not even taking into account the citizens—like Webb—who have children fighting in Iraq.
Anyone who has not had the pleasure of enjoying Will’s piece, it is highly recommended not only for amusement’s sake, but also to get a blueprint for the disingenuous strategies of the more sycophantic amongst the right-leaning commentariat:
What Will means to say, of course, is “Listen Webb, this is not how it works! Don’t you get it? You are supposed to stop at nothing—including outright falsehoods—to defame and destroy your opponent, and then when you are finally face-to-face, you smile and shake hands. This is politics!” And Webb’s rebuff was most assuredly not politics as usual, it was instead a refreshing moment of clarity when a Vietnam veteran decided he was not feeling up to the task of glad-handing the man who a few weeks ago was essentially (or, for Will’s sake, literally) saying “vote for this guy and we lose!” Which, among other things, begs the question: lose what, exactly? The hearts and minds of those who were supposed to greet us as liberators? Or lose the war we are waging on “terror”? We are waging a war on terror, right? (Which prompts other nauseating scenarios: for instance, one genuinely shudders to think what knights of the keyboard like Will and company—not to mention the bloviaters at Fox News—would have to say if Kerry had won in ‘04 and Bin Laden was still at large. Not that any of this is political you understand.)
In any event, it is difficult to determine what is more disturbing: Will’s feigned indignity or the possibility that he really is indignant and means every word he said. If that is the case, his rant takes on practically unprecedented levels of hypocrisy and embarrassment. Among other nuggets, he opines “In a republic, people decline to be led by leaders who are insufferably full of themselves.” Well, that’s half true: eventually, whether you get results or not, if you are a self-loving blowhard, the public will begin to tune you out. And then there are the unbelievable examples—which coincidentally run rampant in the current administration—like Donald Rumsfeld, who had the cojones to act increasingly superior in reverse proportion to the scale and consistency of his colossal screw-ups. But our current president, The Decider himself, proves the obverse of Will’s point, which is that image is everything, and style trumps substance almost every time, at least in politics. At least for a little while. That it took the public as long as it did to finally start to realize that the smiling man in the flight suit saying “you can’t get fooled again” might not be remotely up to the task is, obviously, unfortunate (and the MSM has no shortage of culpability in this matter), but whatever the tipping point turned out to be (warrantless wire-taps? Katrina? Acknowledged civil war in Iraq instead of mission accomplished?), there is no turning back.
And that is where Webb came in, much to the Establishment’s chagrin. Only in movies does a maverick politician march in, refuse to kowtow to convention, and end up facing down the smirking bully who considered his re-election a shoe in, his birthright. But it’s not a movie, and Webb—for all that can and will be said about his often cantankerous nature—is no lightweight. His credentials and street-cred are unimpeachable. A veteran (like Kerry) who actually has—or had—many allies on the Right and suffers no fools who might try to question his experience or distort his record (unlike Kerry). Could anything have upset the Swift-Boat supporting armchair soldiers than to listen to an angry and articulate critic of their Iraq misadventure calling them out?
Hell hath no fury like a chicken hawk scorned. Well, almost. The only thing that really rankles the holier-than-thou have-mores is when their half-page economic playbook is dissected, once more, for being the elitist, classist and racist dogma that it is. In this regard, Will epitomizes the well-connected insider who leads the charge card of the conservative intelligentsia: ceaselessly pointing out how the pointy-headed liberal elites remain out of touch with the average Americans, all the while parroting the platitudes of laissez-faire economic and social policies that widen the gulf between the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor.
Not for nothing did Will studiously avoid the substance of Webb’s recent WSJ editorial. As lamely as he latches on to Webb’s “boorish” brush-off of Bush, he lowers his sights to pointing out grammatical errors from Webb’s piece. This from a supporter of our most grammatically-impaired president; it is, as they say, to laugh—except for the part about it not really being remotely amusing. It would be instructive to hear Will’s spin on a few of the facts that Webb points out: that medical costs have risen 73% in the last six years and 47 million Americans have no medical insurance. Wait, we have heard the spin: the free market will sort it out. Also known as, let em eat cake. Or better still, this is America: if you study enough and work hard enough you can do anything you want! That is compassionate conservatism, redux. And, if we are lucky, Webb will be among the first—and hopefully not the last—to bring this discussion more to the forefront of our discourse, and we’ll eventually recall November 2006 not only as the moment the Republican Hate Machine was derailed and repudiated, but a time when new leaders emerged and brought us back toward the light.
In the meantime, expect more of the same from Will and the sore losers stoking the fire on right wing radio, especially if Webb continues to kick the dirt of reality into the entitled kids’ sandboxes. Expect little to change in the next two years, unless well-intended and intelligent leaders like Webb force the issue. Perhaps if Bush had a daughter in Iraq, that would, at long last, give him sufficient pause to reconsider his policies. Or, at least acknowledge that, for some folks, it truly is a matter of life and death. As for George Will, it’s all in a day’s work.
——Sean G. Murphy’s publishing credits include PopMatters, Web Del Sol and Phoebe. He is also a contributing restaurant reviewer for Northern Virginia Magazine. His blog can be found at:http://bullmurph.wordpress.com/
Topplebush.comPosted: December 5, 2006