Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Paul Krugman says it best

The Rambo Coalition

August 24, 2004
By PAUL KRUGMAN





Almost a year ago, on the second anniversary of 9/11, I
predicted "an ugly, bitter campaign - probably the nastiest
of modern American history." The reasons I gave then still
apply. President Bush has no positive achievements to run
on. Yet his inner circle cannot afford to see him lose: if
he does, the shroud of secrecy will be lifted, and the
public will learn the truth about cooked intelligence,
profiteering, politicization of homeland security and more.


But recent attacks on John Kerry have surpassed even my
expectations. There's no mystery why. Mr. Kerry isn't just
a Democrat who might win: his life story challenges Mr.
Bush's attempts to confuse tough-guy poses with heroism,
and bombast with patriotism.

One of the wonders of recent American politics has been the
ability of Mr. Bush and his supporters to wrap their
partisanship in the flag. Through innuendo and direct
attacks by surrogates, men who assiduously avoided service
in Vietnam, like Dick Cheney (five deferments), John
Ashcroft (seven deferments) and George Bush (a comfy spot
in the National Guard, and a mysterious gap in his
records), have questioned the patriotism of men who risked
their lives and suffered for their country: John McCain,
Max Cleland and now John Kerry.

How have they been able to get away with it? The answer is
that we have been living in what Roger Ebert calls "an age
of Rambo patriotism." As the carnage and moral ambiguities
of Vietnam faded from memory, many started to believe in
the comforting clich├ęs of action movies, in which the
tough-talking hero is always virtuous and the hand-wringing
types who see complexities and urge the hero to think
before acting are always wrong, if not villains.

After 9/11, Mr. Bush had a choice: he could deal with real
threats, or he could play Rambo. He chose Rambo. Not for
him the difficult, frustrating task of tracking down
elusive terrorists, or the unglamorous work of protecting
ports and chemical plants from possible attack: he wanted a
dramatic shootout with the bad guy. And if you asked why we
were going after this particular bad guy, who hadn't
attacked America and wasn't building nuclear weapons - or
if you warned that real wars involve costs you never see in
the movies - you were being unpatriotic.

As a domestic political strategy, Mr. Bush's posturing
worked brilliantly. As a strategy against terrorism, it has
played right into Al Qaeda's hands. Thirty years after
Vietnam, American soldiers are again dying in a war that
was sold on false pretenses and creates more enemies than
it kills.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Mr. Bush - who
must defend the indefensible - has turned to those who
still refuse to face the truth about Vietnam.

All the credible evidence, from military records to the
testimony of those who served with Mr. Kerry, confirms his
wartime heroism. Why, then, are some veterans willing to
join the smear campaign? Because they are angry about his
later statements against the war. Yet making those
statements was itself a heroic act - and what he said then
rings truer than ever.

The young John Kerry spoke of leaders who sent others to
their deaths because they wanted to seem tough, then "left
all the casualties and retreated behind a pious shield of
public rectitude." Fifteen months after George Bush
strutted around in his flight suit, more and more Americans
are echoing Gen. Anthony Zinni, who received a standing
ovation from an audience of Marine and Navy officers when
he talked about the debacle in Iraq and said of those who
served in Vietnam: "We heard the garbage and the lies, and
we saw the sacrifice. I ask you, is it happening again?"

Mr. Kerry also spoke of the moral cost of an ill-conceived
war - of the atrocities soldiers find themselves committing
when they can't tell friend from foe. Two words: Abu
Ghraib.

Let's hope that this latest campaign of garbage and lies -
initially financed by a Texas Republican close to Karl
Rove, and running an ad featuring an "independent" veteran
who turns out to have served on a Bush campaign committee -
leads to a backlash against Mr. Bush. If it doesn't, here's
the message we'll be sending to Americans who serve their
country: If you tell the truth, your courage and sacrifice
count for nothing.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/24/opinion/24krugman.html?ex=1094368228&ei=1&en=4820821747bf691c

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