Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Civil Discourse

InstapunK (via Glenn Reynolds) asks some important questions of all of us regarding the too-often nasty and hyperbolic nature of post-9/11 criticisms and second-guessing of President Bush.
What would the past five years have been like, I couldn't help wondering, if debate and criticism had proceeded atop the civil platform of agreement that the President was really trying to do his best in a terrible crisis that almost no one had anticipated? Imagine that everyone had been sober and serious all along, as if the responsibility were theirs and not someone else's. Imagine that the opposition to the administration's policies had been more substantive than personal, focused on alternative proposals rather than autopsies of irrevocable decisions past. Imagine that all of us were dealing with today's reality instead of pet grievances from months or years ago. Isn't it possible that the critics might have had more impact on events, that the defenders of American policy might have listened and responded more thoughtfully?

You can decide all these questions for yourselves, but I know I would have been more open to opposing views if their proponents had not insisted that doing the right thing required a first step of denouncing the president as a fool, a liar, an opportunist, and a closet tyrant. If I put aside the partisan emotions such postulates inspire, I have enough breathing room to perceive that my own views have changed again and again over the past five years...

Only one of the 300 million people who live in America wake up every day to a briefing from the nation's intelligence agencies about what threats might become reailty today. That's a fact. The man's name is George W. Bush.

I'm NOT saying this makes him immune from criticism. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Forget all the invective about his cowardice or shirking of military duty when he was a twenty-something. Five years of such briefings would be enough to give most of us Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's probably the case that the President of the United States has been damaged by what he's been through. It's the most obvious explanation conceivable for why the White House seems so slow to respond to the daily firestorms the mass media engender. My guess is, not too many of us would want to be living inside George W. Bush's head right now. It's too much. For anyone. He needs advice and constructive criticism and thoughtful opposition. But who -- and I'm including all of you in this -- is served by characterizing the advice, criticism, and opposition as the obvious response to a criminal idiot?

But that's right. You, me, all of us, we're so much smarter than the oil monkey who's been getting the daily briefings for five years. That brings me to the second exercise. Make a list -- and write IT down too -- of the extreme positions you have taken personally over the past five years, beginning with 9/11. What are the worst things you have thought? What are the wildest positions you have espoused in your times of greatest personal weakness, disgust, anger, fatigue, despair? Measure them against the imaginary state in which you are responsible, day after day after day after day after day... Define loneliness. Could you bear it?

Now. That done, how would you really go about discussing your differences with the President of the United States? If you answer this question truthfully, I'm sure he'd be prepared to listen.
I think one of the negatives of blogs and the internet is that the remoteness and lack of personal interaction afforded by "cyber" punditry and commentary emboldens too many to act beyond the bounds of responsible debate. Hyberbole is standard. So is assigning and assuming the worst motives of those in power (yes, it applies to both left and right). I haven't agreed with everything that President Bush or his Administration has done, but I do believe that they are doing what they think is the right thing with regards to the War on Terror. If they've gone too far in scaling back Civil Liberties, for example, I perceive it to be out of a desire to better protect the nation, not to consolidate power in the Executive for its own sake. But my point isn't to debate specifics here, it's to second InstapunK's main observation: we need more civil discourse and responsible criticism.

1 comment:

brampton said...

Only one of the 300 million people who live in America wake up every day to a briefing from the nation's intelligence agencies about what threats might become reailty today.

But does he wake up at the beginning or the end of the briefing? And does he do enough critical reading of his own to be able to assess what he is told?

As far as we can tell, he does no reading. He told Fox News that he glances at newspaper headlines but does not read the stories because he is "briefed by people who have probably read the news themselves." Whenever he has to speak without a script or an earpiece, he seems singularly ill-informed.

Clinton's saxophone populism was bad enough, but at least it was just a charade, disguising a great deal of hard work. Bush's anti-elitist pose is so engrained that he appears to rely on nothing more than gut instinct.