As I try to put a little of my personal and political philosophy into this blog, it will probably become apparent that I tend to use the Bush Administration as a foil for everything that I take to be going wrong with America and the world. I'm trying to avoid taking that to an extreme, as America's problems run much deeper than the Bush administration and won't expire when it does, but I do find it a useful metaphor. I wrote this in response to a Boston Globe column.
When President Bush first began to rally the nation around him and set out his agenda after 9/11, his message lacked one conspicuous component: any call to shared sacrifice or civic duty on the part of ordinary Americans. Instead, Bush’s most memorable civic challenge to Americans was to head to the mall or to Disney Land, the better to deny the terrorists their goal of sabotaging the American economy. This is a particularly surprising omission given the historical importance of such efforts and Bush’s repeated comparisons of the war on terror with WWII.
Bush’s recent rhetoric, however, has shown evidence that the principle of shared sacrifice is not entirely foreign to his vocabulary after all. In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, for instance, he commended the sacrifice of soldiers killed in Iraq and their families. Bush has certainly not been reluctant to ask Americans to make this kind of sacrifice. More subtle was the call to economic sacrifice. In his speech, Bush somberly acknowledged that these have not been the best of times for most Americans. Yet, he reminded Americans that perilous times demand a greater degree of trust in government. This is no time, he cautioned, to question policies which can easily be resolved after the war on terror is won. Having access to health care or meaningful work hardly matters if the terrorists are allowed to prevail. Nor was terrorism the only threat cited as dire evidence of the need for sacrifice. The present state of culture and morality as well was said to necessitate stricter than usual loyalty to the ruling party. Taken together, this overwhelming image of an embattled Americana bracing itself against both bloodthirsty terrorists and legally wedded same-sex couples puts the call to shared sacrifice in a whole new light. It is Americans who are being asked to sacrifice on behalf of Bush. They are being asked to sacrifice their doubts, their liberties, their futures, and their lives. This call was the true theme of the convention, which was nothing more than a concerted effort to quash a populist revolt. Bush is asking Americans to pay a high price for a morally pure, secure America. He is demanding the sacrifice of democracy itself.