Days of Rage
In times to come, the period between the failed campaign of John Kerry and the Democratic control of the Congress, coupled with the beginning of the successful surge, should be known as “The Insane Years.” This was the era in which Guantanamo was a gulag, renditions were the stuff of Hollywood movies, and Bush and Cheney were deemed veritable war criminals. Was it all a dream, those nightmare years of 2004-7?
I recall all that only because Oprah was just quoted as calling for more civility to be shown President Obama (“even if you’re not in support of his policies, there needs to be a certain level of respect”), echoing the president’s own post-Tucson insistence on a new amity between opponents. Bill Maher recently expressed outrage over the uncivil tone shown Barack Obama in Bill O’Reilly’s Super-Bowl Day interview. I think such concern for deference and conciliation is altogether fine and good; but, again, do we recall the crazy years of not so long ago?
This was the period in which Michael Moore called for U.S. defeat in Iraq and dubbed the Islamists who were killing our own soldiers “Minutemen.” Indeed, in April 2004, he wrote on his website: “The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorists’ or ‘The Enemy.’ They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow — and they will win….I oppose the U.N. or anyone else risking the lives of their citizens to extract us from our debacle…the majority of Americans supported this war once it began and, sadly, that majority must now sacrifice their children until enough blood has been let that maybe — just maybe — God and the Iraqi people will forgive us in the end.” I think in the old days such sentiments of calling for the deaths of one’s countrymen were called “treasonous.” Yet, such ranting in and of itself was not surprising given Moore’s ideology and crassness. But what was inexplicable was the Democratic Party’s reaction to his mythodrama, Fahrenheit 9/11, and his royal presence at the Democratic convention of 2004, when all of the above was well known.
Oprah and Bill Maher, of course, were quiet when Nicholson Baker wrote the novel Checkpoint in 2004, imagining the death of George Bush — a topic that was the theme of a docudrama by Gabriel Range that earned him a first prize at the Toronto Film Festival. Wait. In fact, Bill Maher did say something a little more outrageous than Bill O’Reilly’s apparent rudeness (“very disrespectful”) shown President Obama. In early 2007, he said of an apparent assassination attempt against Vice President Cheney: “But I have zero doubt that if Dick Cheney was not in power, people wouldn’t be dying needlessly tomorrow. … I’m just saying if he did die, other people, more people would live. That’s a fact.”
The Age of No Civility
Such a weird era that was, when British liberals wrote letters to those in Ohio, beseeching Americans to vote against George Bush in the key battleground state. I recall an op-ed, widely circulated in 2004, in the Guardian by one Charles Brooker, with the infamous line, “John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley, Jr. — where are you now that we need you?” Did Oprah deplore that climate of violence? Was that “very disrespectful”?
John Glenn (“the old Hitler business”), Al Gore (“digital brownshirts”), and Senator Robert Byrd all evoked brownshirts and Nazis, in George Soros fashion, to demonize the president of the United States. Do we even remember how Cindy Sheehan and her rantings, often virulently anti-Semitic, were found useful by the Democratic Party? Hollywood made in those years a succession of money-losing, poorly scripted propaganda films on Iraq. Do we recall some of them (and why did the genre die after January 2009?) — In the Valley of Elah, Rendition, Lions for Lambs, Redacted? Do we recall the legion of those who clamored to go into Iraq and in that era suddenly were blaming others for spoiling their three-week victory and not finding arsenals of WMD — as if the Congress had not voted for twenty-three reasons to authorize the war?
My god, I do remember 2007, when the New York Times gave a discount to MoveOn.org for the ad hominem “General Betray Us” ad. Hillary that day suggested the general’s testimony required a suspicion of disbelief. Barack Obama assured us the surge had failed, and Joe Biden lectured Petraeus on trisecting Iraq — in the days before Iraq became, in Biden’s words, “our greatest achievement.”
Yes, yes, I remember those eerie times well. There was Jonathan Chait’s New Republic essay about why “I hate President George W. Bush.” (Oprah, where were you?) Garrison Keillor was more clever in his hate of Bush’s Republicans: “brown shirts in pinstripes.” Howard Dean, likewise now angry over the incivility of today’s politics, in that era declaimed, “I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for.” Do we recall the NAACP chairman of the time, civil rights movement veteran Julian Bond, saying of Bush & Co.: “Their idea of equal rights is the American flag and the Confederate swastika flying side by side”? (Oprah, where were you?)
So yes, bring on the new civility. Let us by all means respect the president and his office, and focus on his policies, not the person, agreeing when we can, disagreeing when we must. But, please, let us also never forget that not long ago things were not as they are now. Not by a long shot.