The Evil of Banality

I realize that reading Esquire for its politics is somewhat akin to reading National Review for menswear ideas, but still, in August of 2004, Esquire’s Tom Junod wrestled with his inner demons and tried to make “The Case for George W. Bush — i.e., what if he’s right?” Of course, the BDS was lurking pretty strong throughout the piece, but at one point, Junod attempted to recover his humanity enough to write:


As easy as it is to say that we can’t abide the president because of the gulf between what he espouses and what he actually does , what haunts me is the possibility that we can’t abide him because of us—because of the gulf between his will and our willingness. What haunts me is the possibility that we have become so accustomed to ambiguity and inaction in the face of evil that we find his call for decisive action an insult to our sense of nuance and proportion.

The people who dislike George W. Bush have convinced themselves that opposition to his presidency is the most compelling moral issue of the day. Well, it’s not. The most compelling moral issue of the day is exactly what he says it is, when he’s not saying it’s gay marriage. The reason he will be difficult to unseat in November—no matter what his approval ratings are in the summer—is that his opponents operate out of the moral certainty that he is the bad guy and needs to be replaced, while he operates out of the moral certainty that terrorists are the bad guys and need to be defeated. The first will always sound merely convenient when compared with the second. Worse, the gulf between the two kinds of certainty lends credence to the conservative notion that liberals have settled for the conviction that Bush is distasteful as a substitute for conviction—because it’s easier than conviction.

By 2008, as Moe Lane reminds us today, Junod’s worldview had collapsed to exactly the sort of Manichean right/wrong paradigm he hated in Bush, except that instead of thinking of Al Qaeda has the definitive force for evil in the world, Junod saw it in his fellow countrymen. Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein replaced by a former Vietnam-era POW Navy pilot and a blue collar independent contractor who had the misfortune to be randomly picked out of a rope line by Obama late in the campaign to ask him a question:


I wasn’t looking for hope, that’s for sure; I was looking for evidence that Obama couldn’t win in the face of an evil as potent as the Republican party. As my mother got weaker and the light began to be blanched from her eyes, I would go to the blogs right after my daughter went to school, and then just before I went to visit my mom, and then as soon as I came home, and then for a few minutes while my daughter took her bath, and then, after I kissed my wife and she went to bed, in the dark hour past midnight. I hated Joe the Plumber more than I hated anyone on earth. He was my comfort, because he was death itself, and he allowed me to hate not just him but it.

I’d told myself on the plane that I wasn’t going to look at any of the dozens of inescapable televisions that line the terminal in Atlanta. I’d told myself that I was going to wait till we got home and Nia got to bed before I started to check any of the returns. My vow lasted until I saw the hovering face of Campbell Brown reporting on Kentucky. Campbell, she of the gorgeous hair, was calling Kentucky for John McCain — and suddenly I felt something I hadn’t felt since my mother died. I felt nauseous. I was doubled over, not by the news of McCain’s win but by the prospect that Obama might lose.

Today in Esquire, Junod asks, “Obama’s Administration Killed a 16-Year-Old American and Didn’t Say Anything About It. This Is Justice?” The article also contains — in case you miss the subtlety of the primary headline, a red blood-splatter graphic with text inside it that reads, “The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama.”


Wait ’til he hears about Fast and Furious.

In any case, that’s a far cry from last year, when another Esquire writer was channeling his inner George Costanza, writing, “Whatever happens this fall or next, the summer of 2011 is the summer of Obama.”

As Moe Lane writes in response to Junod’s new article:

Speaking as one of the ‘moldering’ people that the author later gleefully mocked in that article: YOU wanted this, Tom Junod.  You wanted every particle of this.  You drank deep at the well of hate in 2008, as the above passage shows, and in your hate you fixated on getting Barack Obama elected.

Read the whole thing.


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