Wednesday, January 10, 2007

George Bush vs. America

Richard Nixon first invoked the support of the “Silent Majority” in a speech in November 1969. In the midst of ever-larger protests against the Vietnam War, the Silent Majority were said to be the “average” Americans, the “real” Americans – the ones who worked hard, paid their bills, and supported their government and their country. Mostly made up of the World War II generation, they were the ones who proudly stood behind the slogan, “My country, right or wrong” and bemoaned the increasing lawlessness they saw in the streets of America.

Nixon’s landslide victory in 1972 seemed to prove that there was more to the Silent Majority than just a good marketing slogan. The country was sharply divided, between Nixon’s supporters and his opponents.

It wasn’t an unusual situation. Many issues have divided the country throughout our history, from the monumental – the Civil War – to the trivial (flag-burning, anyone?). But the point was, there were always two sides to an issue, and the administration in power was on one side or the other, or trying to straddle the fence between the two.

In sharp contrast, today we have a situation where a majority of the country – more than 70% by the latest polls – stand against the administration on the most important issue of the day, the Iraq war. I can’t recall a situation like this in my lifetime. On one side you have Bush, his diehard cultists (the 25% or so percent that think he’s been sent by White Protestant Jesus to save us all), and the Washington pundit class.

On the other side, you have every possible color and stripe of American citizen, all of whom are smarter and more progressive than their putative leaders.

How long can a situation like this last? A lot will depend on the new Democratic Congress. But Bush’s announcement of his plans for troop escalation tonight just looks like his lifelong Oedipal drama writ large; this time, it’s a slap in the face to the American people he was “elected” to serve.

The American people have not really gotten collectively angry at their own leaders since Nixon’s day. With the revelations in 1973 and 1974 of his multiple crimes, even his beloved Silent Majority had to turn their backs on him. Bush doesn’t even have a Silent Majority to appeal to, only an ever-shrinking base, many of whom have domestic reasons to be displeased with him anyway.

How long can an American president last, when the whole country’s turned against him?

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