The President’s "serenity" (2)

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Many years ago, a close friend of mine had a “born again” experience and joined a Protestant sect. It’s an experience I’ve never forgotten. His concern for his unsaved friend — me — was touching in its own way, but also deeply unnerving because every conversation we had led only one place — to my potential conversion. There was no searching, no quest; there were no real questions left. There was just a path — only one — and I was not on it.

There can be no ambiguity in such a born-again experience. In a single moment — our President claims that his was when the Rev. Billy Graham planted a “mustard seed” in his soul — you are set on the path and then — by his account it seems to have taken the President a year — you find yourself there, in the only place to be. (“I do not pray for earthly things, but for heavenly things, for wisdom and patience and understanding. My faith gives me focus and perspective.”) It’s a total package and undoubtedly a totalizing experience. And then it’s just a matter (no small matter admittedly), even a duty to bring the rest of the world along. Iraq is about to have an armed conversion experience — and so are we all after a fashion.

As our President puts the matter with reference to the rest of the fallen lot of us, “During the more than half century of my life, we have seen an unprecedented decay in our American culture, a decay that has eroded the foundations of our collective values and moral standards of conduct. Our sense of personal responsibility has declined dramatically, just as the role and responsibility of the federal government have increased. The changing culture blurred the sharp contrast between right and wrong and created a new standard of conduct I believe America must seize this moment, America must lead. We must give our prosperity a greater purpose, a purpose of peace and freedom and hope. We are a great nation of good and loving people. And together, we have a charge to keep.” (All of these quotes are taken from a recent message sent out by Danny Schecter, the news dissector, who runs www.mediachannel.com and who, in turn, is citing “the personal testimony in Christian witness submitted by Bush to the founder of a Christian website. It was published to show that Bush ‘could be the answer for the culture of life and begin the road back to returning America’s soul'”)

Now the President’s “charge to keep” is surely mixing with other very American images, hardly less meaningful to him, of the cavalry charging to the rescue, the Marines hitting the beach, this time in the Middle East, where the world itself can more or less be born anew. The President is serene because he’s there, where the rest of us can’t hope to reach him. All these months he’s known that he has the sword in his hand. He’s just been waiting for that bugle, whether divine or out of the Westerns of our mutual childhoods, to blow. What happens when he charges and the world turns out to be disastrously different from everything he imagines I hate to think.

In today’s Washington Post, Dana Milbank takes up the issue of the President’s “serenity” in For Bush, War Defines Presidency, a piece which begins:

“In the coming weeks, all signs indicate, President Bush will launch the first war without direct provocation in the nation’s history.Repercussions of the war are likely to define not just the Bush presidency, but also the U.S. role in the world and even the course of domestic policy for years to come.

“It is the largest of gambles — except that Bush, in rhetoric and in temperament, sees it not as a gamble but as a historical inevitability. As he has upped the ante in Iraq by linking the war to the future of the United Nations, NATO and American leadership in the world, he appears confident and serene in the face of bitter worldwide protest.

“It is the largest of gambles — except that Bush, in rhetoric and in temperament, sees it not as a gamble but as a historical inevitability. As he has upped the ante in Iraq by linking the war to the future of the United Nations, NATO and American leadership in the world, he appears confident and serene in the face of bitter worldwide protest.

“‘This is his moment; this is his Omaha Beach,’ said Craig Stapleton, a close friend who is ambassador to the Czech Republic. ‘He knows exactly what to do.'”

In the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, Norman Mailer offers his distinctive version of the administration’s religious fervor, defining a group he calls “flag conservatives.” Here’s a drastically edited down passage from Only in America, but check out the whole thing:

“At the root of flag conservatism is not madness, but an undisclosed logic.From a militant Christian point of view, America is close to rotten. Once we become a twenty-first-century embodiment of the old Roman Empire, moral reform can stride right back into the picture. To flag conservatives, war now looks to be the best possible solution. Jesus and Evel Knievel might be able to bond together, after all.

“There is just this kind of mad-eyed mystique to Americans: the idea that we Americans can do anything. Yes, say flag conservatives, we will be able to handle what comes. Without a commitment to Empire, the country will go down the drain. This, I would opine, is the prime subtext beneath the Iraqi project, and the flag conservatives may not even be wholly aware of the scope of it, not all of them. Not yet.”

Below, you’ll find two interesting pieces on how the Europeans see this administration’s essential fundamentalism, that mix of the born-again kind and, among those administration members not faintly born again, imperial fundamentalism, military fundamentalism, Likudism, and the gods alone know what else. Tom

Bush, the Bible, and Iraq
By Stan Crock
BusinessWeek Online
March 7, 2003

Two reasons have surfaced for the deep divisions over Iraq that have created a political chasm between the U.S. and allies such as France, Germany, and Russia. One is that other nations oppose what they see as an unprovoked war. The second is that they view the threat Baghdad poses to the world as far less ominous than the one the Bush Administration imagines.

A third factor is also at work, though: religious rhetoric, perhaps even fervor, which divides the President and many of those who voted for him from leading thinkers abroad, including those in some Western democracies. As European nations become more secular, they’re increasingly suspicious of a country with a born-again Christian President, whose political base includes the majority of non-Arab fundamentalists in the U.S. British playwright Harold Pinter spotlighted this suspicion when he recently called Bush “a hired Christian thug.”

To read more of Crock click here

Bush fights the good fight, with a righteous quotation
By Ben Macintyre
The [British] Times on line
March 8, 2003

The literature of the First World War shapes our consciousness of war itself: nearly a century later, the language, myths and iconography of that conflict underpin an understanding of what war means across much of the world.

It seems appropriate, then, as we prepare for war in Iraq, that George W. Bush should be immersing himself in the words of a British writer from the Great War. His choice from the canon could hardly be more telling. Not for Bush the grimly inspired ironies of Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, nor the poignant, painful questioning of Wilfred Owen. Instead, every morning at dawn, the US President devotes himself to the exhortations of Oswald Chambers, a Scottish evangelist who died while serving as an army chaplain in Egypt in 1917.

To read more of Macintyre click here