"Patriotism is a kind of religion; it is the egg from which wars are hatched." ~ Guy de Maupassant
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish: A Warhawk Flies the Coop
I start on a personal note. I would like for the record to show that, today, I formally disavow the Republican Party as well as my past support for the Second Gulf War.
Now, let me be frank: This is something I didn't see coming a year ago. I only saw things through a prism of GOP allegiance back then. I'm a year older now -- a year wiser, I suppose. It shouldn't be easy for an op-ed writer to admit when he's wrong. But I was. And it is. And in light of George Bush's latest State of the Union, saying goodbye to the Republican Party is the easiest thing I've done in quite some time.
This doesn't mean I've gone Democrat, though. Quite the contrary. But let me explain.
There was a time not long ago when the president could do no wrong in my eyes, a time when I was willing to write, as I did in September '02, "I have faith in President Bush." That time ended last summer, however, when I finally got fed up with his fiscally ridiculous ways. Indeed, John Kerry calls the Bush White House "reckless," and when it comes to our wallets I tend to agree. And while I never thought I'd say this, the way Bush spends -- and spends, and spends -- I'm beginning to miss Bill Clinton.
Must we go to the moon, I mean? And must it cost billions in taxpayer dollars? Can't we just build a really tall ladder instead?
Anyway, with fiscal disgruntlement in mind, I began looking over my earlier work a few months ago, hoping to justify just what it was that made me vote Republican. I soon found the truth: I was as much a partisan cheerleader as the Hollywood Lefties I claimed to despise. And at first, I confess, I thought to address this in an Orwellian way -- that is, I thought to erase the past by removing older articles from my Web site's archives. Not wanting to repeat my personal history, however, I've decided to take myself on instead. Thus, this here mea culpa.
My thoughts on my partisan past? In retrospect, it bugs me. It means I ignored the fact that Big Gov't is Big Gov't no matter the name it goes by -- GOP, DNC, or what have you. For a time there, especially when I was first getting started three years ago, I had nary a thought of my own. I was accused a time or two of receiving Republican talking points. I didn't need them. All I had to do was turn on Sean Hannity and I'd end up repeating everything he said. The closest I came to independent thinking was repeating the words of people who claimed to be independent thinkers.
Case in point: In my first ever political diatribe, dated May 7, 2001, I referred to myself as "a non-partisan moderate," then went on to scold anyone critical of George Bush. I compare this now to North Korean girls crying tears of joy at the sight of Kim Jong Il.
More importantly, though, half the things I wrote back then were devoid of actual substance. I didn't have ideas. I had suggestions. I had templates. I applied them to whatever topic was hot, and voila! I had an article. Which is a fine way to make a deadline, sure, but it's really not so fulfilling. Take, for example, this gem from my February 25, 2003, article, "Time, Like France, Is Not On Our Side": "You know, it's not that I've ever taken things for granted, but my deep appreciation for American life only really settled in on September 11th. The feeling has yet to let me go."
Well, that's great and all, but what the hell was I saying? It didn't mean anything. Watch me change the words: "You know, it's not that I've ever taken the Canadian porn industry for granted, but my deep appreciation for it only really settled in when I witnessed Taliban porn firsthand. The feeling has yet to let me go." And you see, much like Mad Libs, a few changed words didn't change the substance one lick.
And I'll tell you the thing that gets me now is I really, truly believed at the time that that was one of my finest articles ever. At the time, it probably was. But I wrote a lot of stuff like that during the build-up to the Second Gulf War. I was still in a woe-is-me, post-9/11 rut back then, and I went along with the war without thinking critically or questioning a damn thing. This bothers me now because, regardless of whether I support my having supported it, I would've done well to have followed less blindly -- as a writer, as an American, as a man.
In that very same article on February 25, I wrote: "I don't want this war' anymore than the next guy." That sounded nice when I wrote it, but it wasn't exactly true. I mean, of course I wanted the war more than the next guy. I was rooting for it with thousand-word diatribes each and every Tuesday. The least I could've done is not lied about it. But, indeed, I was the one I was lying to. It was one of those you're-only-fooling-yourself moments, and I fell for it.
Well, unlike The Who, I can't promise I won't get fooled again, but I can promise you I don't want to.
Before the Second Gulf War, we heard about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. I'll say now, like I said then, that the actual weapons were secondary to the shady way in which he treated the weapons inspectors. It seemed to prove he was hiding something, and there remains the chance that he was. Either way, I enjoy the fact that he's out of power. But if his sketchiness was cause for war, what, then, can I say about Bush's own sketchiness on this issue?
I've got the State of the Union transcript in front of me as I write this. By my count, the phrase "weapons of mass destruction" is mentioned three times. The first regards Libya's voluntary disarmament. Next comes Bush's claim that a report by inspector David Kay "identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities." And finally, Bush said, "Had we failed to act, the dictator's weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day." Yet the evidence, thus far, indicates Saddam's storied stockpiles were just that: Stories. Dozens of 'em.
So did Iraq really have WMD programs? Colin Powell says "we don't know yet." And David Kay says the evidence suggests "the weapons do not exist." Both men revealed their opinions mere days after the State of the Union. Surely the president knew about them ahead of time. Why no mention of it, then? A simple "Oops," or "I'm as surprised by this as you are," would've sufficed. Instead, he treated this "credibility gap" -- as Tom Daschle might call it -- as a non-issue. Out of sight. Out of mind. What a brilliant PR move. Sort of reminds me of the time Baghdad Bob said coalition troops were nowhere near the airport, when, in fact, they had taken the airport.
Ted Kennedy said of the war on Iraq last September, "There was no imminent threat. This was made up in Texas." I don't like Ted Kennedy, and I don't want to believe him. There's no denying, though, that a good many members of the Bush administration had been advocating this war for years -- indeed, since before the "new Pearl Harbor" (i.e., 9/11) that they suggested would push forward their plan. I want to believe their intentions were genuine. I want to "have faith," as I said before. But I see the lack of WMDs in Iraq, and I see Bush's reluctance to so much as address the issue, and it starts to remind me of another George -- this one Costanza -- who once drove his in-laws to his house in the Hamptons despite knowing full well he had no house there.
Which brings me back to the reason I'm disavowing the Republican Party. Bush said of the Patriot Act in his State of the Union this year, "Our law enforcement needs this vital legislation to protect our citizens." Some in the chamber booed this statement. In a prepared response later that evening, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said, "Democrats have a better way to ensure our homeland security." She explained the dangers of uninspected shipping containers and concluded, "America will be far safer if we reduce the chances of a terrorist attack in one of our cities than if we diminish the civil liberties of our own people."
The president has proven we can't trust him with our wallets. Some would say we can't trust him on foreign affairs. Meanwhile, both parties would rely on government power to wage the war on terror, and this is what scares me the most.
I am an average, everyday American. I used to be able to see the Twin Towers from atop the hill behind my home. When those buildings went down, my heart said, "Give the government free reign." No longer. The CIA failed to stop 9/11. They've failed to find whoever sent anthrax, and the war that I supported because of that anthrax was built on yet more bad intelligence. Now we're supposed to let men in publicly subsidized uniforms break into our homes to "protect" us?
No wonder they send folks to jail for fighting back against petty burglars. With an attitude like that, we'd kick the government out of our homes, too.
So here's the bottom line: I supported the Second Gulf War because I thought we were waging it in self-defense. The lack of WMDs leads me to believe we had nothing to defend ourselves from -- except fear. I see now that the arguments I made in favor of the war were as empty as the arguments made for and against it by our leaders. My error was putting my "faith" in the government. It can't protect me, and it won't. The First and Second Amendments show we're supposed to protect ourselves. As part of this, I'm going to get off my lazy rear end and learn how to use a gun already. I've been meaning to do so for ages. I plan on doing so soon.
Thomas Jefferson wrote that men "are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed." For me, this means it's time to declare my independence from the Left/Right dichotomy. If I don't know who to trust, I'll trust no one. It's safer that way.
According to Bush, "the state of our union is confident and strong." I say it's too strong. Please stay tuned as I try to prove it to you.