From Liberty Street: Deserved Suffering

John Turner

With respect to the Bush administration we're in for a long, slow, miserable dribbling away. There will be no revival because there's nothing in the mind of the president or his advisors that's capable of revival. They have been, all along, purveyors of bad ideas because bad ideas are the only kind they have.

We can't say we don't have it coming. A people who reelected the man who had fully demonstrated his qualities by November 2004 showed themselves to be on the edge of psychosis. There's no reason to have much sympathy for ourselves now. Even those of us who knew all along that Mr. Bush was a national disaster are guilty because we didn't do enough. We all have to suffer together and the only thing we're going to get out of it is discomfort and, perhaps, a tincture of learning. In fact, the most interesting question facing the American people over the next two and a half years is how much they're capable of learning.

We should keep in mind that when we talk about the learning of a people what we're really referring to is the coming to consciousness of an increment. What percentage of the American people who formerly were either dead to knowledge about national policy or were indulging themselves in childish delusions sparked by low-grade sentimental rhetoric will wake up and grow up. If it could happen to ten percent of us, that would be a revolution. And if it happened to only five percent, it would be a very good thing.

We don't have much in our public discourse to tell us about the quality of mind of the people. We do know from persistent polls that great numbers are astoundingly ignorant about their own history. But the ongoing falsity which proclaims a worship of the goodness and greatness of the people holds us back from knowing what we need to do to have, not greatness or goodness, but simply a modest degree of sanity. If we could achieve the latter over the next thirty months, it would be a transformation of seismic dimensions.

The first step in that healthy alteration must be suppression of everything put forward by those who seek to reinvigorate the president's standing. We mustn't allow the president to regain influence because we know it will be bad for the nation. I'm not a person to dismiss the possibility of learning in anyone. But to think that George Bush can learn enough in the next two and a half years to exercise power sensibly runs strongly against reason.

The second step must be an ongoing and vigorous analysis of what we have done to ourselves over the past five years. At the moment there can be no more disabling, asinine or obnoxious message than the cry to move on. We have no business moving on. We need, thoroughly and repeatedly, to rub our faces in our own stupidity. To forget what we have done and how we have behaved would be a guarantee of repeating our fatuity.

The third step should be an active public discussion of what kind of people we want to be. Are riches actually the American dream and all we really care about? Or, are there other qualities that we want to define our nation? There's no sense ignoring the truth that salvation through money has been recently the national credo. If that is to be the national faith then we need to embrace it knowing what it will bring and what the price of it will be.

I'm aware that there are those who would call the practice of sobriety un-American. After all, we're supposed to be forward-looking and optimistic. If we learn anything over the coming months it should be that optimism is not a virtue. If it's present at all it should be based on realistic assessment. And if reality tells us that our immediate future is not bright, then a good dose of pessimism might be the best medicine we could swallow.

I continue to believe that at the core of our people there is a goodness and greatness we can build on. But we can't lay a solid foundation for the future by self-congratulation. We've patted ourselves on the back until our arms are nearly paralyzed. Now we need to stop that nonsense and start clearing away the rubbish we've piled up in front of ourselves.

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