From the Editor

John Turner

As we move towards the final two years of the Bush administration I find myself being pushed towards language that is considered extreme in the main media. My remarks in From Liberty Street this week are an example. Saying that the principal figures of the current presidential administration are irrational is not anything you will hear on the network news shows. Yet, what if it's true, and what if refusal to say so constitutes a radical dismissal of the truth? Who's extreme then?

We know clearly from history that it's possible for a political culture to become so cankered that nations are led to insane behavior. We know that insane behavior on the part of nations is not extremely rare. So why is it outrageous to suspect that we may be in one of those conditions? Have Americans been inoculated against the distempers of humanity? I don't think so. And charging that Americans are humans and therefore subject to ordinary human pathology strikes me as not being extreme at all. Extremity lies, rather, in saying that sick people have no need to get well.

I was reminded of this recently when I took someone to our local airport. Sitting at every entryway now there are little signs cautioning people that the terror alert is high. What's the purpose of these signs? Is it credible to think that they are designed to persuade people to sniff out developing terrorist plots?  No, it's not. Their purpose is to remind people to be afraid. And who wants to do that? Your president does, because he believes polls that tell him that when voters are scared they are more likely to support him and his policies.

We need to ask ourselves what kind of people are so abject and pathetic they will let themselves be frightened into voting for somebody? That's not extreme. It's a simple question. And once the question is asked, the answer becomes quickly obvious. The irony of American culture now is that those who pop off most volubly about getting tough with the world and showing it who's boss are actually our biggest fraidycats. Supporting George W. Bush is neither tough nor courageous. And that's the least extreme statement I've ever made.

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Harvard Square Commentary, September 4, 2006