Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Times Goes Literary

The New York Times is at it again: Martha Nussbaum on Sunday, Susan Sontag contra-Bush on Tuesday. Susan Sontag? Didn’t she go out with bell-bottoms? Is she back, along with that fashion nightmare? What gives here?

What gives is that opponents of Bush’s Iraq policy don’t have a serious argument against the administration, and they are losing ground quickly since Tony Blair and the rest of Europe appear to be falling in line. Already we have forgotten about Brent Scowcroft and James Baker (who immediately softened Scowcroft’s position); their Op-Ed tracts proved to have no traction. So the Times must go literary as a pathetic last resort, trotting out Left-wing intellectuals to do what old Bush I hands couldn’t. This is pretentiousness over substance from the snobs who accuse Bush II of lacking both.

Strangely enough, our authoress appears to have stumbled upon a Machiavellian lesson (though without knowing its source and his often humorous ways): If there is no crisis, make one. This is what she accuses the administration of doing anyway, when it calls our present difficulties with Islamic fundamentalism a “war.” Ms. Sontag objects to the inflammatory word, for it increases executive authority and is “destructive of constitutional rights.” Everyone knows, even without a Sontag lecture, that executives fight wars even if legislatures declare them, that our grandest, most powerful presidents have been, willy-nilly, wartime presidents, and that the prosecution of war is sometimes in tension with the rule of law. Naturally, we need to be vigilant that our desire for security or life itself not supercede how we live or our republican principles.

But this is no “phantom war,” a supposed fabrication of an overly-ambitious executive; it is the real thing, not sought by us but imposed on us by our enemy. In fact, it’s worse than the typical war because our enemy isn’t a nation-state which we can isolate. It is a trans-national surreptitious band of hoodlums inspired by fascist-like, quasi-religious ideology with the technological prowess to inflict significant damage on us. Our enemy’s lack of statehood (and U.N. membership) has apparently fooled our authoress into thinking that the word “war” does not apply to our conflict with it.

Ironically, the administration should only wish that Ms. Sontag is correct about this conflict not being a war, for then it wouldn’t need Congressional approval for its actions: no war, no declaration needed. Thanks to Ms. Sontag, the administration could conceivably benefit from the popular support engendered by military conflict without the trouble of answering to Congress -- now there’s a Machiavellian dream. Of course, this wouldn’t sit well with Ms. Sontag, but such legal details and considerations are apparently beneath this artist’s purview.

Ms. Sontag’s real objection is to the displays and feelings of patriotism that 9/11 has inspired. These supposedly insipid displays betray our leaders’ stupidity as they, unable to craft their own moving rhetoric, recycle old speeches such as the Gettysburg Address which Ms. Sontag says are now devoid of meaning. These displays also betray our stupidity, since we prefer to be regaled by old, familiar, anesthetizing words which prevent us from contemplating our current situation. The twin stupidities of statesmen and citizens apparently feed off of each other; this is the latest chapter of what Ms. Sontag calls American anti-intellectualism.

Well, if I have to be called a moron by an anti-bourgeois artist, I’d rather it be by Flaubert or Stendhal; they at least wrote much better books than Ms. Sontag has. But perhaps she’s correct: stupid people (including readers of the New York Times) get what they deserve, and we have her. Serves me right.


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