What is it in the conservative soul that makes Republicans so panicky? Sure, 9/11 was scary and spectacular, and almost 3,000 people died. But by the time 2003 rolled around, many of us had put the event in perspective. It was a shockingly effective surprise terrorist attack – not an act of war. There was no state actor behind the plan, no military massing on our border, not even, it turned out, an inkling of an idea of a plan to build a weapon of mass destruction.
What was needed after 9/11 was a cool, sober, and intelligent reaction to the circumstances. Instead, we got the Rumsfeld/Cheney plan for Iraq. Yes, they’d planned to whole thing in advance, but they were able to sell it because it played to our fears. Now you could see this as an utterly cynical ploy on their part, but I don’t believe that. I believe that they were really afraid too. In short, they were panicking. A natural enough reaction in the next couple of months after 9/11, but not by March of 2003.
So what is it about conservatives that makes them so irrationally hysterical? Why do they see America destroying boogeymen in a loose confederation Muslim terrorists?
Someone will say nukes, or some other kind of weapon of mass destruction. And this is a real fear. But it is also the kind of fear that should lead to an aggressive, well thought-out plan involving allies, the U.N., diplomacy, monitoring, international pressure, and covert (or overt) targeted military operations. Instead, we got Iraq. And attacking Iraq has done far more to create a threat than it has done to prevent one. Lots of people foresaw that that would happen (including Obama), but few of them were conservatives.
No, I think Republicans acted the way they did because of something inherent to conservatism: fear of the unknown, fear of the future. Conservatives favor tradition and seek to uphold the virtues of what they consider to be a better past. Faced with the unknown after 9/11, rather than take stock of the situation and their fears, they came out guns blazing. The result? The intractable quagmire of Iraq.
So what does this have to do with McCain? Well, the guy is an exemplar of the type. A fearful, shoot-first, hot-head who can hardly be expected to face an unknown future with a sense of composure and decisive restraint. He will attack the flies immediately and he’ll do it with a hammer.
But hammers don’t work against flies (they never do). What we need is a fly-swatter.
Barack Obama will bring a fly-swatter for the terrorist flies.