How the War Plays in Peoria

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by John Flanagan

As I read Lew’s essay the other day concerning War for Oil, I reflected on Mencken’s observation of the efficacy of expanded suffrage in his Notes On Democracy. He quoted William Lecky, an Irish historian: “Nothing in ancient alchemy was more irrational than the notion that increased ignorance in the elective body will be converted into increased capacity for good government in the representative body; that the best way to improve the world and secure rational progress is to place government more and more under the control of the least enlightened classes.” It might be noted that Lecky was skeptical of other “miracles” too, not just democracy. I suppose the link between Lew, Lecky and Mencken was given impulse by what I observe about how the war is playing in Peoria.

Lew talks about pockets of dissent; well, that would be inaudible and invisible pockets of dissent in Peoria. In the days immediately following Sept. 11, there was a pseudo élan approaching enthusiasm, which has now evolved into a mere reluctant acquiescence. Without a George Will or David Broder column in the local Copley rag, there is virtually no mention of the war. Enron, because it is a complete mystery to any self respecting soccer mom, is, of course, the topic most likely to be discussed in the letters section. No risk, one can’t be wrong if one uses the appropriate class taunts. It is also safe harbor for the appearance-only-conscious newsreaders, who generally summarize any poorly reported Enron story about derivatives with the trenchant “what a mess”; the skinny blonde one, of course, with surreptitious consternation, hopes that transparency won’t become a fashion trend.

In Peoria, and remember now this is the home of Bob Michel, the mentor of that other dynamic legislative force, “Can’t we all just get along?” Ray LaHood, the war seems to be judged a success. Once the surgical skills of today’s military evinced that personal involvement was remote, the educationally undernourished electorate waxed positive about even frontal assaults mixed with unwanted, but tragically unavoidable, collateral damage; a term which is as well understood as Enron derivatives. Although requiring a bit of conditioning, one could see a dead Afghani on television as but a shard of pottery. It is, of course, obligatory, while viewing such, to fix an emotional mask depicting a concern similar to that of a Texan viewing road-kill. Peorians are Judeo-Christian derivatives, after all.

Barring a bumpy road to Baghdad, on which one’s actual acquaintances might have to march, and/or a continued lack of appreciation in one’s 401(k), nothing like this war will hurt the popularity of the President. It is ineffable but quite clear that in the Heartland the way to thwart terrorism, the word one chooses when wishing to say evil without sounding religious in a public forum, is to fasten a weather and wind proof flag to one’s mini-van. A derivative benefit is the angst felt by the neighbors, who are forced to duplicate; soon the entire neighborhood is protected by the talismanically flown flags. The entire war effort takes a little over a half-hour and one is free to go back to the life that one needs to live – with gasoline prices down – and, in due time, Mom will get government assistance in her prescription drug purchases – and white flight will continue under the rubric “educational opportunities” – and smokers and lottery dupes will pay for it all – and, as best stated in the rhapsodic lament of a former Congressman and Cher, “the beat goes on”.

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