It is now time to turn away from the messes George W. Bush’s foreign policy team in the Vice President’s office and the Pentagon has created. Avert your gaze from the dusty tear-stained trail of liberated people without electricity or archeological collections, who, who if they could only get a drink of fresh water and some bread, might say again, a little less hoarsely, "Yankee, go home!" Best not to bring it up, it is done, over with. We are on to the new agenda of getting George W. Bush re-elected!!
It is an exciting time! Finally, having solved the world’s security problems, we can turn our attention to what the Bush team can to… errr, I mean, for us, the citizenry!
We have gained some worthwhile campaign ideas from recent foreign policy — big ideas like "We can make your world a better place" — see how we did Iraq? Quick, impressive, powerful? And we didn’t even like Iraq, so imagine what this machine can do for the American people! We love the American people!
All who oppose George W. Bush’s pre-eminence are bad, from Saddam westward, and that makes sloganeering easy. We also have some convenient common enemies — for example, the French.
Anti-intellectualism and anti-Frenchness go hand-in-hand, and this is now fully enrolled as a campaign plank. Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle and the rest of the neocon foreign policy eggheads are moving out of the limelight, and Hannity, Limbaugh, Savage, the whole crowd of loud can be literally unleashed!
One of the first volleys from the Bush re-election team is that Democrat front runner Kerry won’t "translate" well out of New England because "he looks French." This from Marc Racicot, new chairman of the Republican National Committee and a compatriot. Now, excuse me, but what am I missing here? Marc Racicot? Anyone? Anyone?
Attacks on the stuffy anti-American State Department by Newt Gingrich are part of the overall program — his presentation at the American Enterprise Institute called for a complete overhaul of the striped suits there who "don’t support George Bush or his policies." This from Bushman Gingrich, prolific Ph.D. himself who never wore a uniform, and sits on the Defense Policy Board with a bunch of other intellectuals, the most vocal and influential members of which also never wore a uniform. But I digress.
But none of this matters because we are now dealing with the "American Public." John and Iris Q. don’t need to see subtlety, or even truth — all that is required is for John and Iris to feel good about Dubya. At least that is the common wisdom.
But the common wisdom of the 60 plus year old government crowd is the wisdom of folks who have never watched the MTV show called Punk’d. Punk’d is rude, vulgar, nasty and sometimes hilarious. The host is a charming guy named Ashton Kucher.
Punk’d is a show where you get to watch elaborate and expensive practical jokes played on celebrities and other friends of Ashton, or Ashton’s friends’ friends. The targets are often selected based on their perceived arrogance factor or big-headedness, folks who need a wake-up call of sorts. I doubt Karl Rove or George Bush watch the show very often.
But an American political scientist should never miss an episode. What Ashton and his antics represent is a beautiful contempt for authority, for government hypocrisy, and for personal irresponsibility. The pranks work, in most cases, because an authority figure has "assumed" authority and proceeds to change someone’s reality. This works, because like sheeple, the victim goes along with even the most inane but clearly "legitimate" instructions. The psychology of authority, often government authority, is demonstrated, used for a laugh, and then discounted. Ashton’s commentary in this matter is priceless — he is a modern-day Burke, in his way — advocating personal responsibility, opposing the stupidity of crowds, even crowds of one, and demonstrating a healthy skepticism regarding "government" agendas, especially the unstated, self-enriching and self-promoting kind.
Now, in Punk’d, it’s all good fun, and it always ends in hugs and friendly curses all around.
Another vector against the common wisdom is the Dave Matthews Band. The band is popular among the younger crowd of voting age folks, and Dave’s site has the band’s very intelligent statement opposing the war in Iraq (yes, the war in Iraq continues until George Bush says that Tommy Franks says that it’s not a war and is now an occupation, err… whatever). Dave’s short statement is calm, reasoned, elegant. Dave Matthews T-shirts are everywhere on high school, college and post-college age folks, and they don’t look reasoned or elegant at all. But looks can be deceiving, and this is the art of politics.
Punk’d viewers and Dave Matthews Band fans are about as powerful as you or I in changing the course of a two party election. But when you take the quiet masses of veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam wars — people who have seen how our country has evolved into massive, expensive, out of control, often deceitful, increasingly arrogant government — I think we will find a link between the young and the old that skips many voters in the baby boom generation of Clinton and Bush.
If you look past the bad language and roughness, I think there is a shared value set here that is unrecognized by political operatives. This value set goes beyond the fact that neither the under 35’s or the presently over 70 crowd have any intention of ever paying Social Security for the Baby Boom generation.
This natural political alliance may never need to be recognized. Most of these folks won’t vote, because it makes little sense, and most won’t be activists. But Americans who share a concern and disappointment about big government and who are, in practical terms, disavowing this "government" and its agendas and authority do count for something. This political attitude is cross-generational and quietly pervasive. It is intelligent, animated by a trillion small choices everyday to discount, to tune out, and to laugh at Washington, its propaganda and its symbols.
In military strategy, we seek to understand asymmetric conditions and tactics, and how they might be used to our advantage. Political asymmetry is more interesting, and may not be recognized by bush-league combatants as a treacherous minefield until it is too late.
Kind of like when you’ve been Punk’d.
Karen Kwiatkowski [send her mail] is a recently retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent her final four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon. She now lives with her freedom-loving family in the Shenandoah Valley.