Memo to: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Re: Sharing the slush
Hey boss. Here’s my monthly report on selling the war down here in Dixie. You might think maintaining support for Operation Enduring Freedom, or Operation Iraqi Freedom, or Operation Freedom Liberation, or Operation Trotsky Idealism — what’s it being called now? — would be easy in the South, where the states are redder than a pit barbeque in June.
But it isn’t that easy. Some of our comrades down here care more for the races in Talladega than the races for military contracts around Baghdad. Who knows why? No one’s died at Talladega in years, while in Iraq dying has become commoner than a cicada in Savannah. Why watch the NASCAR channel when your dish gets CNN?
The problem is, the Abu Graib prison pictures are not going too well down here. Scandals rarely do in the South. The last two University of Alabama football coaches were caught in scandals as naked as an Iraqi prisoner, only with women with longer hair and less leashes than some female G.I.s, and their explanations sounded about as believable as yours last week before Congress. Bama’s scandals were real scandals, and people were honorable enough to resign because of them. They set back the school’s recruiting efforts by several years. It makes me wonder how the Army’s recruiting has been going lately. (The evidence is not positive.)
I’m wondering because lots of those volunteers have been from the South. After all, military money puts okra on tables down here. That support might get weaker if people get to thinking that we’re doing more harm than good, or if it looks like some of our good old boys are dying for a vision of freedom that allows governments to define marriage or draft boards to take our boys and girls.
If that support goes the way of Coke’s stock, then you might as well join Halliburton’s board come December. Without support for the war, then people will judge Bush on a domestic record that makes that Arkansas boy Billy Clinton look as fiscally responsible as your local Wal-Mart.
That’s why I’ve been sweating so much for you in the Confederacy, and not at Hilton Head. Lots of people, and not just Southerners, are beginning to reckon that if it wasn’t for Iraq, then Bush would be exposed as the biggest spender since that New Yorker FDR, and with none of Huey Long’s charm. If it wasn’t for Iraq, Southerners might even choose a Massachusetts Democrat this November on the basis that he would govern closer to the Right.
If it wasn’t for Iraq, some of our comrades in the red states could turn absolutely blue.
We can’t let that happen, and the first step is in making Southerners believe that you mean to do right, even if you never do. The way to do that is to maintain a contrite heart, or at least the appearance of one. Billy Clinton understood this. You should too. One key step in this direction would be in supporting reparations of confiscated wealth.
Giving back money taken from others is the moral thing to do, and if you have ever read Flannery O’Connor, you know that Southerners will always support the moral thing. This is where you come in. Reports are that 20 percent of Bush’s recent $25 billion request to fund the war for the rest of the year will be going into your own personal slush fund. This $5 billion must be given back to southern taxpayers as a show of goodwill.
We can call it Operation Reparation, and it may backfire worse than the General Lee. Some may realize that much more has been taken from them over the years and want that back to. But Southerners will see it as a nice gesture — like a televangelist crying after committing a sin or a gambler in Biloxi leaving a big tip at the Cracker Barrel.
Really, it would just be giving back what was taken from others, like when LSU gives back a touchdown after it was found out that the team committed a foul. The only difference is that with Operation Reparation, you’d be giving back loot taken after violation of natural law.
Such a gesture might keep southern support for the war going, at least through November. Then you can go ahead and preemptively invade Syria and Iran and whatever other country you want to that doesn’t have nukes.
It’ll be bowl season then.
Chris Westley [send him mail] teaches economics at Jacksonville State University, Alabama.