Tonight On Fox: When Democracies Attack

If the president chooses to liberate Iraq, then, in the words of those road signs that soothe the savage tongue of every tax-paying interstate traveler, I would like to see my tax dollars at work. Show me cords upon cords of corpses, set for dramatic effect, if possible, against burning oilfields to emphasize the enemy's turpitude.

Yes, I know some of you fellows at the Weekly Standard and Fox News will balk at first. You'll say it's a terrible idea. You'll call it pacifist subversion, like those photos of napalmed kids in Vietnam. But you should heed the spirit of your fearless benefactor. What would Rupert Murdoch do? He would give his public what it wants, by God, and he'd throw in a little lagniappe besides. After the bombing and the door-to-door subjugation of Baghdad, how about Iraqi POWs in a cage match with a rhinoceros? This is no time to start overestimating the intelligence of the American people! Don't you know there's a war on?

Be warned, the Internet cranks will trot out the specter of William Randolph Hearst. Hah! Hearst couldn't cut it by today's standards, thanks in large part to your boss's innovations. Show Joe Peoria a sea of dead Islamofascists with commentary by the pulchritudinous Laurie Dhue, and he'll quit flipping channels for damn sure. Give him something he can pledge allegiance to, and watch his worries evaporate faster than his retirement fund. A little spritz of carnage at the end of the day helps relieve the tedium of peace and comfort.

Let's take a trip down the furrow between the lower and middle brow, the great hatchery of ennui. Here dwell the citizens of God's chosen political arrangement, democracy. Joe Peoria learned in school that democracy is the best form of government, because the benighted folks in Russia didn't have it. His teachers never told him that his counterparts in the old U.S.S.R. had one luxury we lack. They had no illusions about their ability to choose their country's leadership, and thus felt no culpability for their government's policies in Hungary, Poland, East Germany, or (ahem!) Afghanistan. So, the nominal Commie, the average Boris, could feel sorrow for his government's victims, but he was not inclined to feel any guilt over them. The guiltless have no need to rationalize. We Americans, on the other hand, pick not only our president, but also the Secretary of State, director of the CIA, ambassador to Yemen, and so on down the line. (You remember those titles on the ballot, right?) Citizens in a democracy know that each vote counts, that voting implies consent, that not voting implies consent, and that our leaders are really an extension of ourselves. Their policies are our policies. Thus, like credulous democrats everywhere, the good American needs to rationalize his government's actions, lest he reckon himself a thief and a murderer. Hence the appeal of Fox News. Why would Bill O'Reilly badger a revisionist (scroll down on this link) who claims that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unjustified? Because O'Reilly recognizes that what Joe Peoria craves in patriotism is, in large part, simply a heady dose of absolution.

Joe isn't failsafe, of course. Bad thoughts ambush him when he least expects them. One night while watching Cops, he might question the desirability of a world remade in that image. He could be enjoying Joe Millionaire when an errant neuron recoils at the tawdry Murdoch philosophy. Some strange evening during the O'Reilly Factor, he may ask whether the militant host has ever donned combat fatigues. His curiosity awoken by another paean to the Good War in Mr. Kristol's mag, Joe might stumble across a book by John T. Flynn, Robert Stinnett, or Charles Beard at the local library. Dangerous things can happen when Joe's mind wanders. Why run the risk?

Look, we know that Fox has pull with this administration. All Joe and I are asking for is full, 24-hour access to the good stuff: Gulf War II Uncut. Since his and my paychecks are on the mandatory government weight-loss program, we deserve to see what we're paying for. We got stiffed the last time around, what with those grainy aerial shots of "the luckiest man in Iraq." Show us the unlucky ones, up close and in color. Granted, there is a slight chance that it might backfire and hurt the war effort, but you shouldn't worry too much about that. The Aussie wonder didn't get rich betting on the decency of the American people.

January 30, 2003