From Jekyll-Hyde to Hyde-Jekyll: The American Transformation

The vast majority of Americans wanted the war in Iraq. They wanted it for the usual reasons: (1) it’s always fun to prove that you’re the toughest guy on the block by beating up weak people; (2) it’s easy to make weak people look strong briefly, for public relations purposes; (3) wogs, having no trees, are a suitable substitute for gooks, who can inflict damage on us (e.g. North Korea) and have in the past (North Vietnam); (4) Americans were lied to by the President — a fact common to every war this country has entered ever since 1812; (5) this nation is an empire, and has been ever since 1803. (If you doubt this, compare Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address — pre-Louisiana Purchase — with his Second Inaugural Address.)

The strange irony is this: in their private affairs, Americans have two over-riding slogans, both of which are anti-war and anti-empire. Eight words summarize the American philosophy of life.

Live and let live.Let’s make a deal.

This is why Americans are the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. Deal-searching is legitimate here — a way of life.

Nevertheless, as soon as Americans think of themselves as members of a nation in a world of nations, they experience a Jekyll-Hyde transformation. They adopt rival slogans. Eight words summarize American foreign policy.

We’re better than you.Do it our way.

During war fever, Americans enthusiastically embrace the second pair of slogans. But, within months of the victory — or, in the case of Vietnam, the defeat — Americans revert back to the former pair of slogans. They think, “Well, that’s over. Now let’s get back to normal.”

This Hyde-Jekyll transformation produces a reaction against the Presidential Administration that fanned the flames of war. Woodrow Wilson was abandoned by the public in 1919. His party was abandoned by voters in 1920. In 1946, the Republicans ran the post-war, off-year election with the slogan, “Had Enough?” and won back Congress. Nixon won in 1968 because Johnson had surrendered the Presidency the previous March, having been hammered by the February Tet offensive. Ford was tossed out in large part because he was on duty in 1975, when the last helicopter left Saigon. Bush Sr. lost the Presidency in 1992, having won a splendid little war in Iraq.

When the war begins, Americans sing “Over There.” When the war ends, they sing “She Got the Goldmine; I Got the Shaft.” And why not? They are told by the Administration that they must pick up the bills, not just for America’s expenditures, but for the losers’ expenditures. This is Marshall Plan Syndrome, and every President contracts it immediately after the losers surrender. Peter Sellers’ movie, The Mouse That Roared, is the model. (Vietnam was the exception: we lost.)


It is time to make a brief assessment of the war in Iraq. I call this list George W. Bush’s no-no’s.

No weapons of mass destructionNo Osama bin Laden-Saddam Hussein connectionNo Saddam HusseinNo Osama bin LadenNo oil revenues to pay us backNo welcoming committees with open armsNo democracyNo end to the daily death tollNo troops home by Christmas — any ChristmasNo end in sight to the rebuilding expensesNo payback to France and GermanyNo victory paradesNo winning general

To this list add this:

No let-up in Bush’s victory speeches

He keeps going on television to assure us that the terrorists are upset with our success in Iraq. But we aren’t leaving, he assures us. So did Paul Wolfowitz, immediately after the bombing of the hotel where he was staying.

“We aren’t leaving,” says the Lone Ranger. “What you mean ‘we,’ white man?” replies Tonto.

Wilson left, a broken man. Johnson left, a broken man. Ford left. Bush Sr. left. All the rhetoric of “we aren’t leaving” fails on the day “we” have an opportunity to get out by removing the rhetorical hard-liners who refuse to get us out.

The Hyde-Jekyll transformation is now in progress. How the Democrats will be able to distance themselves from the Jekyll-Hyde phase is a matter for the poll-takers, focus group specialists, and spin-doctors to sort out. The problem with playing, “we, too” when war fever is running high is that, when the fever has waned, card-carrying members of the “we, too” brigade find it difficult to gain support from the voters. That’s why political outsiders, who were not visible in the “we, too” phase, have an advantage: Harding, a tenth-ballot dark horse, in 1920 (he had not been a visible “player” during World War I, and had opposed the League of Nations), Nixon in 1968 (defeated by Pat Brown in 1962), Carter in 1976 (Georgia), and Clinton in 1992 (Arkansas). This is why Dean and Clark are the front-runners today.

Bush has bet his political future on the war on terrorism. There has not been a President in my lifetime who is more obviously a one-trick pony, a Johnny One-note. Bush briefly had the war on terrorism going for him politically, but he has not won it. At best, he has temporarily contained it geographically. He verbally challenged the terrorists to kill our troops: “Bring ’em on!” They are now bringing it on, day after day, in Iraq.

The media will not leave this alone. American blood gets high ratings. “If it bleeds, it leads!” Night after night, the body bag of the day will lead the evening news. There is nothing that Bush can do about this. Even with southern California burning down, the lead story is still shed American blood in Iraq. When the biggest brush fire in California’s history can’t grab the lead, you know that the media are not going to let loose of the body bags.

At some point — I think we have just about reached it — Bush’s victory-is-certain speeches are going to produce this reaction: “Why doesn’t this guy just shut up?” That reaction will be a prelude to this one: “Why doesn’t this guy just go away?”

Bush has only one theme: his personal determination, in our name, to stamp out terrorism, wherever it is hiding, no matter what this costs us. He has no other persona. Soon, it will be persona not grata.

In Bush’s speeches, every body bag is evidence that America is winning the war on terrorism. But no one is ever arrested for these attacks. No one has been convicted in a court of law. Yet the body bags keep getting flown home. “Taps” keeps getting played.


Warren G. Harding left as his legacy one word: normalcy. The word appeared in a phrase: “a return to normalcy.” Maybe he meant “normality.” Who knows? The word “normalcy” has replaced “normality.”

Americans are content to let hundreds of men and three teenagers rot in an American concentration camp on the island of Cuba. These men are not in the news. They aren’t bleeding, so they aren’t leading. Out of sight, out of mind. (Or, as language translation software would correctly translate this phrase: “blind, crazy.”) Cuba has now become a concentration camp on both sides of the fence at Guantanamo Bay.

But Iraq is something else again. It is in the news. America’s visible defeat, body bag by body bag, is broadcast every night. Bush makes fewer and fewer appearances on-screen. When he does, he tells us that we are winning. When a person tells us that he is winning when he is visibly losing, we question his judgment. Substituting “we” for “he” does not change our assessment.

Bush can no longer go on TV and not sound like a man suffering from cognitive dissonance. Hearing his speeches is like reading a page in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: “Defeat is victory.”

Americans are practical people. They vote their pocketbooks. The federal deficit is rising so fast that the Republican Party’s age-old slogan — ” we must balance the budget” — is now consigned to the dustbin of history. I cannot imagine any Republican Presidential candidate running on such a platform. Reagan’s huge deficits undermined this slogan. Bush’s deficits have terminated it. What will Republicans substitute for this now-dead slogan? “The Democrats are worse” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

When someone speaks in the name of the American people, he had better avoid speaking obvious nonsense. Non-obvious nonsense still has lots of constituencies, but obvious nonsense is not part of the American political tradition. Herbert Hoover could pretend that the word “depression” was better for his political future than “panic,” but this did him no good in 1932. The Republicans in 1930 could proclaim that recovery was just around the corner, but it did them no good after the 1930 Congressional elections. When reality hits the American electorate’s pocket books, they do not tolerate nonsense. A President’s cognitive dissonance then becomes a political liability.

Americans want a return to normalcy. Normalcy for Americans means this: “discount solutions to permanent problems.” Sweeping problems under the rug is normal. It is politically acceptable. But the problems must stay under the rug. Guantanamo is a perfectly acceptable discount solution to 9/11 for most Americans: no bleeding, no leading. Americans’ body bags in Iraq are not acceptable.

It is unlikely that Bush can deliver normalcy. If the Democrats can field a candidate along the lines of Carter or Clinton — an unknown who was out of the spotlight after 9/11 — it is unlikely that Bush will be re-elected. Whether the Republican majority in one or more houses of Congress will retire along with him will be the big question in 2004.


The transformation from Hyde to Jekyll is now in progress. Bush is America’s Hyde persona. This fact is going to produce cognitive dissonance. Seeing him on TV, Americans will be reminded of their most recent bout with the bottle: the Jekyll-Hyde bottle. Like Rush Limbaugh, they are now in de-tox.

George W. Bush’s face is the face of Edward Hyde. I think American swing voters will decide next year that they want the kindly Dr. Jekyll back on the TV screen, someone who will declare victory in Iraq and then bring the troops home. No more victory-is-just-around-the-corner. It’s time for victory-is-behind-us. It won’t be, of course. There is no victory for empires. There is only victory-is-just-around-the-corner. But a declared victory, proved by the withdrawal of American troops, will be acceptable nonsense, just as Guantanamo as restitution for 9/11 is acceptable nonsense. Any nonsense that can be successfully swept under the rug is acceptable. If you doubt me, think of Arnold Schwarzenegger, holding a broom and promising to sweep away the mess.

America is truly the land of the rugs and the home of the brooms. I think George W. Bush will learn this lesson, just as his father learned it.

October 29, 2003

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit For a free subscription to Gary North’s newsletter on gold, click here.

Copyright © 2003