Sunday, August 22, 2004

The Need to Believe

One thing that's been fascinating me about the whole smear-boat vets story is reading the comments-boards and observing the extremes to which the Bush and vet supporters will go to allow themselves to continue to believe the tales these guys are spinning. It's a need to believe that I haven't seen since... well, the Vietnam Era. Whether or not these guys are working directly or indirectly for the Bush campaign, their primary motive is not anything Kerry did or didn't do 'in country', but his anti-war activities after his service. And it's clearly what's behind the Need to Believe of their supporters.

After Clinton, an unabashed protester of the Vietnam War, had been elected twice, I took that to mean that the nation had gotten over the divide of those days; I was apparently mistaken. How to account for its continuing to resonate as an issue?

I draw your attention to the fate of Staff Sgt. Joseph Darby, the soldier who blew the whistle on the abuses then ongoing at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. It is almost universally acknowledged that what he did was both morally right, and very courageous. Nonetheless, as I point out below (August 16), his family is living in protective custody because he and they have received death threats for his actions.

This sounds to me as though it's coming from the very same psychological place as the ongoing animus against Kerry. It's an 'our boys' (and now girls) 'can do no wrong' point of view; if they're serving in the military, they are by definition blameless of anything they might do while 'defending our American way of life'. That Our Side can (and do) commit atrocities is beside the point. And anyone pointing out the flaws in our own system or society are defacto traitors and hate America.

'Our Side can do no wrong' is very closely related to 'I can do no wrong'; to admit that we collectively can screw up is to admit that one can screw up.

Is it any wonder, then, that people who are uncomfortable with the concept that they can err are drawn to a candidate who famously, when asked "if he could think of any mistake he’d made since September 11, a tongue-tied Bush couldn’t think of one."


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