George W. Bush’s Way
Peggy Noonan experiences contemporary Americans’ most pointless and humiliating ordeal, and not at all incorrectly blames George W. Bush.
She has put her fine literary finger on the almost perfect metonymy for the Bush presidency, the detail that perfectly exemplifies the current administration’s proclivity toward the policy choice dictated by the conventional, liberal, and statist perspective, dictated in essence by the other side, the administration’s fundamental, and ultimately fatal, failure of nerve and will.
America is in line at the airport. America has its shoes off, is carrying a rubberized bin, is going through a magnetometer. America is worried there is fungus on the floor after a million stockinged feet have walked on it. But America knows not to ask. America is guilty until proved innocent, and no one wants to draw undue attention. America left its ticket and passport in the jacket in the bin in the X-ray machine, and is admonished. America is embarrassed to have put one one-ounce moisturizer too many in the see-through bag. America is irritated that the TSA agent removed its mascara, opened it, put it to her nose, and smelled it. Why don’t you put it up your nose and see if it explodes? America thinks.
And, as always: Why do we do this when you know I am not a terrorist, and you know I know you know I am not a terrorist? Why this costly and harassing kabuki when we both know the facts, and would agree that all this harassment is the government’s way of showing “fairness,” of showing that it will equally humiliate anyone in order to show its high-mindedness and sense of justice? Our politicians congratulate themselves on this as we stand in line.
All the frisking, beeping and patting down is demoralizing to our society. It breeds resentment, encourages a sense that the normal are not in control, that common sense is yesterday. …
Lubbock, Texas â€“ Lubbock Comma Texas, the heart of Texas conservatism â€“ they dislike President Bush. He has lost them. I was there and saw it. Confusion has been followed by frustration has turned into resentment, and this is huge. Everyone knows the president’s poll numbers are at historic lows, but if he is over in Lubbock, there is no place in this country that likes him. I made a speech and moved around and I was tough on him and no one â€“ not one â€“ defended or disagreed. I did the same in North Carolina recently, and again no defenders. I did the same in Fresno, Calif., and no defenders, not one.
He has left on-the-ground conservatives â€“ the local right-winger, the town intellectual reading Burke and Kirk, the old Reagan committeewoman â€“ feeling undefended, unrepresented and alone.
This will have impact down the road.
I finally understand the party nostalgia for Reagan. Everyone speaks of him now, but it wasn’t that way in 2000, or 1992, or 1996, or even ’04.
I think it is a manifestation of dislike for and disappointment in Mr. Bush. It is a turning away that is a turning back. It is a looking back to conservatism when conservatism was clear, knew what it was, was grounded in the facts of the world.
The reasons for the quiet break with Mr. Bush: spending, they say first, growth in the power and size of government, Iraq. I imagine some of this: a fine and bitter conservative sense that he has never had to stand in his stockinged feet at the airport holding the bin, being harassed. He has never had to live in the world he helped make, the one where grandma’s hip replacement is setting off the beeper here and the child is crying there. And of course as a former president, with the entourage and the private jets, he never will. I bet conservatives don’t like it. I’m certain Gate 14 doesn’t.
The alternatives were always very simple. Allowing airlines to refuse to carry Muslims and passport-holders from Islamic countries, directing strict scrutiny only in logical directions, and encouraging Americans to travel armed. Can you imagine the sheriff in the Western movie carefully searching the passengers for weapons, and making sure each and every one of them was disarmed, before the stagecoach would be permitted to leave town to travel through the wilderness when hostile Indians were on the warpath?
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