Dec 8, 2013
Who Lost the World?
Posted on Oct 31, 2012
By Ira Chernus, TomDispatch
And that story, in turn, is now essential to every presidential contest. As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd once wrote, “Every election has the same narrative: Can the strong father protect the house from invaders?” (Think of Ronald Reagan and the Iran captivity tale or George W. Bush and 9/11.) If one candidate is the incumbent, the question becomes: Has he been a strong enough father to control the world and thereby protect the house?
Every challenger plays on that anxiety, picking the most obvious or convenient example of the day as a hook on which to hang the perennial charges of weakness and peril. Since the “Who lost China?” days, Republicans have played this card.
This year it seemed that a Democrat who “surged” in Afghanistan, killed bin Laden, and personally ran a drone assassination campaign from the White House had, for once, successfully protected his right flank against the predictable GOP attack. Then fate sent the Libyan killings to the Romney campaign, the newsrooms, and a big portion of the American public. Give Romney’s people credit: they sensed the opportunity from day one.
Mitt had to demand “Who lost Libya?” and then transform it into “Who lost the Middle East?”—not merely to boost his chances but because a big slice of the public yearns for such a “debate.” After all, every time the question of “Who lost [fill in the blank]?” arises, it reaffirms both the reassuring promise that we deserve to control the world and the disturbing anxiety that we might lose what is rightly ours.
On the horizon, though, we can dimly see a new question rising: How much longer can this mythology survive? It suffered a major wound in the Vietnam War era, when the fantasy of global control was rudely punctured by reality. That wound has been ripped open again by fruitless wars and conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
Now, there are so many unsettling changes around the world that we can’t predict, much less control, them. Soon enough—perhaps by 2020, or even 2016—the political battle cry may be: “Who lost the world?”
It’s even possible to imagine that someday Americans will engage in the debate we really need—about choosing a new paradigm for foreign policy that fits today’s world, where the fantasy of global control has become irrelevant because the facts so obviously contradict it, as American power declines while other nations steadily gain strength.
Don’t expect the old mythology to disappear quietly, though. Old myth versus new myth is the fiercest political battle of all.
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Copyright 2012 Ira Chernus
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