When news organizations, politicians and bloggers had their own civil war about the proper usage of that designation last week, it was highly instructive--but about America, not Iraq. The intensity of the squabble showed the corrosive effect the president's subversion of language has had on our larger culture. Iraq arguably passed beyond civil war months ago into what might more accurately be termed ethnic cleansing or chaos. That we were fighting over "civil war" at this late date was a reminder that wittingly or not, we have all taken to following Mr. Bush's lead in retreating from English as we once knew it.
I can't disagree with anything he says, including what's left behind the Wall of Selectness, but it's still a bit like a guy who arrives 20 minutes before the dinner is supposed to end lecturing others on etiquette. Didn't the New York Times have something to do with that retreat from English, specifically in regards to Iraq? Maybe I'm disremembering. There's been quite a lot to wade through of late.
Hey, Presidents, like all politicians, lie. So too do reporters. The thing is, though, they're not supposed to lie about matters of utmost national seriousness just so they can get invited to the right parties. That isn't something George Bush invented. It isn't something Judy Miller invented, either, though she raised it to previously unsuspected heights. If you want to talk about the origins of the non-consensual forcible public sodomy upon the English language you go straight to the Nixon administration [mouthing the words of Timesman Bill Safir(e)], Roe v. Wade, and the birth of Happy Talk, Faux Balance news that's coursed through journalistic veins in place of ink for a generation now.
America's a two-part question now, Frank. Can it figure out how it fucked up so badly in the world (we have a partial answer to that by now: at least a third of our fellow citizens cannot understand a simple declarative sentence anymore unless it condemns the political party they vote against)? And does it have the will to correct the wildly erroneous but cherished notions that brought it to that point in the first place?
A month after an election which at least threw a large percentage of the bums responsible for the current version of this malaise on its collective ear and we're still talking about the foibles of a President who's been a lame-duck for nearly two years now, and we're debating why some people can't seem to understand how wrong they are? Maybe it's because they've been told for thirty-some years now that their opinions, no matter how wrong, how ill-conceived, or how unpopular, were just as good as any other opinion.
Bush isn't responsible for that. He's just the pimple on the forehead it broke out in, the one everybody walked around trying to be too polite to stare at. We rewrote the history of the Vietnam War, Frank, just so the gang at the Corner could imagine forty years later that it was all the fault of dirty hippies. We decided that Ronald Reagan, the Butcher of People's Park, was A Nice Guy, then that he was too enfeebled to be bothered obeying the law of the land, then we put him on Mount Rushmore. We don't even need to get to George W., who was so clearly out of his league in the 2000 campaign that there's no excuse for anyone having followed him anywhere in the first place, let alone for blaming his addled pate six years later for where we all wound up.