SYMBOLISM

Posted in Rants on May 3rd, 2011 by Ed

There is so much to say about bin Laden; in an effort to avoid devoting a week's worth of posts to the topic I am going to attempt to cover several points here at once.

1. The news of bin Laden's death excited me mostly because I couldn't wait to hear how Republicans were going to criticize Obama over it. Would it be that it took him too long? That he didn't decapitate the corpse and put it on a pike outside the Capitol? According to K-Lo, Obama isn't being sufficiently modest:

It is therefore unfortunate that Mr. Obama seems to want more than that fair share the American people will naturally and rightly give him. His remarks last night were far too much laced with words like "I met repeatedly," "at my direction," and "I determined," trying to take personal credit for the years of painstaking work by our intelligence community. Mr. Obama might have noted that this work began under President Bush, but as usual he did not.

Yeah, I suppose he should have been more humble. You know, the whole land on an aircraft carrier in a fucking flight suit to declare "Mission Accomplished" routine.

Republicans find credit-claiming spectacles immodest and distasteful.

2. To say that the public reaction was somewhat disturbing is an understatement. Watching Americans once again unironically become the people they demonize – remember those Palestinians dancing in the streets when the WTC fell? – was as predictable as it is gross. It was not our finest moment. I understand why people feel exhilarated or maybe even that we've had a rare moment of Collective Victory. Hooray, the evil bad guy is dead. I get that. But to what end? What are we celebrating in the streets like drunken late 1980s Detroit Pistons fans?

This reaction reminds me of hearing capital punishment advocates talk about how killing the Bad Guy brings "closure" and a lot of other polished up words that mean "revenge." The villain dies, you feel the juvenile thrill for a moment, and then you feel as empty as before – only more so, because now you can't tell yourself that revenge will make you feel better. I wouldn't say it's "wrong" to celebrate as much as it's just pointless. To me, the best gloating would come from putting him on trial. But that wouldn't have brought all of his victims back to life either.

3. So, uh, how 'bout our ally Pakistan? Good to know the world's most wanted man was hiding out 100 meters from a Pakistani military academy. Bang up job, fellas.

4. Now that the body has been disposed of, good lord can you comprehend the conspiracy theories we're going to have to endure for the next decade-plus? My god, they're going to make the 9/11 twoofers look sane in comparison.

5. The "Well, Obama has the election sewn up" meme betrays some ignorance. Eleven months before the 1992 election, George H. Bush was at 88% approval. The public opinion effects of this will be measurable and most likely temporary. Gas will be $4.50/gal by the 4th of July and bin Laden will be ancient history by then. I'm not saying this won't be a useful talking point or a source of long-term benefit for Obama, but beware the awesome ability of the American public to A) forget things almost immediately and B) refocus on economic issues to the exclusion of any others.

This is important, but it is important symbolically. Bin Laden was a sick old man who served as a figurehead but probably exercised little direct control over terrorist activities. Terrorism is a hydra; whenever a terrorist falls there are three more ready to replace him. The fact is that the world is not safer today than it was last week and the death of OBL isn't going to bring terrorism to a screeching halt. So, yay. "We got 'im!" and all that. But by the time the election rolls around the realizations sink in that this hasn't A) ended the war in Afghanistan or B) meaningfully reduced the threat of terrorism, Obama isn't going to be riding this to victory. The best thing about it from his perspective is having a great comeback ready when Republican presidential candidates try to call him "Soft on terror" or whatever.

6. Obama played the Birth Certificate thing pretty well after all. How petty and stupid does the GOP look now? Oh, I'm sorry guys. I was busy authorizing a mission to get that guy you've been chasing for nine years. But here's your precious birth certificate, since we know that's very important to you…

7. Raise your hand if your inbox and Facebook page filled up with crap like this over the past 24 hours.