On Fox News recently, conservative analyst Tammy Bruce was bemoaning the "growing incompetency of the Bush administration" on foreign policy issues, including immigration and the war in Iraq. In her frustration, she said of President Bush:
"I'm waiting to find the space aliens that kidnapped the president that I grew to admire after September 11 and left this tool behind."
You know things are getting grim for the GOP when even alleged right-wingers are calling Bush a "tool" on Fox Noise.
Tammy Bruce has always been an odd conservative mouthpiece. A former president of the Los Angeles branch of the National Organization for Women, she bills herself as "an openly gay, pro-choice, gun-owning, pro-death-penalty, voted-for-President-Reagan progressive feminist". Wow. If you think patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time is tough, try being Tammy Bruce's brain.
But Ms. Bruce's comment is a vivid illustration of the phenomenon which seemed to affect so many after the attacks of 9/11. Any early skepticism about the competence of George W. Bush was pushed aside as we hoped that he would guide us safely and wisely into this frightening new landscape. Even if we voted against the man and considered him unfit for the office, this was a time for national unity against a common foe. We kept our fingers crossed that he would rise to the occasion.
And in the beginning, it was a relief that he didn't seem to be screwing up royally. To my surprise, his administration didn't just start bombing the crap out of someone - anyone -- the very next day, just to prove how tough we were. Bush's big moment, perhaps the one which cemented Ms. Bruce's admiration, was when he grabbed a bullhorn and shouted words of encouragement and determination to workers at Ground Zero. But of course he could yell inspirationally through a megaphone -- he used to be a cheerleader!
Aside from Joe Lieberman, Dennis Miller is probably the most obvious example of a public figure whose politics veered sharply toward the conservative in the aftermath of the attacks. Miller turned right faster than Shirley "Cha-Cha" Muldowney...um...making a really fast right turn. (Damn, Dennis, these obscure references are harder than you make them look!) If you really want to witness a testament to the human mind's capacity for change, catch a replay of a Clinton-era episode of Miller's HBO talk show in which Dennis goes one-on-one against that annoying right-wing harpy, Arianna Huffington. Even one of the wingnuts' favorite dartboard targets, Rosie O'Donnell, was swooning over Dubya in the immediate wake of 9/11 -- although that crush, like her noted pining for Tom Cruise, appears to have faded.
So Tammy Bruce is not alone in having come to admire the president in those tumultuous days. She's just clung to the delusion longer than most. It's not that space aliens replaced the president; it's that panic replaced rational thought. Some of us believed the man was a tool all along, but it gave us no pleasure to discover in the subsequent years that he's an even bigger one than we feared.
What concerns me is that, in the more than five years since 9/11, anyone who has voiced any opposition to any of the administration's foreign policy or homeland security proposals has been attacked by Republicans, and by pundits such as Ms. Bruce, as being, at best, cowardly and, at worst, traitorous. To oppose the president in any way is to embolden the terrorists. So now, if terrorists strike America again, even if the president in office is the same one who didn't stop the catastrophe in 2001, the Right can simply point to their years of warnings and say, "See, we told you this would happen if you elected Democrats!"
I'm sure Karl Rove's got the bullhorn handy, for just such an occasion.