Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bush stumbles into the elephant in the room, but it seems nobody wants to provoke the elephant

Do you remember the fall of 2001? Not 9/11, which predated the autumn, but the actual late fall? Our postal service was paralyzed. The direct mail industry looked as if it would never recover. The most level-headed person I know put on rubber gloves and took a hand-addressed envelope with no return address out in the backyard to open it. (It turned out to be a birthday card.) People were seeing white powder everywhere.

When Bush said in the State of the Union that there had not been another attack on our soil since 9/11, you would think that the watchdogs in the press would have jumped on the contradiction -- but that would have meant talking about the elephant in the room with which Bush collided, and media are reluctant to disturb the elephant by talking behind its back. It was left to to Yglesias to note the oddness of the moment.
"There has not been another attack on our soil since 9/11" -- anthrax! Anthrax! Oh well. For some reason that whole episode has been officially erased from the historical record or something.
Atrios picked up on that.
Not everyone agrees, but I think more than 9/11 the anthrax freaked the country out. 9/11 was horrible, but the anthrax made it seem like we'd reached a new era where some horrible creepy shit was going to happen every day.
He's right. The anthrax, wherever it came from and there were those making the case that it came straight from Saddam, was exactly what it took to push the country into war. None of the other WMD stuff -- or the desire on the part of some to just go kick some ass -- would have sufficed. Nor would the smoking mushroom clouds -- if anthrax hadn't fueled the hysteria, the nuclear threat would have collapsed of its own phony weight. We won't ever really know how we got into this disastrous war till we find out who was behind the anthrax.

Not likely. To begin with, there's the sanity angle. People who get into this issue tend to start making lists of microbiologists who died of suspicious causes. Pretty soon the Times starts to run articles about people whose paranoia leads them to infer causal relationships from random clusters of events. And soon the investigators' friends start to shun them as whacko nutjobs.

And, of course, there's the self-preservation angle. The media were already targeted once. Why would they want to provoke the elephant? If startled, he might just kick up some more white powder, and then where would we be?

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