Monday, November 28, 2005

On shifting goals

Okay, so yesterday at the This Week roundtable, George Stephanopoulos raised the question of whether or not President Bush should admit that he's made a mistake in the prosecution of the Iraq war. Jay Carney of TIME magazine made the valid point that since the administration keeps rounding the corners off the ultimate objective, Bush will never need to apologize. If he can convince people that where we are is where we wanted to be in the first place, he won't have to apologize for not being where he actually said we would be.

For the record, I don't think that George Bush should admit to making a mistake, and I've got three reasons. One is that I think it would be bad for the war effort. I know, that sounds exactly like what the wacky neocons keep saying as a defense against any criticism lobbed their way, and what makes it worse is that I can't even defend my position on this one. It's literally a gut feeling; I think about George Bush getting on national TV and admitting to having made a mistake, and my stomach goes all squidgy. Of course, every time Bush speaks publicly, I get that squidgy-stomach feeling, usually in response to some dumbass thing he's said or another.

The second reason is that I don't think it would actually help anything. Think about it: He admits he made a mistake. The neocons wig out, which I'll admit would be amusing, but not terribly productive. The Dems point fingers and shout, "I told you!" Rove spins the story like a top until it looks like Bush was actually nobly taking the fall for someone else's mistake. Thirty-six percent of Americans continue to believe Bush can do no wrong. Dick Cheney eats a baby. The government is in chaos (more than usual, I mean), and nothing has been accomplished because having said the words, Bush would think he'd done quite enough. Saying it doesn't change anything.

The third reason is that he could look me square in the eye and say the words to me, and I still wouldn't believe he really meant them.

Here's what I would like to hear from Bush, and I mean from his mouth, not through some press release or some other member of the administration: "The time has come to change directions." Doesn't that sound like a nice, safe, everybody-wins phrase? "The time has come to change directions." It doesn't come out and say that yes, I screwed up, which is why we were going in the wrong direction in the first place. It just says that we were going one way, and to reach our goal, we have to now go a different way, so we're going to do that.

I had a really great metaphor here involving stairs, but I tried it out on my dad and he just pooh-poohed it and accused me of talkin' semantics. For the record, I hate that; people talk about semantics like they're little nit-picky things, insignificant details that people pound on when they have no other point to make, but y'all, semantics are important. Particularly when it comes to things like politics, where most of the hard work involves talking things out for hours and hours on end, semantics is all you've got. So if you're going to pooh-pooh my argument, pooh away, but don't do it on the basis of semantics.

Here's my second-string metaphor: Say you're in Buckhead, and you want to go to O'Terrill's. You check your map and realize that all you have to do is jump on Piedmont and head south until you cross North Avenue. So you hop in your Prius and away you go, right?

Wrong, Beverly. What your map doesn't tell you is that Piedmont turns one-way at 14th Street. You head on down and find yourself facing oncoming traffic. Whatever shall you do?

Well, you could find a parking space on 14th, go into the Prince of Wales, find a table and declare, "My goal was to eat dinner, and now I have reached my goal!" But you shouldn't do that, because you'd be lying, and lying is wrong. Your goal was to eat dinner at O'Terrill's.

How do you find out how to get there? You could consult your map again, but obviously it can only help you so much. Your best bet is probably to ask someone how to get there.

Once you've gotten directions, though, the important thing is to follow them. It's no good trying to go against traffic to get where you're going, and it's no good sitting in the Prince of Wales and pretending that's where you wanted to go from the beginning. You have to be willing to say, "The time has come to change directions," specifically a right onto 14th, a left onto Juniper, a left onto Pine, and another left will put you back on Piedmont, facing in the right direction.

It's not necessary to decide who was responsible for the misdirection (although it's useful, so you don't go there for directions again). It's not necessary to declare publicly, "I have made a mistake! I thought I could take Piedmont all the way down, and I was so wrong!" It's not necessary to try to push through oncoming traffic to get to your destination. It is neither necessary nor acceptable to pretend that you've reached your destination already.

All you have to do is be willing to say, "The time has come to change directions," and then make that right-hand turn. No one's saying you can't get where you want to go, but you sure as hell can't get there going the way you're going.

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