Watching all this coverage of Obama’s speech and Cheney’s rebuttal—as well as endless tweeting and amusing digressions about whether or not “terrorists” are more powerful than superheros—I find myself feeling unusually cold about a political drama. The only thing that’s gotten really up my ass is the way the word “terrorist” has crept into the discussion, being used even by liberals and even by Obama, even though the case hasn’t been made against a single Gitmo prisoner in question. And I highly doubt there is an existing case against a single one, or else the Bush administration would have made that case. I can’t believe they’d just turn down the urge to have a conviction for terrorism they could parade around in public as “proof” that they got one. I’m actually more shocked they didn’t resort to kangaroo court convictions to justify the Gitmo situation. Calling people convicted of nothing “terrorists” is conceding the argument, and why a bunch of congresscritters feel free to treat the American public like we’re stupid.
Here’s what I don’t get: Why are Republicans wasting their time on this? I realize they seem determined to misfire politically every chance they get, but I just don’t see how this is going to work out for them. Here’s what’s going to happen, most likely: Obama will process the prisoners out of Gitmo, they’ll mostly be found innocent of being terrorists, they’ll be deported to their home countries, and nothing will happen. It’s obvious that they hope the can reignite fears about terrorism in order to disrupt the Obama administration, but I suspect they’re going to fail spectacularly in this mission. Dark fantasies of terrorists bombing your local shopping mall had an effect on people while memories of 9/11 were still fresh, and there weren’t real dangers threatening Joe America. But now there’s real dangers—layoffs, foreclosures, economic doom.
When we went to see “Star Trek” earlier this week, I think I saw at least two film previews that featured some bad guy dramatically destroying, a la “Independence Day”, a major American landmark. Within the movie, the Golden Gate Bridge is dispatched. The horror of terrorism has obviously been processed and put to bed, and moviemakers again feel free to treat that sort of horror as just an imaginary thrill ride to show off their special effects department. Not scientific evidence that Americans have moved on, but still, I think intriguing. Take that and couple it with the non-imaginary economic dangers we’re facing, and this whole political debate seems somewhat farcical. If Republicans were smart, they’d let this one go and start spending their energies looking to the future, and finding some other hook to get elected with.
On a certain level, I suspect they get this. That’s why Cheney—who I doubt has any election prospects in his future, ever—offered the rebuttal. They didn’t want to hang this albatross on someone with a future. By the time the next election rolls around, all this political theater will amount to nothing. If someone tried to make a career out of it, he’d look like a fool. So, this is a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing.
The actual moral questions at the center of this don’t leave me cold, of course. I’m appalled at the use of the word “terrorist”, and at the fact that the debate is about whether or not to extradite the prisoners to American prisons, when of course we should be sending them home on the grounds that if we couldn’t make a case in all these years, there is no case to be made. I’m saddened but unsurprised that the cowardly Democrats won’t speak these truths that we all know, but instead are doing a song and dance about how they are willing to be tough on these super-terrorists that are so super we can’t actually prove anything about their activities. I just don’t see why there’s any political theater about this, when, for most Americans, the War on Terra doesn’t have the power to frighten nearly as much as the possibility that you’re going to work tomorrow to find that your job won’t be waiting for you.