THERE WERE TIMES in recent weeks when sober Americans might
have felt they were being whipped into a state of hysteria more appropriate to
a Nuremberg rally than for a long, messy war on the illusive enemy of
This took the form of an unseemly obsession that if we don't keep chanting
masterfully George W. Bush has performed in his hour of crisis, we will cease
to believe it. After all, what did our enemies expect? And what did Americans
expect? That the congenitally combative Giuliani would collapse in a quivering
heap, that New Yorkers would abandon their city, give up their rent-stabilized
leases and home equity, that America would weary of the prospect of a war on
terrorism as interminable as the one in Vietnam and that Bush, sober all these
years, would lock himself in the Oval Office with a jug of Jim Beam? What sort
of people do they imagine we are?
Anyway, the White House has adopted a policy of keeping America "on
message" - of making sure every word the president utters is "coherent" and
measured. This is a policy his speechwriters have carried out brilliantly. But
there is a point at which patriotic one-liners repeated endlessly begin to
wander over the line that separates the coherent from the banal. Someone must
tell Bush his overuse of the term "evildoers" begins to sound like the chorus
of a porch full of censorious old biddies in rocking chairs passing judgment on
the virtue of passing floozies.
Meanwhile, Bush adviser Karl Rove met with Hollywood executives to enlist
them in a World War II-style propaganda offensive. What will come of this is
anybody's guess. Will gratuitous sex on the silver screen be cleverly used to
send a message that Americans are as virile as ever, or will we be treated to a
thriller in which anthrax wipes out Anaheim? Can Hollywood possibly re-create
gratuitous rubbish, cheaply made to show even heavily Democratic Hollywood has
climbed onto the Bush bandwagon.
It's all enough to give you the creeps, like somebody has a clammy hand on
our backbones to keep us from going wobbly. A White House spokesman said, "The
administration will share with studio executives the themes we're communicating
at home and abroad of patriotism, tolerance and courage." He almost makes it
sound like these are virtues decent Americans can't naturally feel without a
shove from Hollywood.
And speaking of anthrax, the FBI is floating theories that it may have been
spread by a single domestic terrorist - a sort of Timothy McVeigh with a PhD
in biology and a self-imagined sense of patriotism as perverse as McVeigh's
notion that he was making America safe for its David Koreshes. If so, this
would put him in a class with such corn- fed, domestically produced evildoers
as Theodore Kaczynski or the drooling fanatics who bomb abortion clinics.