Andrew Sullivan’s prose equivalent of a single-finger send-off for Karl Rove resonated with me:
Rove is one of the worst political strategists in recent times. He took a chance to realign the country and to unite it in a war – and threw it away in a binge of hate-filled niche campaigning, polarization and short-term expediency.
I scruple a bit to put it quite this way, but it is astonishing sometimes to think what an extraordinary opportunity the 9/11 attacks presented—an opportunity to rally not just the country but the whole of a sympathetic liberal West (and anyone else who was game) in affirmation of the shared values that distinguish us from fanatical theocrats: pluralism, freedom of speech, secular government, democracy, reason, the rule of law. I cannot say that watching the towers fall produced quite the frisson Christopher Hitchens reports feeling, but I do understand the sentiment:
In order to get my own emotions out of the way, I should say briefly that on that day I shared the general register of feeling, from disgust to rage, but was also aware of something that would not quite disclose itself. It only became fully evident quite late that evening. And to my surprise (and pleasure), it was exhilaration. I am not particularly a war lover, and on the occasions when I have seen warfare as a traveling writer, I have tended to shudder. But here was a direct, unmistakable confrontation between everything I loved and everything I hated. On one side, the ethics of the multicultural, the secular, the skeptical, and the cosmopolitan. (Those are the ones I love, by the way.) On the other, the arid monochrome of dull and vicious theocratic fascism. I am prepared for this war to go on for a very long time. I will never become tired of waging it, because it is a fight over essentials. And because it is so interesting.
The legacy of Hitchens’ enthusiasm should prompt us to recall just how “interesting” figures in a certain Chinese curse, but it is hard not to get caught up in that feeling. I recall Camus writing something similar about the feeling among members of the French Resistance, who in conditions that surely licensed despair felt a kind of supernatural energy at the chance to throw themselves into a cause so clearly vital and right, who saw that never again would their lives be so invested with meaning. With “values” degenerating into a euphemism for prices or prudery, depending on one’s tribe, here was a collective call to defend the genuine, human article.
And then, before we could catch more than a glimpse through the window, it snapped shut. The administration took the spirit of terrified solidarity that emerged in Congress as a sign of weakness to be exploited. The great uniting tragedy was unceremoniously reduced from an icon to a blunt cudgel, with which opponents were to be bludgeoned as frequently and mindlessly as possible. To the nations turning a sympathetic ear, we screeched our contempt. It was the inversion of Karl Rove’s infamous sobriquet: Tiny flowers struggling up from a sea of shit, abruptly smothered in it again. And at least some small measure of the invoice for all this grotesque waste must come due at the door of the man so rapt in his “big picture” dreams—his grand vision of a great political alignment, a permanent Republican majority—that he could not see, in the historical moment he occupied, how profoundly petty an aspiration that was.