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Election Shock Treatment

The Democrats try to get over Iraq's latest achievement.

7:26 AM, Feb 28, 2005 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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"Every Bush hater you meet in New York is engaged in an inner struggle of how much to let go of the past," writes Brown. "Liberals don't want to be left spreading the grumpy notion that liberty can't travel," she tells us, "even if it turns out to be true." Huh? "Cognitive dissonance," as Andersen tells us, is indeed rife in Manhattan, or at least in the tonier neighborhoods. Brown goes on: "If all the fake rationales and pigheaded ideology and bungled management that took us into the debacle of the war end up with the vibrant images we saw . . . at the Iraqi polls, then, well, maybe there's something to be said for the blank slate of the president's historical memory." Is that clear now? A pigheaded debacle led straight to a shining and wonderful moment. Is there something wrong with this thought?

Can anyone improve on this prime piece of logic? Well yes, someone can, someone from the New Yorker, the magazine Brown edited in happier times, which has since evolved into a bitter-end Bush-baiting outlet, what the Nation might be if it ran ads from Tiffany's. In addition to running a two-page cartoon spread during the Republican convention last summer that showed Republican delegates as green and fanged reptiles, the magazine has turned into Quagmire Central on Iraq. "Critics of the Bush Administration can take comfort in the fact that the apparent success of the Iraqi election can be celebrated without having to celebrate the supposed wisdom of the Administration," sniped Hendrik Hertzberg in a recent "Talk of the Town" column. "Iraq is still a very, very long way from democracy. And even if it gets there, the cost of the journey--the more than ten thousand (so far) American wounded and dead . . . the billions of dollars diverted . . . the lies, the distraction from and gratuitous extension of the 'war on terror' . . . will not necessarily justify themselves. But, for the moment at least, one can marvel at the power of the democratic idea. It survived American slavery; it survived Stalinist cooptation . . . Cold war horrors like America's support of Spanish Falangism and Central American death squads. Perhaps it can even survive the fervent embrace of George W. Bush."

Phew. Will someone run next door, please, and borrow a large cup of nuance? Without it we can't take this in. Let's see: The elections succeeded in spite of the one man who caused them, and BECAUSE of the people whose publications and candidates had fought Bush every step of the way. Or, put another way, the elections were a success and a great moral victory; but the ideas that led up to them were the purest examples of bone-headed bungling; and the man who thought them all up was a dunce. But when bone-headed blundering produces success not once but thrice over, we may find that we want a whole lot more of it, much as Lincoln once said that the Union needed more drunken generals like Ulysses S. Grant.

Liberals are always hot for democracy once the struggles are over: It's in the struggles themselves they slip up. If the candidates favored by Brown and by Hertzberg--Carter and Mondale over Reagan; Michael Dukakis over George Bush the Elder, and Al Gore and John Kerry over George Bush the son--had been in power in moments of crisis, democracy would hardly now be on the march, the Berlin Wall would most likely be standing; the Sandinistas and other Communists might well still be spreading terror in Central America; Saddam Hussein would not only be in Iraq but in Kuwait and perhaps Saudi Arabia; and those brave happy voters would still be suffering under a vicious and sadistic tyranny.

Claiming credit in retrospect for things you opposed at the time is a new high in chutzpah, or, if not that, in delusion. But delusion is what people retreat to when reality is much too traumatic. "Here's the great fear that I have," said comedian Jon Stewart once the Iraq elections were over. "What if Bush, the president, ours, has been right about this all along? I feel that my world view may not sustain itself, and I may, and again I don't know if I can physically do this, implode." Why does one feel that he speaks for the Browns, and the Hertzbergs, and beyond them, for millions of others? "We wait to see if Democrats can find a way to talk about the Iraqi elections that isn't madness personified," The Note, the political newsletter of ABC News, said after two weeks of this madness. And so do we all.

Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.