September 24, 2001

Europe: this is different

The mood in the US has changed tremendously in the past week -- more, I think, than my friends abroad appreciate. Americans usually don't like change: the American revolution was about resisting new taxes. But, suddenly, change seems better than living with people willing to blow up everything and anything.

Last night, Bush's speech was shown between periods at a professional hockey exhibition. When the speech turned out to be longer than the interval, the crowd insisted on hearing the speech. That's amazing: a hockey crowd that would rather hear a politician than finish the game. I don't think that's happened since William Jennings Bryan in 1892.

People know that there might not be a good answer. They know that military action might not help. That it might make things worse. People don't care about that. People want to try to fix this, and they're convinced that discussion won't help.

Last night, the president of the United States referred to our Civil War as a war against a foreign power. Southerners think this way, but it's heresy: the war was fought because the South was not and could not declare itself a country. For the president of the Union to make this slip was remarkable; nobody noticed.

Americans armies -- aside from the Civil War years -- have been notoriously good at improvising and famously reluctant to accept casualties. Last weekend, a reporter asked Hilary Clinton about the prospect of casualties; without blinking, she said, "We already have 5000." Hilary is a dove and a liberal, folks, and she takes terribly heat whenever she is seen to be unladylike. People are ready to do something.

People would prefer a clear, productive path to a solution. But, in this mood, people want to DO something. Even if there's no assurance it will work, something with a chance is better than nothing. Maybe, something with no chance of success is better than nothing.

Bush has been inept, bumbling, tongue-tied -- just as you'd have expected. Nobody cares; people accept his limitations. Perhaps they wish they had someone better in the job, but they don't and they're prepared to back Bush.

I don't agree with most people. But I'm part of a small minority, a fringe, like the folks who thought Nixon wasn't a crook.

People are talking about wild things. Completely reconstructing the Middle East. Occupation. Nuclear weapons.