Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Waking Up and Resting
Last fall the historical name-of-the-moment was George McGovern--as in, "Howard Dean will be the George McGovern of 2004." This week, the name-of-the-moment is Neville Chamberlain--as in, "Spanish voters have handed Al Qaeda as big a victory as Neville Chamberlain handed Hitler in 1938." The speed with which the right-wing echo chamber has landed on "appeasement" as the preferred shorthand for the Social Democrats' win in last Sunday's elections has been breathtaking. Callers to wingnut talk shows and e-mailers to cable news channels are letting "Chamberlain" and "appeasement" fall from their lips and pens like they actually used these words all the time. Suddenly the resolute Spanish, formerly our great ally, are exposed as a bunch of craven wimps lacking the guts to face up to Insensate Evil.

Except the Spanish people never supported the war in Iraq--former Prime Minister Jose-Maria Aznar did, while millions of his fellow citizens took to the streets against it. When given the chance to take matters directly into their own hands, Spanish voters said "enough." Was it because of the Madrid bombings? Absolutely. Polls taken before the bombings showed Aznar's party likely to win. But the bombings acted as a wakeup call to the Spanish electorate.

The idea that the Spanish have "lost their nerve" is absurd. They've actually shown more nerve than we would have under the same circumstances. While the wreckage in Madrid was still smoking, they threw out a government whose entanglement with Bush's empire-building adventure is likely what got Madrid bombed in the first place. The voters did it despite Aznar's best attempts at blaming domestic terrorists for the attacks. We'd never show as much nerve here--Americans simply can't imagine not rallying around the government in times of crisis. Witness our instant transformation of Bush from place-holding doofus to Lincolnesque statesman in the days after 9/11--and ongoing Republican attempts to keep the population terrorized and our rally-round impulse primed for exploitation. And we'd never rush to blame domestic terrorists, either--because the idea of domestic terrorism disrupts our carefully nurtured illusions about "united we stand," and our domestic terrorists often have agendas with disturbing parallels to the agenda of the party currently running our government.

Recommended reading: It was nearly 40 years ago, but I remember it vividly--my plastic "resting mat" for kindergarten "resting time." You could say it was a social-class signifier--less well-off classmates used old rugs or blankets, but I had a mat designed especially for the purpose, red on one side and blue on the other. And I remember how Miss Morgan would turn the lights down, and sometimes read a story to us while we rested. But now, it seems, just as recess has become an unaffordable luxury in many elementary schools, resting or naptime is something younger kids can't afford, either. The "increasingly urgent world of public education," as the Washington Post terms it, simply can't spare time that could be used to push students to greater academic success. Oh yeah, eliminating naps ought to help--almost as much as fully funding the education bill, which Bush hasn't seen fit to do.

(This post has been edited since it first appeared.)

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