Stabbed in the Back

For more than sixty years the American Right has been fueled by a “stabbed in the back” meme. As Kevin Baker wrote,

Every state must have its enemies. Great powers must have especially monstrous foes. Above all, these foes must arise from within, for national pride does not admit that a great nation can be defeated by any outside force. That is why, though its origins are elsewhere, the stab in the back has become the sustaining myth of modern American nationalism. Since the end of World War II it has been the device by which the American right wing has both revitalized itself and repeatedly avoided responsibility for its own worst blunders. Indeed, the right has distilled its tale of betrayal into a formula: Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy. Deny culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous. Blame the disaster on internal enemies who hate America. Repeat, always making sure to increase the number of internal enemies.

On Sunday, Robert Farley of Lawyers, Guns and Money noted current developments in back-stabbing:

The stab-in-the-back narrative is now in full gear. What Kaus merely abets, Glenn Reynolds, Mark Steyn, and the editors of Investors Business Daily push full throttle; America will lose because of the perfidy of liberals. The Surge is providing the proximate excuse. After four years of disastrous ineptitude during which Reynolds et al happily watched the Bush administration destroy America’s standing in the world and wage the most incompetent conflict since the War of 1812, they’ve decided that opposition to the trivial escalation provided by the Surge is the final necessary indicator of treason in the Democratic Party.

Never mind that, when the surge was proposed, the Joint Chiefs unanimously opposed it. Never mind the advice of Lt. Gen. William Odom

A Congress, or a president, prepared to quit the game of “who gets the blame” could begin to alter American strategy in ways that will vastly improve the prospects of a more stable Middle East. …

… The first and most critical step is to recognize that fighting on now simply prolongs our losses and blocks the way to a new strategy. Getting out of Iraq is the pre-condition for creating new strategic options. Withdrawal will take away the conditions that allow our enemies in the region to enjoy our pain. It will awaken those European states reluctant to collaborate with us in Iraq and the region.

Sooner or later, U.S. troops will withdraw from Iraq. And just as the Right whined that Franklin Roosevelt gave away eastern Europe at Yalta, and that “liberals” in the State Department “lost China” to Mao, and that we could have “won” in Vietnam were it not for the dirty bleeping hippies, the Right will spend the rest of this century pointing fingers at the Left for losing Iraq. Count on it.

But now the Right is in self-marginalization mode, commonly called “eating their own.” For example, Republican presidential candidate John McCain has blamed Donald Rumsfeld for the “mismanagement” of the war. And the True Believers are outraged. One called this a “cheap shot” and declared McCain to be “anathema in 2008.” Another predicted that McCain’s campaign would end in a “well-deserved rout.”

John Hinderaker of Power Line
attempts nuance:

McCain is entitled to editorialize, of course, and I believe he has been consistent in calling for more troops. It seems odd to blame Rumsfeld, though; the administration’s position has always been that it would provide more troops if the generals said they needed them. The military judgment of the generals on the ground has been, up until recently, that they had enough personnel to do the job.

In other words, the “commanders on the ground” didn’t want more troops as long as George Bush didn’t want to send more troops, but now that he wants to send some, they have changed their minds. None of these meatheads can extrapolate from this that Bush doesn’t give a bleep what the “commanders on the ground” think.

My guess is that McCain’s criticism is more about the future than the past. What he really wants is to buy time for the surge to work. As Paul noted yesterday, McCain has acknowledged that if the surge doesn’t work, there probably won’t be sufficient public support for the war effort to try a Plan B. By emphasizing the alleged “mismanagement” of the past, McCain is trying to generate optimism that, if properly run and adequately manned, our effort can succeed.

Slightly off topic, but noteworthy:

While McCain is entitled to editorialize, the AP reporter isn’t. But get this, immediately after McCain’s criticism of Rumsfeld:

    The comments were in sharp contrast to McCain’s statement when Rumsfeld resigned in November, and failed to address the reality that President Bush is the commander in chief.

Apparently it’s a matter of policy at the Associated Press that President Bush be blamed for everything, so the reporter made up for McCain’s omission.

Apparently it’s a matter of policy among rightie bloggers that President Bush be blamed for nothing, in spite of the fact that he claims to be “the Decider.” It’s as if, deep down inside, they know he’s an empty suit and don’t expect anything from him but speeches and ribbon-cutting. For another point of view, see “George Bush as Fifth Columnist: Aiding America’s Enemies” by Doug Bandow at

Back to the marginalization of the Right — there’s an old saying — Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas. The Republican Party stopped being “centrist” years ago, and instead based its power on a coalition of hard-right whackjob factions — Fetus People, Gun People, homophobes, isolationists, neocons, racists, etc. And now it’s flea-bit. As DownWithTyranny asks (and I love the photo), how could any candidate possibly win the GOP nomination by appealing to these mutts and still be marketable in the general election?

But for a real stabbed-in-the-back extravaganza, check out Richard Viguerie’s new book, Conservatives Betrayed. Along with John McCain, entities identified by Viguerie as backstabbers include Congress, Democrats (of course), and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Viguerie also feels “betrayed” by President Bush. You’ll love the reason why —

Even after being mercilessly pummeled by them time and again on every issue during his first six years as President, George W. Bush has not learned his lesson — he still wants to make friends with the Democrats. Albert Einstein said it best: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.”

Naturally, the President of the (entire) United States must shun the majority party, or else he’s a traitor. I guess Viguerie hasn’t noticed Bush’s long-standing pattern of making conciliatory noises even as his actions prove he doesn’t mean it.

An online poll identifies the worst offenders: “Conservative leaders who kept silent while the GOP became the party of Big Government”; corruption, legal and illegal; President Bush (doesn’t say why); “Mainstream media that may have influenced the voters to throw out the Republicans”; “Conservative media that kept silent while the GOP became the party of Big Government”; Sen. Ted Stevens; Sen. Bill Frist; Rep Dennis Hastert; and “Blunders and misstatements by Republican candidates.”

You can see the stabbed-in-the-back mentality all over this list. Republicans didn’t lose in 2006 because they screwed up, or because they are out of step with most voters. They were betrayed.

9 thoughts on “Stabbed in the Back

  1. What’s underneath and fueling the ‘stab in the back’ propensity?

    I’d say that the underlying dynamic is a growing ‘shame of self’ eating away inside the psyches of Bush followers. Rather than risk the exposure, healing and growth of sunlight, the shamed ones hide themselves behind weak theories to ‘explain away’ all that is shameful….which theories must, of necessity, paint someone else black.

    This dynamic is one of the immature…..those who, like teens, define themselves by their friends, as compared to the more mature who can rely on a self-referencing inner core.

  2. “But now the Right is in self-marginalization mode, commonly called ‘eating their own.'”

    Yes. Once again.

    If we are experiencing an opportunity for a “do-over” of the 1970s, we may be somewhere around 1973-74 (version 2.0). The question is how best to react to the meltdown of the Right so that we don’t screw it up again and wind up with a one-term Democratic president, followed by twelve years of neo-Reaganism.

    Sometimes, I think it’s possible to get it right. At other times, I think we may be doomed to repeat our collective mistakes so that each new generation can have the same opportunity for screw-ups that all prior generations have enjoyed.

  3. There is a myth (or maybe true story) about a large sleigh being pursued by wolves. To prevent being overtaken, every so often, one of the riders is thrown out to slow down the pack.

    This is the mode the GOP is in, deciding who to throw to the wolves. McCain nominated Rumsfeld; the AP (who are not in the sleigh) nominated Bush. Some in the GOP are anticipating the need for a scapegoat for the debacle in Iraq are considering Bush. But different factions are engaged an a brutal Darwinian process which will redefine who the new power brokers in the GOP will be.

    Rest assured by the time the sleigh reaches it’s destination, the survivors will have worked out a story. The tragedy will be the fault of the Dems; every aspect from the cold to the snow to the slow horses. Every one of the victims will get the Medal of Honor.

  4. javascript:void(‘;_ylt=A9G_RxMRo9tFB5QAWgqs0NUE?ch=68276&cl=1924477&lang=en’,’playerWindow’,’width=793,height=608,scrollbars=no’));

    It would be nice if Poodle stepped up to the plate and cleared away the mess he’s created. I know Bush doesn’t have the decency to face the consequences by cleaning up his mess.

  5. Those of us who were around during the Reagan years remember that a fairly constant meme of that time from the right-wingers was that

    – there was a new order in America and
    – it would last forever.

    People actually believed that; after all, it worked out that way in the Southern Baptist Convention, which was totally hijacked and subverted by the fundamentalists. A lot of the irrational hatred of Clinton, in my opinion, comes from this. Clinton as President wasn’t supposed to be, so his Presidency was illegitimate and he was a usurper, who must have come into power by dirty means.

    Of course, if you believe this way, then any failings of the Bush era have to be from betrayal, from somebody. And if, as I earnestly hope, the power of this malignancy is broken, you can bet that they will assume it is due to betrayal, not their own failings.

    The only way to stop this is to have a Truth Commission and to have War Crime Trials, which I also think is the only way to restore our good standing in the international community.

  6. I agree with the majority of your post. However there is an assumption you make that I strongly disagree with.

    “In other words, the “commanders on the ground” didn’t want more troops as long as George Bush didn’t want to send more troops, but now that he wants to send some, they have changed their minds. None of these meatheads can extrapolate from this that Bush doesn’t give a bleep what the “commanders on the ground” think.”

    If I’m not mistaken, you infer that Bush should be basing his strategy around what his commanders tell him they want. I blogged about this a while ago. To allow generals to dictate strategy would be a mistake. For better or for worse, Bush is in fact the “Decider” – the buck stops with him (in theory…).

    Of course it is stupid to completely ignore the generals on the ground – but I don’t think Bush ignores them, it’s just that the culture of the Pentagon at the moment is one in which ambitious officers (remember we have a military in which if you are not promoted after a period of time, you are unemployed) know what to say and know what not to say.

  7. If I’m not mistaken, you infer that Bush should be basing his strategy around what his commanders tell him they want.

    No, that’s not what I intended to say at all. I was just pointing out (in response to Hinderaker) that what the “generals on the ground” say to news media seems to be determined by what President Bush wants them to say.

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