Political life as we know it is over in America. We have entered a new age since 9/11. This may seem obvious to the casual observer, but old habits die hard for a generation of analysts who were trained to view political combat as a clever joust over economic conditions, hot-button social issues, and traditional foreign policy questions. This is not to say that these issues are irrelevant. That would be silly. These issues are important but they no longer drive national politics.
We analysts continue to lapse back into our foggy ruminations of days gone by despite the wreckage of the World Trade Center, the damaged Pentagon, the Madrid bombings, the bloody suicide attacks, the brutal videotaped murders, and countless other savage acts. Such atrocities haunt us for a while and then get tucked away into a sequestered corner of our minds so that we can get back to discussing "politics."
Over the past few weeks, we analysts chimed in on the effect that the swift boat vets were having on Senator Kerry's poll numbers. We evaluated the McCain, Giuliani, and Schwarzenegger convention appearances and to what extent they would help the President with "swing" voters. We dissected the speeches of Vice President Cheney and Democratic Senator Zell Miller and fell all over ourselves, deciding whether or not they were too "negative." We patted ourselves on the back for our clever analysis of President Bush's acceptance speech"part Clinton" (on the domestic side) and "part Reagan" (on the foreign policy side). And, we calculated the damage to the so-called mainstream media by the pseudo-Machiavellian tomfoolery of the CBS Bush-memo fiasco.
But at the end of these past few weeks, after all of the confetti had fallen to the convention floor, the balloons had been dropped and popped, and the press corps had been feverishly driven into the minutiae of type fonts and forgery analysis, our fanciful political musings have been continuously interrupted by the nightmare of Beslan.
The savage terrorist attack in Russia was the defining event of the past fortnight and would have been so no matter what happened at the Republican Convention, short of a complete meltdown by the president in his speech. Hundreds of childrenranging from infants to teenagersalong with their parents and teachers, were tortured, bayoneted, and shot in the back by terrorists in a little school in a small Russian town. Granted, these atrocities did not happen in America, but no one seriously views these events as separated from the more general War on Terror.
Don't be fooled. The swift boat controversy, the antics of Michael Moore, the machinations of George Soros, the recent trends in economic data, the debates over health care, and the manufactured controversy over George Bush's service in the National Guard are all a sideshow. The fundamental structure of this race would have been the same with or without these things.
When the books are written, the lasting image of our current political era will not be that of a particular political advertisement, a controversial documentary film, or the peaks and valleys of some economic trend line. The look that dominates our age and spurs us to victory is that of the keening survivor, beholding the mutilated victim. The Pietanot the prancing pinstriped political operativeis the defining image of our time.
The truth is that most Americans understand this, despite the daily ramblings of the talking heads. That's why most Americans have come to realize that George Bushwarts and allis better suited than John Kerrywarts and allto be president. Most Americans think that victory is more likely with Bush at the helm. That is why the poll numbers are moving in his direction. And that is why, barring some campaign cataclysm, he will be elected to a second term by a margin bigger than most analysts expect. The reason for this is that most people in America still recognize the difference between a daydream and reality. Most Americans still recognize that our survival depends upon the struggle to remember what we always seem to forget.