I swear, sometimes living in America and trying to keep up with all its babble and discourse is like having four kids and two full-time jobs. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about the news of Osama bin Laden’s death was its absolute crystalline clarity—some of our guys broke into his house and put him down like a rabid dog, and you just can’t get much more basic than that. But then came the fog of peace, and in less than a week the waters were muddied again:
- College kids who barely remember 9/11 got toasted and made fools out of themselves, causing old farts and fuddy-duddies like me to choke a little bit on our own vomit.
- The administration had to dial back its initial account of the raid, offering a second version so at variance with the suddenly non-operative first statement, and which in itself raised so many additional questions about what happened, that one came away wondering what either version was based on.
- America started giving Pakistanis the stink-eye for either shielding bin Laden, if they knew he was there, or for being too stupid to live, if they didn’t.
- Native American groups objected to the brain-fart selection of “Geronimo” as a codename for bin Laden and/or the operation.
- A debate about whether the death photo should be made public threatened to overwhelm all other aspects of the raid until Obama tersely announced that he would not authorize its release.
- Another debate—this one a true exercise in egg-heady pointlessness—erupted over the raid’s legality.
- The inevitable Sarah Palin flap broke out when she accused Obama of “pussyfooting”, all of about six seconds after he shot Lex Luthor in the middle of his face.
- A second photo—the instantly iconic Sit Room pic—raised its own sidebar issues, to wit: Wow, somebody showed human emotion—what’s up with that? Hillary, perhaps eager to undercut any “fairer sex” bullshit, maintains she was only having an allergy attack. Considering the circumstances, I wouldn’t care if she was trying to see how many Milk Duds she could cram into her mouth.
- Along those same lines a flotilla of psychological theories trying to explain the “meaning” of the raid sailed through the media, with the words “catharsis” and “closure” repeated so many times that one might think bin Laden’s death actually signals the end of grief.
- The New York Times, in its Science section no less, ran a good-sized article about how the SEALs were accompanied by a bomb-sniffing, terrorist-detecting, parachuting Super Soldier Dog. Traces of pretty much everything that’s terrible about the Times nowadays can be found in the single sentence “Little is known about what may be the nation’s most courageous dog”—a line that must be swelling Borges’ ghost with envy.
- And to absolutely nobody’s surprise, the fright-wingers went into full-blown nutjob mode, insisting, among other things, that: torture—yes, wonderful, yummy torture—deserves all the credit for finding bin Laden; Obama staged the raid “now” to cut off speculation about the authenticity of his birth certificate; there’s no actual proof that Osama is actually dead (or at least that he was killed when and where Obama says he was); and that while Obama showed weakness by not tying bin Laden’s body to a humvee and dragging it around Ground Zero for a few hours, he showed hubris by using too many personal pronouns in his Mayday announcement. As is so often the case, the absolute nuttiest, most completely batshit alternate-reality theory was lodged at Atlas Shrugs, where Pam Geller and her fellow Cuckoo Nesters argued that the raid was actually a Fletcher Knebel novel come to life.
In light of all this, it’s nice to have at least one clear thought to wrap our minds around as everything else tips over into nonsense. Barack Obama and I have our differences but there’s one thing I gotta hand to the man: when he wants to, he has a knack for saying things in a way that makes them permanently said, and his latest display of this talent was also one of his best. Discussing with 60 Minutes his decision to deep-six the corpse photo, he explained, “The fact of the matter is, you will not see bin Laden walking on this Earth again”. To which I can only say: Wow. Pithy and concrete, that little sentence packs into a few very serious words the done-deal finality of Abbottabad, the physical absence left behind by any man’s death, and the rock-bottom meaning of what life is all about. “We don’t need to spike the football,” which comes from the same interview, is good in its way, too, mostly because it frames a fragile and important moral issue in terms any American Christian ought to understand. But that other line…Brother. That ain’t just poetic. It’s proverbial.