The Evil of Banality: Republicans Speak on Iraq
A sure sign of the GOP desperation over Iraq is ever-increasing Republican propensity to rhetorically reduce the conflict to the realm of the normal. With casual analogies to American sports, business, shopping, and history, Republican leaders try to conflate the Iraq chaos and carnage with the commonplace and carefree. Theirs isn't the "banality of evil," but instead the evil of banality.
Consider the words of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who just this week compared the debate over war funding and benchmarks for the Iraqi government with his own experience as a small business owner:
"I owned a small business. I have benchmarks every month, but if I didn't meet the benchmarks and if I missed the profit margin, I didn't shut down the business. I didn't yank the funds and close up the door."
While Boehner obviously confused the role of owner versus investor in his pathetic Iraq analogy, his House Republican allies offered Americans to metaphor of shopping to portray supposed progress on the ground in Baghdad. On April 4th, Republican Mike Pence comically described his visit to an Iraqi market, "It was just like any open-air market in Indiana in the summertime." Three day earlier, his GOP Senate colleague Lindsay Graham (R-SC) essentially compared the same experience to shopping at Wal Mart, declaring "I bought five rugs for five bucks."
If business and shopping comparison fail to assuage Americans about the state of the civil war in Iraq, Republican leaders are only too happy to offer sports analogies. During a surprise visit to Baghdad today, Vice President Cheney said of the work to be done in Iraq, "It's game time." (Of course, President Bush himself challenged the nascent Iraqi insurgency back in 2003, "bring 'em on.") And just last week, Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois and FoleyGate fame turned to baseball to explain why Congress needs to stay the course on funding stay the course:
"Imagine my beloved St. Louis Cardinals are playing the much despised Chicago Cubs. The Cardinals are up by five finishing the top of the ninth. Is this a cause for celebration? Is this a cause for victory? No. Unbelievable as it may seem, the Cubbies score five runs in the bottom of the ninth to throw the games into extra innings. There the score remains until 1:00 AM five innings later. However at the top of the 15th, the Cardinals fail to field a batter. The entire team has left the stadium...Who wins? We know it's the team that stays on the field."
When in doubt, the GOP will resort to wildly inappropriate comparisons of Iraq to wars past. (For more on President Bush's feeble and insulting parallels to World War II, see here and here.) For Southern Republicans like Texan Ted Poe, thoughts naturally turn to heroes and symbols of the Confederacy. Sadly, with Nathan Bedford Forrest, Poe happened to choose as his exemplar of determination a Confederate terrorist and founder of the Ku Klux Klan:
"Congress needs to quit talking about supporting the troops and put money where our mouths seem to be. Nathan Bedford Forrest, successful Confederate general, said it best about winning and victory and the means to do so. He said, 'Git thar fustest with the mostest.'"
In 1963, Hannah Arendt introduced the term "banality of evil" in Eichmann in Jerusalam, her account of the trial of the Nazi Holocaust architect. Far from the image of an evil monster and madman, Arendt was struck by Eichmann's averageness and his seeming normality in the context of Hitler's Germany.
There is, of course, no Eichmann analogy here. Today's Republican leaders are not goose-stepping automatons calmly pursuing a goal of genocide. But in their desperation to rhetorically make commonplace and routine the horror and tragedy of the American fiasco in Iraq, they are pernicious. And banal.