In the mid-1980s there was a very funny comedy show on TV called Sledge Hammer which, alas, lasted for only two seasons. (I hear that it is now available on DVD.) The title character was a police detective who was an over-the-top parody of all the hard-boiled, tough detectives ever portrayed, taking particular aim at the iconic Dirty Harry, the character portrayed by Clint Eastwood in a series of highly popular films of that period.
Dirty Harry made his own judgments about who was guilty and innocent and acted accordingly. He did not think much of the slow legal processes of justice. If he thought someone was guilty, then he felt justified in using any methods to extract justice, even if it meant dealing it out in summary and violent form. He had little use for legal niceties such as “innocent until proven guilty”, Miranda rights, right to a lawyer, and other constitutional protections, seeing them as the mollycoddling behavior of wimpy do-gooders that allowed the guilty to go free.
Sledge Hammer took this attitude to a wacky extreme. Of all the options available to him to deal with any situation, he would choose the most violent. Doors were meant to be kicked down, guns were meant to be fired, noses to be broken, violence to be used whenever possible. He had little use for the rules of evidence. If he felt in his gut that someone was guilty, that was enough for him to use any means he saw fit to deal with that person. He saw things as stark contrasts and had a deep hatred of Communists (the enemy of that time). He loved violence so much that he slept with his gun by his pillow and would speak lovingly to it.
Sledge Hammer’s signature line was uttered whenever he was about to embark on any action that was going to result in massive amounts of mayhem and destruction. To those around him who expressed doubt and dismay about his reckless plans and tried to dissuade him, he would say reassuringly “Trust me, I know what I’m doing” before he went and proved exactly the opposite.
George W. Bush reminds me a lot of Sledge Hammer except that he, and what he does, is not funny. We have already seen with Iraq and Afghanistan that although he had many options, he chose those that were the most violent and reckless, and that violated the most norms of behavior. As a result, the US is now mired in increasingly hopeless situations in both those countries. We see Bush’s contempt for “legal niceties” with the way detainees are being treated, the justifications for the use of torture in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, illegal and secret prisons in other countries, trying to redefine Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions to provide legal cover for torture, and his cavalier disregard for the serious consequences of such actions.
We find him doing the same thing now with Iran that he did with Iraq, ratcheting up alarmist rhetoric, trying to mislead the people on the facts of Iran’s nuclear program, and setting up the public debate in such a way that the country is almost inexorably being drawn into another war.
Bush likes to portray things in black and white, good and evil, and once he has made that determination, he has little patience with those who question his summary judgments. He patronizingly and condescendingly keeps saying that his job is to “protect the American people” and to those who doubt him, the only thing he offers as reassurance are practically the same words as Sledge Hammer: “Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”
Frankly, I have no trust in his judgment. If the record of him and his administration shows anything clearly, it is that you cannot trust them on anything, either their motives or their competence in executing their plans. With his awful record plainly apparent, thinking that he is reassuring people by saying that he is the one who will “protect the American people” indicates how seriously out of touch he is.
The conventions of TV sitcoms are such that one has to have a happy ending at the end of each half hour episode and Sledge Hammer was no exception. Thanks to the efforts of his sensible and long-suffering partner, or his police chief, or simply due to dumb luck, events would turn out well in the end and Sledge Hammer’s disastrous actions cause no permanent harm.
But real life is not a sitcom. We have no guarantees that the actions of Sledge Hammer Bush currently occupying the White House will have a happy ending. Real life problems are complicated and you cannot address them adequately if the only tools at your disposal are gut instinct in making judgments and steely resolve in implementing your decisions, which are the only things that Bush, like Sledge Hammer, has. It does not help that the administration’s allies in Congress and the media seem to behave more like a laugh track rather than in providing the critical oversight that is so essential for good government.
In fact, if Iraq and Afghanistan are any indication, we are in for another calamitous episode, this time with Iran cast as the villain. Sledge Hammer Bush is probably already preparing his speech to the nation to be delivered when he begins that war. And the speech will begin: “Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”
POST SCRIPT: More media monopoly on the way?
Robert McChesney describes how the administration and its compliant Federal Communication Commission (FCC) are trying to allow even greater monopolistic control of the media by the media conglomerates who are supporters of the Bush administration (Tribune, Sinclair, News Corp., Clear Channel, Gannett, Belo and Media General), and suppressing research that shows the negative effects of media consolidation.