A few readers mistakenly criticized me for saying Churchill was Prime Minister during Dunkirk. He was Prime Minister, but he’d only been in office for a couple weeks. Andrew Sullivan makes a different point, noting that Dunkirk wasn’t Churchill’s failure at all. That’s fair. I was basically looking — hurriedly — for a symbol of a setback in a just war everyone had heard of. No one would dispute, of course, that there were plenty of setbacks on Churchill’s — and FDR’s — watch.
Sullivan goes on to talk about how Bush divided the country etc etc. in un-Churchillian fashion.
Let’s offer two points in Bush’s defense on this score. First, the Democrats made the deliberate and cynical decision to make dividing the country a priority. Perhaps not that much — or not uniformly — before the 2002 elections. But afterwards, and most especially once the WMDs didn’t materialize the entire Democratic leadership decided that Howard Dean and Teddy Kennedy should set the tone of the debate: “lies, lies, lies, Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam.” The war was hatched in Texas, it was for Israel, it was for oil, it was for Halliburton, it was for whatever Teddy, Howie and Michael Moore said it was (recall that the chairman of the DNC has fully embraced Michael Moore. This poisonousness even infected the unanimity around 9/11. For example, Howard Dean — then the Democratic frontrunner — even floated conspiracy theories about Bush, the Saudis and 9/11. In short, if we are going to take these Churchillian analogies this far, let’s also conjure the British — and American — tradition of a loyal opposition.
And, second, let’s note that this is not a wartime press corps of the sort we had in WWII. The hostility of the media to Bush in the last two years has been staggering. Recall the press conference where all the reporters could ask about was whether or not Bush could admit mistakes? Or how the New York Times almost instantly declared both Afghanistan and Iraq quagmires (see your own “Von Hoffman Awards” Andrew). Sure, I think Bush could have and should have acknowledged more mistakes — as a tactical matter at minimum. But if you look at the environment he’s operating in — only partially his creation and largely his inheritance — you can find all sorts of other players who did not want to be united. If the charge is that a better leader could have overcome these obstacles, ok. But that’s purely hypothetical. If the charge is that he didn’t try, I think that’s grossly unfair. The sad fact, I think, is that disunity has been institutionalized in 21st century America. But that’s a subject for a column some day.