My daughter is having a problem with her math class right now. What precise problem she’s having is difficult to say, at least for her. As her parent, though, I’m pretty sure I know what the problem is: She’s refusing to take responsibility for her own actions.
I’ve become pretty familiar with the symptoms. The first sign is her coming to me for help with her homework. Which is fine. But as I’m going over the assignment with her, it quickly becomes clear that she’s not really focusing on it. She’s mopey and whiny, and quickly shifts from talking about the actual assignment to complaining that she doesn’t know how to do any of this and the teacher isn’t making sense when he talks about it in class and the other kids in the class are all smarter than she is and she’s never going to be able to understand any of it.
None of which are true.
These symptoms are my clue that she doesn’t really need help with her math. (Well, she probably does, but it won’t do any good to try to help her with it until the larger problem has been addressed.) The larger problem is that she’s not really trying to deal with her assignment. She’s looking for an excuse that lets her avoid responsibility for it.
Once I figure that out, it’s usually a pretty quick process to help her get back on track. She probably needs a break, or a snack, or just to go to bed and come back to sit down with me and look at the assignment in the morning, when she’s rested and able to focus.
I’m not trying to belittle her here. I think what she’s doing is perfectly normal behavior for a 13-year-old. (It certainly was for me at that age. And, truth be told, well beyond. Up to and including, erm, well, mumble mumble mumble…)
But the point of my bringing this up isn’t to embarrass my daughter. It’s to point out the remarkable similarity between her adolescent avoidance-of-responsibility behavior and that of the Bush people in reacting to the story of the missing 380 tons of explosives at the al Qaqaa munitions dump.
Josh Marshall has been all over this story from the outset, so go read some of his recent items if you want details (the most recent item as of now is this one: Okay, now we seem to have the White House’s third rendition of what happened…). Since the story broke last weekend, the Bush folks have asserted all of the following:
- We didn’t know anything about this until 10 days ago. If munitions are missing from the dump, it’s the fault of the interim Iraqi government, since they control that facillity now, not us. Talk to them about it. Oh, and we haven’t made the information public because it’s standard policy to avoid letting the insurgents know that this stuff might be missing.
- Okay; the Iraqis say that the munitions weren’t there when they took over the facility, and that they brought the issue up with us months ago. But this is really just a politically motivated attack by the liberal New York Times and the Kerry campaign. The munitions aren’t a big deal; it’s just a few insignificant explosives that may or may not actually have disappeared, when the truth is that we successfully destroyed more than 243,000 munitions, and have secured another 163,000 (or maybe another 363,000). Why aren’t our political opponents talking about that?
- Okay; the missing munitions actually are significant in terms of their dangerousness and the quantities involved, but they were already gone when our troops first got there in early April of 2003. They must have been moved out by Saddam’s troops, or taken by someone else, in the final few days before the war, or during the early phase of the war itself.
The more evidence that comes to light, though, the more clear it becomes that the munitions actually were there when the US troops first arrived, but that those troops didn’t bother securing them, because that wasn’t the mission they’d been given. And the arrival and swift departure of those US forces was what opened the door to widespread looting that continued unchecked for days, or possibly even weeks.
See this item from the New York Times today, in which they interview some of those who carried out the looting: 4 Iraqis tell of looting at munitions site in ’03. Also, see this story, about a local TV news crew from Minneapolis/St. Paul that was embedded with US forces, and videotaped large quantities of munitions at the facility on April 18, 2003 (more than a week after the explosives were already gone, in the Bush people’s latest version): 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS video may be linked to missing explosives in Iraq.
Meanwhile, after two days of silence on the issue earlier in the week, Bush himself has started hitting back on the campaign trail. According to Bush, the whole story just illustrates how John Kerry is willing to make wild charges unsupported by the facts. It’s an example of a craven political attack that denigrates the competence and patriotism of our troops in the field. “A political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not a person you want as your commander in chief,” the irony-challenged Bush actually said at one rally.
This is all so familiar to me. It’s exactly how my daughter acts when she’s trying to avoid responsibility for her math homework. Instead of actually addressing the real problem (she wasn’t paying attention when this material was covered in class, so now she doesn’t know how to do the problems), she spins off into a big confusing mass of self-contradictory excuses, which all have as their unifying theme the notion that whatever the problem is, it’s somebody else’s fault.
When my daughter does it, I just assume it’s normal adolescent blame-avoidance. She’s not pursuing this as a conscious strategy (at least I don’t think she is); it’s just the most emotionally appealing of the various coping strategies she sees available to her. In the case of the Bush team, I give them credit for doing at least a little more actual analysis of the political implications of various responses they might make. But the end result is the same.
The facts pretty clearly indicate that this was a direct result of the lame planning for the war’s aftermath that Kerry has been hammering them about for months now. Since the facts don’t help them, they obscure the facts. They amp up the rhetoric, make a bunch of wild charges about Kerry, and try to minimize the impact on the electorate by getting as much of the media as possible to cover it as a your-word-against-mine political argument.
Notice how this is exactly the same approach Bush’s handlers took when Richard Clarke’s book came out, and he testified before the 9/11 commission about how the Bush national security team had been asleep at the switch in the months leading up to 9/11. They couldn’t challenge his argument on the facts, so they raised a fog by ratcheting up the personal attacks on Clarke himself, and (at least somewhat successfully) getting the media to cover it as a garden-variety political dispute.
This really gets to the heart of the Jon Stewart case against the news media, by the way. It’s their susceptibility to covering stories in this way, and the ease with which either side can game them into doing so, even when the facts clearly show that one side is bullshitting, that leads me to think our democracy could very well be doomed.
Anyway, it’s just incrediby obvious to me when my daughter’s trying to avoid responsibility in this way. And I think it’s equally obvious when the Bush people do it. We seriously need to hold these people accountable, and get the grown-ups back in charge of our government. And the news media need to stop being their monkey.