The rap on George W. Bush is that he can't make a rousing speech like Winston Churchill, and indeed he can't. But who can? Not Hillary, not "the husband of," not John McCain or Rudy Giuliani, or even Barack Obama, worthies all.
Churchill marshaled the language and sent it off to World War II. He was sui generic, one of a kind, an orator who played rhetoric like Babe Ruth hit home runs and Brooks Robinson played third base. But Churchill, the electrifier of frightened audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, had an advantage that neither George W. nor the pretenders do. He had an audience wired to be electrified.
The earlier generations were more serious, more grown-up, more willing to look threats of death and doom squarely in the eye. They took Hitler at his word. Churchill's challenge, to resist Nazi evil no matter how dear the price or heavy the burden, was eagerly assumed even though the prime minister had "nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." When Herr Hitler boasted that he would wring England's neck like a chicken, Churchill mocked him: "Some neck, some chicken." An exchange like that between George W. and Osama bin Laden or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would invite hoots and catcalls from defiant Democrats and fearful Republicans, and probably a derisive skit on "Saturday Night Live." Being a real chicken is less demanding than resisting evil.
Churchill used metaphors like weapons of mass destruction. Death by metaphor was often the fate of a parliamentary nemesis in the black years leading inexorably toward World War II. In one memorable exchange with Ramsay MacDonald, a Labor Party prime minister, Churchill, then a mere member of Parliament, recalled his disappointment as a boy at the circus not being allowed to see a sideshow freak born with arms, legs and spine like spaghetti, called "the Boneless Wonder."
"My parents judged that the spectacle would be too demoralizing and revolting for my youthful eye," he recalled, fixing a contemptuous gaze on his rival. "I have waited 50 years to see the Boneless Wonder."
He was born only too soon. If he were in Washington now we could show him lots of boneless wonders, as Bill Kristol observes in the Weekly Standard. "Today, Boneless Wonders sit on the benches of both parties in Congress. More are to be found on the Democratic side of the aisle than the Republican. But the herd of Boneless Wonders is a bipartisan ."
The Boneless Wonders and their cousins, the Bone Heads proudly liken their opposition to war in Iraq to opposition to the war in Vietnam a generation ago. But the '60's anti-war crowd opposed the war because they reckoned America had no stake in what happened in Southeast Asia. The anti-war crowd now recognizes that something's at stake in Iraq, but demands an alternative to how George W. Bush is dealing with it. Just what this might be, no one offers a clue. "I'm not the president," says Harry Reid, the leader of the fragile Democratic majority in the Senate. "It is the president's obligation to set policy."
And so it is. No one, not even the president, is certain sure that his "new way forward" is a guarantee of success. But no one has come up with anything better, or in fact with anything at all. "I think going into Iraq was a mistake," a friendly Muslim ambassador said to me this week. "But an American withdrawal now would be a disaster."
There's obvious glee among the president's critics that his war has gone sour. Joe Biden wants to codify glee with a Senate resolution to "demonstrate to the president that he's on his own." On his own? If events since September 11 have taught anything it's that we all, even Joe Biden, have a stake in the war against violent Islam.
"You ask what is our aim?" Winston Churchill told his critics in the spring of 1940, when civilization teetered in the balance. "I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs. Victory in spite of all terror, however long or hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival."