OpinionJournal has posted a notable column by Bret Stephens that renders a striking diagnosis regarding the mental health of Sidney Blumenthal, Al Gore, and Paul Krugman: “Just like Stalingrad.”
Stephens notes that Blumenthal has recently compared the American siege of Fallujah to the battle of Stalingrad, and the American detention of enemy combatants to the Soviet Gulag. He also notes the anti-Bush diatribes (frequently discussed here) that Gore and Krugman have emitted over the past year. Stephens writes:
What makes these arguments insane–I use the word advisedly–isn’t that they don’t contain some possible germ of truth. One can argue that Mr. Clinton was a reasonably good president. And one can argue that Bush economic policy has not been a success. But you have to be insane to argue that Mr. Clinton was FDR incarnate, and you have to be insane to argue Mr. Bush has brought the U.S. to its lowest economic point since 1932. This style of hyperbole is a symptom of madness, because it displays such palpable disconnect from observable reality.
If you have to go looking for outrage, the outrage probably isn’t there. That which is truly outrageous tends to have the quality of obviousness.
So here is one aspect of this insanity: no sense of proportion. For Mr. Blumenthal, Fallujah isn’t merely like Stalingrad. It may as well be Stalingrad, just as Guantanamo may as well be Lefertovo and Abu Ghraib may as well be Buchenwald, and Mr. Bush may as well be Hitler and Hoover combined, and Iraq may as well be Vietnam and Bill Clinton may as well be Franklin Roosevelt.
The absence of proportion stems, in turn, from a problem of perspective. If you have no idea where you stand in relation to certain objects, then an elephant may seem as small as a fly and a fly may seem as large as an elephant. Similarly, Mr. Blumenthal can compare the American detention infrastructure to the Gulag archipelago only if he has no concept of the actual size of things. And he can have no concept of the size of things because he neither knows enough about them nor where he stands in relation to them. What is the vantage point from which Mr. Blumenthal observes the world? It is one where Fallujah is “Stalingrad-like.” How does one manage to see the world this way? By standing too close to Fallujah and too far from Stalingrad. By being consumed by the present. By losing not just the sense, but the possibility, of judgment.
It is occasionally difficult to distinguish purely political bad faith from mental illness, and I am not sure that Stephens has fairly done so here. But I think he is on to something. The condition described by Stephens reminds me of the general condition of the left during the Reagan administration during which such arguments were frequently made as well.
During the Reagan administration, in the context of the Cold War, the left denounced every serious administration foreign policy or defense initiative as futile, counterproductive, provocative or criminal. The left frames its current denunciations of the Iraq war as distracting us from the war against terrorism or the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and it more generally attacks the administration’s handling of the war on terrorism as permeated with criminality.
But whence comes the seething hatred that produces the left’s hyperbolic denunciations of Reagan and Bush? Both the misjudgments and the hyperbole seem to me to suggest a suicidal component to the madness that Stephens diagnoses.