The limits of “normalcy”

Part of Andrew Sullivan’s claim that John Kerry is the real conservative in this year’s race is based on the notion that Kerry is advocating a “return to normalcy.” For example (as Sullivan describes this platform) “we should stop referring to a ‘war’ on terror, and return to pre-9/11 notions of terrorism as a discrete phenomenon best dealt with by police work in coordination with our democratic allies.” Sullivan is correct, I think, in characterizing Kerry’s true feelings about how to deal with terrorism. It’s a stretch, though, to call this a conservative position. Was it conservative for Jimmy Carter to tell us to get over our inordinate fear of Communism? But, labels aside, the real question is (as John Edwards once wondered), how can anyone actually favor returning to the pre-9/11 mentality?
But Sullivan isn’t the only one who yearns for “normalcy.” Mickey Kaus and Peggy Noonan made similar noises recently. Yet how abnormal is our current life. We have handily won two wars (toppling two of the worst regimes in recent memory and liberating millions of people) at a cost of about 1,000 American lives. Our economy is booming. Except at airports, day-to-day life in America is almost indistinguishable from what it was before 9/11. In fact, some criticize President Bush for not calling upon Americans to make enough sacrifices (i.e. paying more taxes). Sure, most of us feel more stress than we did before 9/11, but the source of the stress is the threat posed by terrorism, not the fight against it.
Now, if you oppose the war in Afghanistan or Iraq, then the these conflicts represent an unacceptable breach of the peace. But otherwise, after less than three years, war-on-terrorism fatigue makes sense only if the Islamofascists are correct in their view that America lacks the will to wage effective war against them.

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