The death of bin Laden may be nothing more than closure to an era for the USofA. However, there are some signs that this could be a new era for our politics that is desperately needed. There is at least a chance that this could be the injection of stark reality that we have needed for some time, a re-focus on the things that really matter.
Only time will tell, of course, but for now there are a lot of unconnected loose ends. They do not make for one coherent thought, at least not yet. Just as I believe history will eventually tell us that this Managed Depression started on September 11th, 2001, the day that we started to fully engage the situation may have been May 1st, 2011.
This won’t make a lot of sense yet. History rarely does when you’re elbows into it.
The first thing to note is that we lost a critical external bogeyman. As the Bush administration showed, there is often no better way to get away with a lot of things internally than with an external threat that captures the public’s imagination. This is a technique used by many governments throughout time and is currently put into constant practice by Iran, North Korea, and other dictatorships. The terror threat probably did not change much with bin Laden’s death, but the perception of it likely has.
The Islamic world has to take this news in many ways. The stature of bin Laden has been falling steadily for years, but his reputation has to take a terrible beating over the circumstances. Not only is he dead, he was living for years in what appears to be great comfort – not the life of a revolutionary in the mountains that he cultivated in videos. He also appears to have had the protection of someone in Pakistan, possibly even the corrupt government, which aligns his reputation with exactly what he pledged to be fighting. It did not look good.
All eyes will now be on the youth movements who have toppled at least two dictatorships and are fighting hard in Libya and Syria right now. They have success where it counts. If that success continues the movement for democracy will only gain momentum, making it a truly revolution with a scope that bin Laden only dreamed of.
President Obama, for his part, now looks like a man who gets things done and takes care of business. It may not be pretty and it may take ten years, but he is moving forward. His careful approach to many domestic issues may now seem prudent. Those who oppose him were gearing up for a potential showdown over raising the Federal debt ceiling, an issue that was already a loser because it has the potential to split the Republican Party between business interest (who would see it as a disaster) and Tea Party activists (who have pledged a “line in the sand”). The stakes have probably been raised by Obama’s increased stature.
At the other end, the conspiracy nuts who criticize Obama for everything and nothing have been hit very hard in the last week. If they go on a tear of declaring that bin Laden is not really dead or some other diversion they will become much easier to isolate and marginalize. Mainstream Republicans will likely need to stop embracing them and put clear distance between themselves and the nuts. That would be very welcome, but it would start with more very ugly conspiracy mutterings.
So what does this all mean? If there is one common thread through all the potential ways this news could eventually go down, it is that reality may be descending on us. The Islamic world has been getting very real lately and will likely accelerate this trend. There is good reason that we might respond in kind as President Obama plays to his strengths in upcoming battles, namely the confident and responsible administrator who slogs through to get the job done.
What we need to watch for are two responses in our own media after the euphoria of this news cycle wears off. The first is an increased attention to domestic issues, specifically the operation of the government and the state of the economy. The second is a changed focus on the movements in the Islamic world, namely a marked decrease in worry over the threat that Islamacists to will take advantage of the chaos. If those two trends do develop it will signal a de-coupling of our internal politics from the strange anxiety of a receding empire.
It will be a strong step towards reality. I hope it happens.