Compassionate Coercion

“People say, how can I help on this war against terror? How can I fight evil? You can do so by mentoring a child, or by going into a shut-in’s house and saying I love you.”


Despite the spin the Washington Post put on it, the President’s December 2 “get-tough speech” on Iraq at the Pentagon was short on rhetorical flourish. Bush sounded markedly timid at times, despite noting the “remarkable spirit of unity” surrounding the latest $30 billion increase in defense spending and the justifications thereof. It was one of those speeches, in fact, in which the President came off like a man not firmly in control of his own agenda. That said, this writer wonders why more of Bush’s public remarks don’t come off that way.

Consider the power grabs undertaken by W’s so-called supporters in the wake of the midterm elections. The Perle wing of the President’s party seems hell-bent on ratcheting up the rhetoric to such a point that Bush seems Gandhi-esque by default. While the public stances of the White House revisit the “compassionate conservative” postures of Bush’s 2000 campaign, the TV preachers and the reformed Trotskyites team up to harangue the White House for not taking effective action against the Saudis. And for some reason, Hank Kissinger isn’t good enough for them as 9/11 Commission Head, even though his actions were instrumental in entrenching the system that grants their public utterances — however trite, fallacious, or plagiarized they are — credibility.

So you get worthies ranging from Bill Safire to Shepard Smith holding forth about erosions to our civil liberties, as if they hadn’t drank and smoked at cocktail parties with the very people engaged in “the delicate process of balancing freedom and safety.” And you get the sort of politicians who flourish when journalists abdicate their responsibilities in the face of “national security” concerns; the modern equivalent of slave traders, willing to sacrifice their own people in the interest of their financiers.

Perhaps that is a harsh indictment. Perhaps I confused all those Democrats “standing shoulder to shoulder with the President”, as Nancy Pelosi described it, with a firing line. Perhaps my tendency to be confused stems from my inability to subscribe to a “fighting patriotism.” Or, perhaps it’s simply because I have failed, as yet, to heed the President’s directive to help a shut-in.

I have heard the President command me to help a shut-in on numerous occasions, but have so far been unable to fulfill this patriotic duty. In part, I reckon it’s because shut-ins traditionally keep to themselves. A proud, solitary lot. I also imagine that my tendency to keep to myself as much as possible has deterred me from obeying my Commander-In-Chief. Since I apparently have been drafted in this war to enter an invalid’s abode and indicate my affection, my failure to stalk and embrace one bedridden person or another could be construed as treason.

Of course, another interpretation of Bush’s direction to “help a shut-in” is possible. Perhaps noble tasks like helping shut-ins and mentoring children are intended as busywork. Something along the lines of previous exhortations to buy a car so that the terrorists don’t win twice. Busywork, intended to keep us busy until the information is gathered and processed. Until we are shut-ins ourselves.

ANTHONY GANCARSKI, a frequent contributor to CounterPunch, lives in Spokane, WA. Comments are welcome at


ANTHONY GANCARSKI is a regular CounterPunch columnist. He can be reached at