Are we just tired? Nationally fatigued? Blood sugar of the body politic down to a dangerous level? Falling asleep at the wheel?
The symptoms were all there last week. In quick 1-2-3 order, we (1) watched the Democratic party discard Joe Lieberman because he insisted on reminding everyone that the world we live in is a genuinely dangerous place; (2) processed reports from London confirming that Lieberman's warnings were still frighteningly valid; (3) heard Lieberman's critics explain that the main reason the terrorists were still attempting such awful things was that the Bush administration had treated them so miserably.
It's the kind of mixed-up dreaming you do when you're exhausted and fighting to stay awake toward the end of a long trip.
Trouble is, there's no guarantee at all, and maybe not even an indicator, that we're anywhere near the end of the long excursion against global Islamic terrorism. Instead, the signals are everywhere that more and more people are conking out and giving up.
Or maybe just dozing off. What we wished for so devoutly a few years ago-the flowering of self-government in the Middle East-has proven not so easy to accomplish as we at first imagined. So let's do what discouraged and depressed folks have a tendency to do. Let's just take a nap, and see if maybe when we wake up, a few of our problems haven't simply gone away.
Pleasant dreams, friends. For it's only fantasies, rather than anything real and practical, that dream-doctors like Ned Lamont of Connecticut are offering. It's one thing-and altogether legitimate-for President Bush's opponents to state their concerns about the direction of present policy in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, and elsewhere. But where are their real-life alternatives? "We're going to get our troops out of Iraq," Lamont vaguely promised the voters of Connecticut. "We're going to start investing in our own country again."
But dozing while you're driving is dangerous stuff. The Lamont pledges make sense only to people who are numbed by exhaustion and already half asleep. In a struggle that since 9/11 has gone on longer now than any war in American history, it's understandable that weariness has taken its toll. Yet it may also be a very good time to remember all those Reader's Digest first-person adventures where someone was stranded on a remote mountaintop after a plane crash, or caught deep in a cave, or buried by an avalanche. Remember how often the heroes had to struggle valiantly to stay awake-and how dozing off would have meant there was no exciting story to tell?
Staying awake isn't easy; keeping others awake is even harder. Sleep seems so much less messy. Staying awake means looking evil in the face, calling it plainly what it is without surrendering to political correctness, and going after that evil tooth and toenail. It means making real-life mistakes-including some very big and public ones-and then having your opponents suggest that every mistake you made is a sign of your own corruption. Your miscalculations they label as lies, and your failures as conspiracies.
Staying awake suggests you're in it not for a quick fix but for the long haul. You know you'll wince when the first-fruit of self-government is a decision by the voters to pick the wrong team. But even that, you insist, is better than what centuries and even millennia of despotism have inflicted. And once more you ask of those who are so disdainfully critical: "What, exactly, was your plan?"
Staying awake also means trying to summarize all this accurately, persuasively, and winsomely to an electorate-voters who, you fear, would rather just slumber through a fall campaign, dreaming gauzily about how the United Nations and European diplomats could handle all this if only we'd let them. So staying awake means hoping earnestly that your tortured efforts to keep your eyes open won't be squandered as voters turn over wearily in their own fitful sleepiness, pull their covers of deception over their heads, and ask for just one more 30-minute snooze before facing the realities of the day.