Maureen Dowd’s truncated critique of U.S. macho politics

Appraising the puerile competition between candidate Kerry and the Bush crew, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd discusses the senator’s Ohio hunting trip and the resultant fate of four geese (“Cooking His Own Goose,” 24 Oct. 2004). “Just as W. needed to shock and awe to prove he was no wimp,” writes Dowd, “Mr. Kerry needed to shoot and eat.” Consequently, “Kerry made an animal sacrifice to the political gods in a cornfield in eastern Ohio last week.”

An apt description. Dowd’s critique loses momentum, however, by pausing to distinguish John Kerry’s goose hunting from the vice president’s duck hunting. Dowd writes, “When Mr. Kerry goes, only the birds are in danger. When Mr. Cheney and his pal Antonin Scalia go duck hunting together, the Constitution is in danger.”

Kerry is a threat to birds and Constitution alike. Kerry and the Democrats, much like Cheney and the Republicans, have treated the Constitution with appalling indifference. Has Dowd forgotten Kerry’s vote for the USA-PATRIOT Act? What of the alacrity with which Kerry accepted Bush’s decision to announce a state of armed conflict—plainly the prelude to curtailments of due process—without first seeking a declaration from Congress?

And although the birds are in danger as well—yes, four hapless geese were sacrificed to the god of human politics—there is more to this bird-blasting scenario itself than flows through Dowd’s pen.

So routinely are geese hunted down as nuisances or exploited for sport or swallowed with cranberries that most people—even individuals who opt not to kill them directly—need not give the birds much thought. The role of the birds, to Kerry and to those Kerry hopes to influence, is symbolic. The birds represent the Other. In the context of the current international upheaval, they become useful props in Kerry’s show of agreement with Bush that the U.S. may invade, objectify, and kill if its appetite so requires.

By now, we may presume, Kerry has dined, got up from the table, and eliminated any recognizable trace of the birds in the way all victors do.

The birds who had the bad fortune to be in the path of Kerry’s campaign didn’t go looking for this kind of trouble. Geese protect their families fiercely, but they pose no threat of aggression. Geese give social support to each other in times of stress, and they forge lifelong bonds. But Kerry’s not the sort of wimp who ponders such matters.

Meanwhile, the Bush-Cheney crew has constructed its own symbol for the Other: footage of wolves, accompanied by narration that connects the lupine group to “those who are waiting to do America harm.” Real wolves aren’t waiting to do us harm; quite to the contrary, just as soon as this autumn’s snowfall permits tracking, the government of Alaska will give aerial hunters the go-ahead to blow these animals to bits by the hundreds. The Kerry team’s response to the wolf clip? One jocular aide, Dowd reports, has suggested that the Democrats respond with a scene in which Kerry shoots the wolves.

Human violence does not fit easily into compartments. Displayed in one context, it oozes into others.

A violent culture systematically neglects the duty to teach its children respect for the autonomy of the beings in their range — whether they be birds, wolves, people born outside our invented borders, or dissenters. A violent culture constantly looks for enemies. Where none exist, they are created.

The more obstinate among us are still convinced that humanity might find ways to transcend such a demoralizing atmosphere. Otherwise, what’s the point? But if progress is to be made, we must expect better from our more capable political writers than uncandid distinctions between one violent man and another.