There have been a number of articles written recently about "Conservative Fatigue Syndrome" with Bruce Kesler going so far as to suggest that sufferers are struggling with a form of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder):
I think all three [Ed Morrissey, Mark Tapscott, Steve Bainbridge] may be suffering some variant of PTSD, worn down by defending difficult positions at the forefront of the battle against irredentist Democrats in Congress and their fifth-column in the media.
Mark Tapscott responded that part of the problem has been the disappointment so many Conservatives have felt with the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress. He adds:
Other than that concerning the War on Terror and its associated issues, there is no more important political discussion in America right now than that beginning among conservatives about what in coming months and years should be our proper course of action to restore the vibrancy and effectiveness of the age-old struggle for individual liberty and limited government.
Mark Tapscott then goes on to offer an excellent set of prescriptions for how the Republican party can re-establish its Conservative bona fides and regain the trust of a large cohort of American voters. His post is meant, in part, to counter the view of Conservatives as withdrawing from the fray out of exhaustion and/or petulance, but I think he also inadvertently lays out just how immense the job will be to redirect the ship of state; furthermore while his suggested reforms may be necessary to allow our nation to carry out the long term War on Islamic fascism, they do not directly address that even more immense undertaking.
Wretchard has a different take on the question of CFS. He suggests that those of us who write in more abstract terms have become disoriented by the failure of the world to adhere to such rigidly demarcated, and clear cut, lines:
My own theory is that all the old divisions so sharply erected between September 11, 2001 and April, 2003 have been slowly eroded by the uncertainties of the world. The Left and the Right have seen their champions turn out to be all too human, and are confounded. Issues which are a wedge on both sides of the spectrum -- like immigration or Darfur -- have scattered interest groups around like balls after a billiard break. New issues like the resurgence of a hostile Russia, the spread of Marxism in Latin America -- even the malicious buffoonery of the Iranian President -- are crowding at the fringes of the now comforting world of the War on Terror. The old play is ending and yet the new one has not yet begun. And this bothers abstract intellectuals far more than it does the men in the field. A soldier can write with perfect conviction that "the world was a slightly better place every time I pulled the trigger" because he lives in a world of specificity, but the agonized thinker can find no such comfort in cold abstractions; abstractions now in need of repair under the weight of experience.
Austin Bay agrees with Wretchard and expands on the idea by suggesting some of the issues which have lost their edge:
... there’s a growing awareness that Al Qaeda is being defeated– it’s not dead but it’s on its way to defeat. Even Al Qaeda’s latest rants reflect an awareness that their great gambit has failed. Violent political Islamism isn’t defeated– but its Al Qaeda avatar is on the ropes. Let’s hope that leads to a “re-consideration of methods” by other violent political Islamists (like, drop the violent?). ... There is also a growing awareness that Iraq’s long slog may well result in the emergence of a new, more open political system in the Muslim Middle East. It’s still going to take a couple of years for this to be evident –and the worst defeatists and naysayers will either go to their graves denying it– but all of the indicators are there. The bombs still explode in Baghdad (that is what makes the 24/7 news), but the Iraqis are slowly taking political and economic control.
Captains Quarters and Professor Bainbridge both agree that Bush and the Republican leadership have managed to discourage their base to such an extent that for many Conservatives there is little reason to work for or vote for Republicans in 2006.
Of note, the Anchoress, complains that the current climate is not just exhausting, but is actually making her ill. She contrasts the way their parties treated Bill Clinton and George W. Bush:
When Clinton was being waylaid, his party closed ranks. Now Bush - a good man despite his flaws, (and what president is not flawed) is being attacked on all sides, and his party just jumps in with both feet and kicks away. It just doesn’t seem right to me. And I know, I KNOW…he’s been a job to defend for all these years against unprecedented attacks - I’m tired, too. But I cannot go along with the “get Bush” mentality from the right. The question I keep asking myself is…right now, at this moment in time, who is BETTER than him? Giuliani? The religious right will never go for him. Allen? Mush-mouthed bore, the religious right will love him, and the rest will turn the page, and neither of them will be elected in this atmosphere - and if they could be, it won’t be for two more years. Bush is what we’ve got, the best we’ve got…but you know, maybe he’s too punch drunk, after 6 years of abuse, and a feckless party that squanders its majority again and again…one year ago, on May 10, he was dancing with free Georgians…but none of that counts, anymore, right? We forget the good stuff pretty easily, it seems to me.
The Anchoress is exhausted and sickened by the "death of a thousand cuts" approach to the Bush Presidency from the Democrats, much of the press, and parts of the Republican party, and I must say I have a lot of sympathy with this view. However, I did not offer this review of the Conservative Blogosphere simply to provide a convenient place for a "symptom" overview, but rather because I was reminded of a treatment situation from long ago that shares some attributes with these postings and may help shed some light on the exhaustion so many are now feeling.
Many years ago I took part in a monthly clinical study group in which a group of young (by Psychoanalytic standards) Psychoanalysts took turns presenting case material for peer supervision and discussion. Our goal was to discuss difficult cases. Participants, in a non-judgmental atmosphere of friends and colleagues, would offer suggestions on what issues might be causing impasses and how to move the treatment forward. One colleague in particular presented a case which was terribly frustrating for her. The patient was a young man who came for help because of problems with intimacy and an inability to maintain long term relationships. He was a Gay man in his 30's, fairly successful in his work, unconflicted about his sexuality, but unable to stay in a relationship for more than a few months before some disappointment or other would undermine his feelings and lead to the loss of the once promising relationship. Both the patient and the therapist were wondering if they were at an impasse that would stymie the promise of the Analysis. The setting for the case is crucial for what followed.
These meetings were taking place in the late-1980's. The Gay community in New York at the time was under a state of siege and in a state of panic. AIDS had only recently been diagnosed. (When I ended my Residency in 1981, it was still often referred to as GRIDS, Gay Related Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome, and the mode of transmission had not yet been identified; the term AIDS was first used in 1981 but the virus wasn't identified until 1984.) Every Gay man in New York knew many friends who were dieing or had died of the disease; the diagnosis was considered a death sentence; many Gay men were attending funerals nearly every other week. Gay men were terrified of getting tested and there were no treatments available that held out any hope of cure.
An important point is that of all the members of the study group, I was the only one who spent any professional time in hospital settings. At that time, I regularly consulted in NYU Hospital, at the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic, and treated many Gay men with AIDS, with AIDS anxiety, and with issues around losses of loved ones and friends to AIDS. There was a kind of battle fatigue mentality to these young men who were suddenly confronted with the specter of healthy robust friends suddenly becoming ill and often dying in short order.
My colleague described a series of sessions in which she experienced mounting frustration and distress. The patient complained that nothing was helping; he had begun to experience psychosomatic GI distress and had developed an annoying cough which both of them understood to be psychogenic in origin. Through it all, it seemed as if both the patient and the Analyst were unconsciously conspiring to avoid all mention of AIDS and the possibility that the disease could destroy any relationship the patient might enter; further, the possibility that the patient might be at risk of contracting the disease was literally unthinkable.
Once this was pointed out to the Therapist, she began to work with the patient on these issues and eventually, helped him to investigate further his own failing health. Sadly, his cough and GI distress were not, in fact, psychosomatic, but were the first indicators of his own HIV infection.
How is this relevant to Conservative Fatigue Syndrome?
At the time I am describing, the treatment of AIDS involved circumscribed treatment of the acute infections that the early sufferers tended to succumb to (PCP) or offering palliative treatments to those who were diagnosed with Kaposi's Sarcoma, which was essentially untreatable. When patients were diagnosed with AIDS, PCP was considered a less problematic illness; it was the "easy" problem. It was many years before effective treatments began to appear for the underlying HIV infection and today, for many people, HIV infections are treatable chronic illnesses and the idea of a possible cure is no longer in the realm of wishful fantasy.
In the War on Islamic fascism, al Qaeda and Iraq represent the easy problems. Considering how difficult it has been to wage the war effectively and how many impediments many of the best and the brightest members of Western Civilization have put up in front of our government, not to mention the arguable short comings in the current administration's approach, it is no wonder that a sense of fatigue and even ennui has enveloped many of those who believe that the hardest part, the Shia Islamic fascists of Hezbollah (the "A" team of terrorism as they have been described) and their patrons in Iran, still lies ahead of us.
The effort to mobilize support for policies that can help us win this War and to fight the distortions and lies of those who look for any short term political advantage in the current situation, can be frustrating, infuriating, and, yes, exhausting.
When our European friends cannot even speak the name of the enemy, Europeans cannot say “Islamic Terrorism.", and our own government seems to be so muddled in their approach to Islamic terror that they regularly contradict themselves, the worry and fear that we will almost certainly falter in our efforts, allowing our enemies to build up enough momentum to make the ultimate outcome in doubt, is unavoidable.
We are losing our way in the war, a side effect of the effectiveness with which our country has been waging the war, and as a result, our efforts are flagging. In No 'mas: When are we getting tough with the PA?, Diana West points to the slow erosion of the consensus against giving aid to the Hamas led Palestinian territories:
What we are witnessing is the stumbling behavior of a superpower that doesn't know how to act either super or powerful.
Maybe waging a nebulous "war on terror" has hopelessly confused us. .... But if we cannot retrieve the simple, precious principle that took us into war — you're either with us or you're against us — not only will we never achieve victory, we won't even know what it looks like.
All of the explanations for CFS have some explanatory power, but symptom complexes are always multiply determined. I would propose that in the background of all our discontent there lurks the sense that the worst is yet to come.
The elephant in the room, which too much of our political and media culture seem to have conspired to overlook, is that the war is still in its early stages and we are finishing the easy parts, al Qaeda and Iraq. If we have had so much trouble mobilizing the support for the easy work, how can anyone be confident that we can address the more difficult problems that are facing us? Unless our enemies make the foolish mistake of attacking us again before they are ready to destroy our ability to carry on the fight, I think there is almost no chance that we can preemptively and adequately wage the next phase of this war.
The idea that we will have to struggle to protect ourselves and maintain support for the Military and the Intelligence services to do their job, and ultimately will almost certainly be attacked again, is enough to make anyone disconsolate.
Addendum: Neo-neocom has her take on Blogger burnout and includes the perfect quote, courtesy of Winston Churchill.
The Anchoress returns to the subject and suggest her "sick" feelings have more to do with disgust than exhaustion.