When the master of ceremonies at "Miss Congeniality," the movie send-up of Miss America, asked what they wished for most, every girl knew to put on her most sincere look and answer breathlessly: "World peace."
Almost every girl. Gracie, an undercover cop parading as beauty queen, almost blows her cover. When she wishes for "harsher punishment for parole violators," a hush falls across the audience. Without missing a beat she flashes a smile as bright as the Vaseline applied to her teeth. "And, of course, world peace." The cheers rattle the rafters.
Gracie learned that neither the judges nor the audience wanted to hear about anything practical, like locking up parole violators. They wanted popcorn, to participate in a moment of morality. Who doesn't want world peace?
Gracie has a future in politics. President Bush, tough-minded as he is about the stakes in the war against terror and the battlefield in Iraq, has curiously ceded to his critics his strongest argument - the moral argument. By emphasizing only the important pragmatic arguments, he makes Gracie's mistake and cedes the moral high ground to critics and competitors. He forgets that sometimes a president has to make a bow to Miss Congeniality.
"Was our intervention pragmatically right, was it essential in self-defense?" asks David Gelernter in the Weekly Standard. "Yes; but reasonable people can differ. Was it morally right? No one can dispute that."
Indeed, no one can dispute torture chambers and mass graves. No one can dispute that the "coalition of the willing" put an end to one of the most oppressive regimes since the Nazis oppressed Europe. The president should keep reminding us of this.
Gelernter compares the president's opponents to the appeasers in England of the 1930s, who let themselves believe that Hitler marched on Prague on behalf of a greater virtue. "They saw themselves as inhabiting a higher sphere," he writes. "They cared for moral questions. They stood (they believed) on the high ground, which trumped all practical considerations. ... They stood for peace."
Their appeals to peace were as empty as the aspirants' to "Miss Congeniality" were naïve, but such appeals were persuasive enough for a nation that didn't want to go to war, that thought virtue was enough to prevail against the war machine of an evil madman. Winston Churchill was left with the pragmatic issue of national security, easily trumped by appeasement draped in morality. He talked strategy; the appeasers talked "peace" and the appeasers prevailed. Churchill knew the importance of peace and he also knew the price of it.