A cat is placed in a sealed box. Attached to the box is an apparatus containing a radioactive atomic nucleus and a canister of poison gas. This apparatus is separated from the cat in such a way that the cat can in no way interfere with it. The experiment is set up so that there is exactly a 50% chance of the nucleus decaying in one hour. If the nucleus decays, it will emit a particle that triggers the apparatus, which opens the canister and kills the cat. If the nucleus does not decay, then the cat remains alive.
In quantum mechanics, this thought experiment devised by the physicist Erwin Schrodinger to illustrate the seeming paradox of superposition, possible realities existing simultaneously. Inside the box, the cat is both alive and dead, until the observer opens the box and sees either a living or dead kitty.
There’s obviously more to it than that, but quantum mechanics makes my head asplode, and it’s only here for the foundational purposes of my comparison, anyway.
See, Osama bin Laden is in the news again for being dead, and a friend of mine made the comment, “Osama is the Republican version of Schrodinger’s cat”, referring to the above thought experiment, of course.
Beyond just being witty, I found it to an incredibly succinct way of describing the complex relationship conservatives in this country have with bin Laden. As much as he is an enemy ofAmerica, he is a powerful friend of its conservatives.
I don’t mean that in the dastardly, conspiratorial way it may come across. Rather, I mean that for all of the enmity that surely exists between Republicans and Osama, they do a great job of helping one another out. Bush’s poll numbers have never been higher than they were immediately after 9/11/2001, and in the 2004 elections, national security was the big win for Republicans across the country. When people feel threatened by an external threat, the current hawkish conservative government is comforting. And of course for bin Laden, despite the infrastructure of al-Qaeda surely damaged by military efforts against it, you have to imagine enrollment is at an all time high considering the amount of U.S. involvement in the Middle East right now.
Osama bin Laden is good for Republican business, and again I mean this in a strictly political sense, not a conspiratorial one. I’m sure almost everyone on both sides genuinely hates the other, but Democrats do not benefit from a terror threat in the days leading up to an election the way Republicans have and do.
The problem is, as great a face to put on terrorism as he is and as winnable a goal as killing him seems to be, Osama not being dead after five years of trying makes us look impotent. Combined with continuing problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, not getting him makes it appear like we haven’t accomplished anything at all.
Which is why he’s dead right now. Osama’s dead, and that’s progress. A great blow struck against terrorism and justice for the thousands of American lives he took. It feels really good for a while, but unfortunately, the feeling doesn’t last. Because it becomes quickly apparent that terrorism is still continuing without him and his death does absolutely nothing to win our war on terror. Now terrorism is a faceless, unstoppable phenomenon, and hell, that’s depressing. Osama’s death is a positive, but an extremely temporary one.
So he’s also still alive right now. In fact, as long as we never “look inside the cave”, Republicans are able to play up both advantages as needed. When an audio tape promises more attacks on Americans, that’s proof we can’t let our guards down and in fact need to be more vigilant. When (unconfirmed) reports of bin Laden’s death reach news agencies, we get to feel good about it and feel like we’re safer, that we have won something as a result of our pressure on him in Afghanistan. The feeling fades, but in the short term, it’s quite beneficial.
I know what you’re thinking. First, it’s entirely possible to play up the negatives and use this all against Republicans. Second, people will surely grow tired of continued fake reports of bin Laden’s death and they’ll become ineffective.
But I’ll remind you that Republicans are quantum politicians, and the American attention span is hardly long enough to get us through commercials on television. After all, do you remember the last time bin Laden was reported to be dead, if you remember he was reported dead before at all?
The good news is bin Laden is barely hitting 50. We have a solid 30 more years of this ahead of us, if we can restrain our curiosity that long. Because that would kill the cat.