Sunday, February 17, 2008
[This post is another of my forewarned weekend rants, written in part a while ago, during my outage.]
The New York Times recently ran an article that hits home. For a variety of reasons, I've been feeling pretty depressed; if you put my mood on a pie-chart, the state of our nation and world occupies a large part of the dark areas. The rest, well, it's just who I am, and not worth sharing.
If anything, the article doesn't plumb deeply enough. The world IS depressing; and to the extent that some people don't see it that way, well, that's depressing, too. Where to start? OK, how about the war in Iraq?
I accept that some don't see it as the worst mistake ever made by a US president since the beginning of the Republic. It most certainly was, but that not everyone agrees isn't what disturbs me. What does, is that the argument for ending the war is characterized by all the Republican candidates as "surrender," as a great victory for al Queda. But it seems so obvious: our being there in the first place is an enormous victory for AQ. If you were a bunch of guys living in a cave, who had no army, no means on their own to take down this country, wouldn't it be perfect to sucker us into an endless war, depleting our military, our treasure, and our standing in the world, while providing them with a steady stream of recruits? In order to avoid "waving the white flag," as McCain et al like to put it, we must keep doing exactly what those cave-dwellers want: stay there forever, bleeding ourselves to death, and blatantly disregarding everything we've always stood for; not to mention ignoring the things that really might make us safer. On their own, terrorists could hurt but have no means to destroy us, yet it seems they inveigled us very possibly to have done it to ourselves. I'm not arguing that we have no obligation to the Iraqis whose country we so carelessly invaded, nor that leaving wouldn't potentially lead to big trouble within Iraq and beyond. I'm just saying that Bush's war is a win-win for al Queda, and a lose-lose for us. To frame the argument as "white flag" versus "love America" is depressing political bullshit. And stupidity. In his culminating project, ending his string of flip-flops du jour, Romney said, in effect, that voting for a Democrat is "surrendering to terror." How venal is that? How completely despicable!
"Stay on offense." "Strong on terror." What the hell does that mean? Invade another few countries? Of course we need to be intensely vigilant and to intervene when it makes sense. That requires the gathering intelligence; doing so, among other things, depends on having friends around the world who'll help provide it. Which is why it's so important to be respected and admired, rather than hated. Or laughed at. Mitt wanted to "double Guantanamo." If we are so insecure about the ability of democracy and our Constitution to deal with such an enemy, then what the hell are we doing trying to export such a system to the rest of the world?
It's depressing to hear the Republican candidates promise to be like George Bush only more so. McCain: more war, lower taxes. Giuliani wanted even bigger tax cuts. At their debates, they elbowed each other out of the way to exhume the corpse of Ronald Reagan. How many examples do we need before we agree that Reaganomics doesn't work? Reagan instituted tax cuts, everyone felt great, while the deficits mushroomed. It doomed George's dad, who followed him. Clinton raised taxes, Tom Delay and Newt Gingrich screamed, but it brought the budget into balance, the economy roared back; then Bush cut taxes, the Republicans felt great, the deficit once again skyrocketed, and the economy is crashing like the house of cards that it obviously was. And yet... all we hear from the right is a return to Reagan (who also, by the way, reversed all of Carter's initiatives to reduce oil consumption -- and look where that's gotten us.)
"George Bush has kept us safe." Reminds me of the guy falling off the Empire State Building who says, as he passes the thirtieth floor, "So far, so good." The things that HAVE kept us safe, any president would have done: airport security (anyone remember what a fiasco it was at first, because of Bush's insistence -- or was it Cheney's? -- that it be privatized); surveillance (any reason why it couldn't have been done legally; change the law if needed?) The centerpiece, the central front -- ie, Iraq -- has by no reality-based measure made us safer. The opposite is undeniably true. And the list of remaining needs is long.
Some things seem so obvious that they ought to transcend politics. Why is it only Republicans who deny global warming? Why do the people who believe Earth is six thousand years old (or is it twelve?), who want evolution out of school curricula and creationism in, come from the right wing? As the current government overtly tries to redact and ignore science, why isn't everyone screaming bloody murder?!!
How can anyone argue that the institution of marriage is threatened if people of the same sex who love each other have access to it? If your religion doesn't allow it, fine. No church ought to perform marriages of which it doesn't approve. But why prevent another from doing it? Why amend the Constitution? Where's the harm? I've been married thirty-six years. I feel not the slightest threat to my marriage if gays join together in love. Moreover, it's clear that sexual preference is for the most part genetically determined. Like claiming the age of the Earth is a few thousand years, arguing that homosexuality is some sort of abomination in the eyes of God is to ignore fact; at the very least, he has seen to it that there are gays in every culture, in every religion, in every age of man. If it's a perversion, who's the pervert? Clearly the fear-based need to cleave to certain beliefs trumps common sense and common decency.
Democrats, the hollerers spew, "blame America first." What crap!! There are those of us who know the transformative power this country can and has shown, who have seen its greatness, and who long for its return. To lament the last seven years is not to hate America, but to pine for lost love. I was in college when JFK was president; only two weeks before his assassination he spoke at my college, and I was there. His vision and his rhetoric, his wit and intelligence -- even his good looks -- were, to a young person like me (idealist, maybe, but not naive), inspiring and energizing. I hear echoes. But not from the right. From them (from their candidates and radio and TV hosts at least), I hear the peddling of fear, of divisiveness, of exclusion. To the extent that there's hope of harnessing the power of the diverse opinions and skills in this country and bringing it again to greatness of the positive kind, that hope resides not Rovian divide-and-conquer politics, but in imagining much more. From another website: "The reason Obama is winning and will win is so simple. Americans want to believe in themselves again." I think it's true for more than Democrats. But is it possible?
As a veteran, I find it depressing that for most Americans, "support our troops" seems to mean sticking a magnet on the back of their vehicle (well, I admit I have one: but it's this); that patriotism is defined only by loving the war in Iraq. When I was in Vietnam, my wife was working for George McGovern, and I felt supported as hell. How many nowadays would park their yellow-ribboned gas-guzzling SUV and agree to a tax surcharge to pay for the war and its long-lingering needs for our vets? Show of hands?
Ever since Ronald Reagan declared the US was once again "walking tall" after we (wow, successfully!!) invaded that super-power known as Grenada, keeping the world safe for people who couldn't get into American medical schools, there are some that are only proud of this country when it's "kicking ass." That form of patriotism is good for selling flags and ribbons and bumper stickers, but for not much else.
The people who would label me an America-hater and an infidel want to believe in fantasy, to live on borrowed money, to let another generation deal with the mess our politicians (and those who elected them) have made. Unfortunately, they may well have been successful to the point of no return. I'd like to think Barack Obama is right, that there is hope. In the thirst to be proud of this county again, and to be inspired one more time before senescence, I'm willing to risk disappointment. But I think it's too late. We're screwed, and we've done it to ourselves; by succumbing to fear and superstition, by twice electing a president who clearly does not believe in what has, until recently, made our country great. Respect: given and received. Laws: made and followed. Discourse: valued and encouraged. Reason: sought and produced. Power: respected and reserved.
Other than that, I'm feeling pretty good. And believe it or not, I edited a lot of stuff out before I posted this.