Rant. Muse. Eat. Sleep. Recycle.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Welcome SmartySpark. Good entry shot. My personal rants, I hope, are backed up with some kind of action, but my reason for participating is a 'Man With 2 Brains' kind of thing. I am pointed in directions of thought that I might not have ventured towards. And, I know those other brains are pretty well-used so there is some depth to the suggestions, exhortations and threats. Plus, I am able to find some common ground with people (I just don't have to give them the satisfaction of telling them I found it).
Olive probably shares my political leanings most closely, while Renegade continually imparts bits of knowledge that send me scurrying to investigate further. CB, well CB is a damn library of conservative information. Names, dates, favorite colors. He is also the guy I have the least political overlap with -- but still have much respect for. While I will NEVER describe my nationalism as conservative, I do respect the notion and nation of America.
Sure, at this point in our history, idiots may drag a man to death because he's black, but there are no overt, government-sponsored hanging of boys simply because they are gay as there was in Iran. CB had an analogy about a restaurant where all the metaphoric nations of the world dine and and poor or enslaved patrons had horrible meals full of horrific gunk and the American Liberal complained because of an eyelash in his meal. Context is certainly important. And, I am a nationalist; not yet an enlightened citizen of the world. For instance, when I think of the death toll in Iraq, I first, (automatically and to my disgrace) think only of the U.S. soldiers who die.
So my carping about America is an eyelash in my soup, but it is an eyelash that can turn into something a lot nastier without diligent responses to bad behavior ala Bush and the gang. I remember a period in history when the U.S. government did overtly allow slaughter of its citizens -- its African American citizens. I am aware that the College of the Americas trains its students in torture. I am aware that Patrice Lumumbo and any number of foreign nationals were probably killed by our government. I ... hate that. I despise factions of a government that believe they have a right to kill human beings for no other reason than political expediency. I can't and won't support that.
Having said that, I've got to agree with Renegade that elements of the Arab world want to rid history of our existence. I believe we must resist that - vigorously.
Facts are that our U.S. leaders support one of the most totalitarian regimes in the world because we are beholden to the product they sell and the money they have invested in America. Hello Saudi Arabia. Hypocrisy. But, I know history has a long memory. When the oil runs out and all the oil super-barons have are gold bars and diamonds, there will be reprisals. But, those reprisals will mean just about as much to the descendants of those sheikhs as Muslims invoking the Crusades means to the average, 21st Century Christian.
I do know this: a lot of bad stuff is done in the name of religion and we are stockpiling that bad stuff in the Muslim and Judeo-Christian worlds.
CB holds a great deal of stock in well-reasoned arguments; he respects Mona Charen, Walt Williams; Shelby Steele and the like. But, well-reasoned arguments can mask a fundamental psychological principal: most of the time, we human beings fit our facts to our beliefs. Dr. William Shockley, Nobel Prize winning physicist and one of the inventors of the transistor could debate brilliantly. Yet, his pet project was arguing his belief that African Americans are mentally inferior to white people.
I have seen too many well-reasoned arguments that were really covers for a single sentiment: I don't like you and I want you dead. Still, they were brilliantly thought out and wonderfully presented -- especially by my ex-girlfriends. White Supremacist literature, for the most part, is drivel; but when it resonates with self-empowerment and pride-in-group and responsibility it channels the spirit of Dr. Shockley and can make a properly receptive heart sing.
The conversations we have here are pretty safe and we can actually poke and prod an exotic specimen to see if she really thinks the way she says she does. I am compelled to do just that because I see conservatism as a beard for all kinds of intolerance -- religious, sexual, racial, economic and many more. As Americans, we have too addictive a collective personality for such junk traits. We eat too much, watch too much TV, smoke too much self-medicate too much and pretty much live in a stupor. We are a junky natoin and the conservative movement doesn't want to cure us; it wants to pimp us [hyperbole alert].
That is why I really like Smarty Sparks' comments - getting past one's own shit can be liberating. When I try to think like a conservative, I understand how comfortable it can be to have issues that are black and white/right and wrong. It can be refreshing to take a 'viewpoint vaction' once in a while. But, unless you've got something a lot stronger than 'God wants it that way,' In'shalla, for our Muslim friends, it's always going to be a very short vacation for me.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
I was waiting for Mona's name to pop up
Viet Nam was a military failure that was tagged onto Fonda and the left when the entire military establishment was to blame and rational argument would not suggest otherwise.
Last I heard, Fonda commanded no troops and created no policy. The American Left was not at the wheel, just as it isn't at the moment. Retrofitting the history of our Viet Nam involvement isn't becoming, especially when one of the the biggest reasons -- China -- for our failure has never gone away. Sure, Russia has morphed into something peculiar and perhaps more dangerous than the nation-state it was, considering its nuclear arsenal, but China still remains -- sorry for the cliche -- as inscrutable as ever.
And, Mona Charen is a chicken hawk. Her terms for those who favor world peace are "unenlightened and child-like." She claims adults should "know better" than to think world peace without war is possible. Of course, she was also one of the first to write -- for public consumption -- "shoot the looters" in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. Which is interesting because much of the intelligence afterwards was that New Orleans' problems with looting were blown out of proportion by the media. The scores of dead bodies in the Superdome -- killed and in some cases raped by roving gangs -- made for compelling, but untruthful news. And, if you recall, black people were being branded as looters, while white people who did the same things were said to be scrounging for survival.
And, that is why liberals have to reclaim the nation. There is always another boogeyman, another band of roving looters to fear... to shoot.
Conservatives present so many faces: neo-con, modern conservative, fiscal conservative, Religious Right. But, they lump all of us liberals together as enemy sympathizers, weak-willed, spineless and bereft of ideas.
Addressing the last point, because I disavow the others -- we're not out of ideas, they're simply not being listened to. OK, I can't resist -- if we're enemy sympathizers, who is the enemy? Is it Bush's enemies? Cheney's enemies? Charen's enemies?
Let me float a thought. The "Islamo Facists" CB refers to may be Al Quaeda, Al Jazeer or any of dozens of others, but do you think they represent all muslims any more than Pat "Kill Chavez" Robertson represents all Christians? There are misguided people of every stripe who think the only solution is a final solution. I don't need any more enemies, but conservatives continue to pile them up for me.
And, their solution is to fight fascism with fascism (don't go off point, certainly there are degrees between bombing cafes and bombing abortion clinics). Know where that leads us? Represented by fascists who believe there are segments of the population that can't be trusted to do the right thing. I don't want to be represented by someone who is LESS likely to kill me for my beliefs; I want a government that won't kill me. But, back to Viet Nam, the bon mot of the moment.
If I argue that the Right lost the Viet Nam war does that make me feel better? No. I think America is a great country with fallible leaders who sometimes lead us astray. I feel terribly bad for the loss of life in that war (mostly young and poor men and women). Do I give a rat's ass that Lenin or Stalin or whomever called the American Left "useful idiots"? Nah. At some point, everyone is a useful idiot. If you're being logical in your review of our present situation, the American Right is the best thing that could happen to Arab fundamentalists. The recruiting is easy because they can point to their Christian counterparts and invoke the Crusades, again. Does that make members of the American right traitors? No. But, the fact of the matter is that it is a human response to lash back in kind and their responses perpetuate religious anger from Muslims who believe just a fervently.
Do I hate America? No and I don't feel I have to say that in normal circumstances, but we are in an era of fear. I love the people and places, but I refuse to say we are being represented by good,honorable leadership. We're not.
I refuse to say that war should be a strategy of first resort. Did the left lose Viet Nam? Wow. Interesting question, considering the Hawks totally ruled the coop at that time. What makes me nervous about someone who would craft such a question is that it leads down a slippery slope that creates a new class of enemy. When you say, and I assume honestly believe, a movie star was a central factor in losing a multi-billion dollar war that included hundreds of thousands of troops, almost as many planning sessions and enough firepower to wipe out the nation of Viet Nam, then I get nervous.
Impute that kind of power to conscientious objectors and what happens next?Detainment would seem pretty logical, I mean, after all, you're interfering with a war. What about those really strenuous objectors, who refuse to silence themselves? Execution is a pretty persuasive right wing tool. I am not overreaching here. The right wing seems to have some kind of volume discount deal with the threat of death -- it is attached to almost all of their most cherished concepts. Doesn't the bible say: 'Choose Life'?
And, as far as the war on communism -- it's won. Let it go. Despite Ethel and Julius, America won and still gets to kick Castro in the ass and sell the farm to China. So, I guess the idiots weren't so useful after all.
My goal as a free American (feel free to insert platitude here) is to make America a better country by resisting anti-human policies; by not letting suffering be the lot of the poor and disenfranchised; by supporting right and fair policies; by speaking my mind when Halliburton makes a billion dollars because of its connections to Washington insiders and calling Mona Charen's bloodlust exactly what it is. Why? Because I think it is a vanishingly small step between "shoot the looters" and "shoot the left."
Friday, November 25, 2005
That's what I love about this blog
I am corrected by some pretty well-read, smart people. My definition of neo-con centered on unilateralism; nation-building, pre-emptive use of force and expedient social conservatism. My mind spit out a name -- Dick Cheney -- that fit that description to a 'T'. But, thanks CB and Renegade Eye, for calling me on that. I slam Republicans all the time for being, shall we say 'fluid' in their descriptions of matters. I shall try to aspire to a higher standard.
Cheney, on further review, does seem to be a "modern conservative" (term courtesy of CB) that co-exists with neo-cons. And, while I was aware of the Kristols, Kagan, Bolton (!) et al, I assumed a broader path to being a true neo-con. I think I assumed too much.
Neo-cons probably should be separated out from the conservative pack, if for no other reason than clarity. I have no problem with people changing from one to another, yes CB, the first generation of neo-cons were lapsed liberals; most were Jewish and all were intellectuals. What I have a problem with is the co-mingling of modern conservative domestic agendas in the service of neo-con foreign agendas.
After all, much of the domestic social agenda of neo-cons was secondary to the movement's military foreign agenda.
Strength through striking the first blow is the basic tenet of the pure neo-cons and I've got to believe they know that to be a slippery slope. Hell, pre-emptive strikes were Adolph Hitler's ace in the hole. Despite the neo-con wish to spread democracy (and I'm fond of democracy), their agenda is anti-human. They're not spreading European-style democracy -- as an example, not a shining beacon. They're spreading American style democracy. So, now we are empire builders, right? Because if we are spending billions on "freeing" these nations, aren't we, as a capitalist country, going to want something in return?
We are, in my opinion, getting the worst of all possible worlds when we are a nation of mixed-bag conservatives. Why do I say that? Because by definition, the neo-cons desire a conquering army to tame the world, while the modern conservatives want a government that leaves its citizens almost entirely alone. Hmmmm. I don't want to be a pessimist, but isn't part of our conquering army (read that broadly and include the intelligence agencies) dedicicated to spying on its citizenry; dedicated to squelching any potential uprising? How does an all-powerful army co-exist with a government sensitive to its citizens' needs? I don't know, google "predator federal software" sometime and get an eyeful.
What has happened with our rush to conservatism is that it has created strange bedfellows that see a government that behaves badly towards each segment of its people except the very wealthy. Thus, you can have a Timothy McVeigh, Branch Davidian and MOVE and the Nation of Islam all see government by demonic possession.
I'll tell you, the L word looks better and better to me every day.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Neo-cons, where are you going?
Let's put the cynicism right on the table, like a fine, dead Thanksgiving bird in this season of familial understanding. The leftists of the 1960s and their descendants wanted to tear down America. That's right, Abby Hoffman, The Weathermen, Black Panthers, the Communist Party, Jane Fonda and Gil-Scot Heron wanted to shut down the store. The guiding lights of the far left didn't believe in the American Dream as advertised and wanted a revolution, primarily against capitalism as opposed to democracy.
And, the millions of little lefties born in the wake of their white hot idealism bought the MOR version: love more, hate less, don't get so hung up on material goods and believe in the inherent rights of the individual over the system of government. What resulted -- the drug experimentation, the lack of faith in traditional marriage -- harmed some. There are those who have no concept of healthy relationships, there are those mired in drug addiction.
But, did the left actually harm society? The time of the revolution was a war-mongering, hate-filled, repressive era. Fear was the guiding light: the spread of communism, Russia, nukes, bossy women, black people. War was like clockwork and believed to be "good for business."
We now, as a society, hate liberals for delivering us from those fears and forcing us to face diversity, global awareness and individual rights. We despise them for their freedoms and for costing us Viet Nam.
Which brings me to the other end of the political spectrum -- neo-cons. Inventive people, they are defined by people such as Dick Cheney (who may be the poster child for them). They are the converse of the old guard left because they really don't want a revolution, no matter how much leftist rhetoric they steal.
They want 1954 back.
They want unquestioned authority for war. Unquestioned authority to blackball American citizens. Unquestioned... everything.
A rallying cry of the left was 'Think, it ain't illegal yet!' Neo-cons have co-opted that and soothingly offer this re-interpretation: 'Don't bother. We'll think for you.'
Conservatives have fallen in with neo-cons just like liberals fell in with the old guard left. I can't help but notice that those millions of leftist followers served as a filter for the pure left's message and transmuted armed resistance into civil rights, women's rights and tolerance. Those followers believed in change and they made change happen in a different way than far left believers thought would happen. No guns -- they fought with understanding and righteousness.
Neo-cons have conservatives in their thrall because they know how to win elections and push around liberals. But, what kind of filter do millions of conservatives offer?
Neo-cons don't want their message diluted because they know exactly what they want. Abby Hoffman and Bobby Seals were trying to create something new in America. Dick Cheney wants to be rich and control the country. He knows what that looks like; he's got hundreds of years of precedent to draw from. He knows what he has to do to make it happen. He knows how to control the message.
Neo-cons will throw hope at true conservatives by hinting at overturning Roe V. Wade, by attacking Affirmative Action, by extolling (quietly) the virtues of a white-ruled society. But, they are a Bad Weather Underground that simply wants to be followed as they amass power. Ideas? Those are too dangerous to share honestly with their followers. Not because they will splinter society, but because they will regress society -- and, coincidentally, impoverish the lives of many of their followers. Not the best rallying cry -- "Vote for me and I'll make you and your children poor!"
Their greatest threat to neo-cons is not the left, which is in disarray, it is true conservatives, especially middle-class conservatives. True conservatives believe in small government, less government intervention in our lives and low taxes. Unless their ZIP Code is somewhere in Willie Wonka Land, I've got to believe they are noticing MORE of all the aforementioned in our neo-con utopia.
Ironically, what true conservatives believe strongly overlaps with what true liberals believe -- government shouldn't interfere with our personal lives to a harmful extent and we shouldn't be kingmaking in other countries. Sure, liberals believe society should be fair to all, while conservatives tend to favor the wealthy, but you say tomato...
Neo-conservatism, as near as I can figure, has no other idealism other than a) to slowly neuter the middle class so that group will no longer be a political threat b) amass power in the hands of a very few c) fool true conservatives and d) blame the poor. It is no real secret that Rush "Put all drug users in jail but me" Limbaugh believes in very little of the nonsense he puts out there. In that regard, he is a true neo-con. And, that is also probably the biggest difference between the old guard left and the neo-cons. When faced with choosing their beliefs or death, I'm pretty sure Cheney would have a quick change of heart. The heroes of the left would take a quick bullet.
Remember people, free your mind and your ass will follow...
Monday, November 21, 2005
I have not posted for some time and part of the reason is that I wanted to see what's going on with this conservative movement that has swept the nation. I read a little Coulter, Will, Williams... the ususal cast of characters. I read and re-read my friend CB's blogs.
And, I am confused. My poor analogy is that this must be the 1960s for conservatives; we're talkin' 'bout a revolution. But, when I scratch the surface of the revolution, I find reactionaries. They dislike judges who take the law into their own hands; they dislike abortions; they dislike peace demonstrators; they dislike anti-capital punishment demonstrators, but, with the exception of abortion and Affirmative Action, the solution most often offered by conservatives is: 'Leave it alone.'
Leave the Constitution alone; leave the war alone; leave capital punishment alone. It is a mindset diametrically opposed to the 1960s when the mantra was 'change.'
I won't get into the last days of Rome scenario, but I am befuddled that reasonable people can think the world will stand still and allow them to truly be conservatives.
A big theme among conservatives -- now that Bush et al are looking to be caught pretty red-handed -- is that conservatism has nothing to do with politics. That is truly pathetic reasoning when so much of their power lies in political action. Conservatives say: 'I don't want this federal debt -- but the politicians are creating it,' or, 'I don't want the government spying on me via the Patriot Act, but the politicians are doing it to us.'
My overarching belief about conservatism is a that there is a tremendous disconnect between what these people say they want and what they really want. Why? Because there is power in the mob mentality. There is comfort in having something taken away from another group in your name.
The obvious inanities are there. When Ann Coulter protects the reputation of Condoleeza Rice from fellow African Americans, she hasn't a leg to stand on. I doubt (and I could be wrong) that Coulter has ever been privy to the intricacies of black culture. When conservatives fault Democrats for being fiscally irresponsible and then silently watch the deficit quadruple, that is an absurdity. When non-scientists decree there is such a thing as 'intelligent design' and that global warming is a myth, it is dumbfounding.
Let's call it what it is: it is a power grab. Conservatives want the power to tell people they disagree with that they are wrong with the force of law behind them. Sound similar to any other historical epoch?
Just as a big deficit was a bad thing for Clinton, yet became a good thing for Bush, truth is irrelevant. Notice how Republicans are questioning the planning for the Iraq War as election season nears? Conservatives haven't budged on the issue, but they will certainly vote again for the person they elected in the last election, why? Power.
I am stating the obvious because there is a real difference between debating someone ideologically and debating someone who simply wants to be right. Ideologically, conservatives have mere moments to keep. Society doesn't hold still for anyone. Free love and wildspread drug use didn't make it much beyond the 1960s as example... and that was some really fun stuff.
How long do you think we will be able to hold onto Hummers? What about a white-run country? How about using 30% of the world's energy capacity with 3% of the population? And, schools that fail approximately half of its children of color? Conservatism is the myth that a moment can endure forever.
I'm sure the typewriter industry had lobbyists employed and laws targeted, but its time had come. I love the myth of the nuclear family probably more than most, but the fact of the matter is... it hasn't endured in the same form. It wasn't my experience and it isn't the experience of millions of others.
I sincerely hope nuclear families do well and I hope that men and women keep bonding emotionally, but let's not ignore it when reality slaps us in the face. What about making sure that there is love and security in the families that do exist?
All of this leads me to a nagging thought of personal accountability -- how much do I want to do to make sure conservatism doesn't win the day? It is a revolutionary idea and revolutions are hard work with very few people seeing the benefit. I think that is the very uncomfortable thought process that anyone who opposes knee-jerk conservatives must engage in.
Friday, November 04, 2005
The case for liberalism by George McGovern
I believe in the essential decency and fairness of the American people. This does not mean, however, that I believe our leaders and our voters always to be of sound judgment. Democracy does not guarantee wisdom or virtue; it guarantees only the principles of majority rule and freedom of choice. And freedom of choice includes, whether we like it or not, the right to be wrong. We can only hope that from time to time our leaders will be right.
Now is not such a time. President Bush and his team-Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice-have claimed, on our behalf, the right to send the United States Armed Forces into Iraq, regardless of whether such a move would be acceptable to the international community. They have even implied a willingness to act without congressional approval if necessary. President Bush has already pushed past Congress, the press, and the American people an enormous addition to military spending on the grounds that our nation is "at war"-with Osama bin Laden and soon, possibly, with Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, the so-called axis of evil. Almost daily we hear or read an announcement from the White House, the Pentagon, or the Attorney General's Office of some new terrorist threat. If the aim of terrorists is to spread terror, I suggest that the Bush Administration is doing their work for them.
Over the years I have developed some skill in telling the difference between, as Lyndon Johnson put it, "chicken salad and chicken shit." We are not at war, and the President should quit saying we are. Is there any evidence at all that Iraq wants to go to war with us? In the last decade we have done much to damage, weaken, and topple Saddam Hussein, but what has he really done to damage us? It is said that Saddam is trying to build weapons of mass destruction similar to the ones we have had in vastly greater numbers for half a century. Other countries that have had such weapons for years include Russia, China, Britain, France, Israel, Pakistan, and India, none of which would be so suicidal as to launch an attack on the world's greatest nuclear power. Does there exist any hard evidence that Saddam has actually been able to join this nuclear club? And, if so, is it really believable that he would assure the incineration of himself and his people by a senseless assault on the United States?
President Bush and his colleagues seem to think so. They look into the future and see great evil, and they believe it their mission to eradicate that evil. There has been evil in the world at least since Cain and Abel, and there will be evil after all of us are gone from the earth. God might be able to change that, but not us mere humans. I look into the future with far less fear and therefore far less cynicism. I believe, in fact, that we are on the verge of the best period in human history. Over the last twentyfive years we have made great advances in the sciences, in education and health care, in protecting the environment, and in securing a more peaceful economic order, and I have reason to believe we will do even better over the next twenty-five years. The danger of terrorism is indeed one of the more vexing problems facing us, but I do not think it justifies an obsession with external threats and internal security at the expense of so much that is worthwhile in a democratic society and an interdependent world, and I do not think it justifies going to war with Iraq or any other nation that has not harmed us first. Having survived two global wars and a near calamitous nuclear standoff, we need to arrive at safer and more dependable ways of settling disputes than open-ended war between nations. I do not suggest an end to nations-the diversity of national cultures, languages, economies, and systems of government will endure, as will the power of patriotism. I simply propose that nations submit their disputes with other nations to an international court instead of destroying each other. believe and say these things because I am an American patriot and a liberal in the tradition of Jefferson, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt.
I believe that many, if not most, Americans are liberals, too, or at least have some liberal impulses. There are, of course, those among us who are prepared to condemn without reservation liberalism and all of its works, but few of these people seem to grasp what liberalism actually is. Webster's dictionary defines it as "a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of man, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties." From the beginning, Americans have believed that the conditions of their lives could and would be improved; that is, they have believed in progress. One cannot conceive of a nation dedicated to democracy that does not rest on faith in "the essential goodness of man." It would seem even more likely that in a democratic society most of the citizenry would accept the importance of personal freedom-"the autonomy of the individual"-as well as the need to protect that freedom.
Thus, except for the most confirmed standpatter or unswerving cynic, nearly all Americans have some identification with liberalism, whether they know it or not. Just about every educated person I encounter around the world is a liberal. Almost every working journalist, nurse, and flight attendant leans toward liberalism; nearly every teacher, scientist, clergyman, and child-care worker is a liberal. I can't remember the last time I met an illiberal professor of history, my old profession. How could anybody read history and not be a liberal?
Why, then, do so many contemporary liberals feel compelled to keep their liberalism a secret? Why does it seem increasingly difficult for liberals to get elected and to advance their agenda if they do? The negative associations with the word "liberal" are now so pronounced that many a political campaigner has profited simply by charging his opponent with "liberalism," as if it were a crime. Liberals themselves now shy away from the word: "I'm neither liberal nor conservative," I heard one prominent Democrat assert on television recently. "I'm a pragmatic progressive." Another liberal has described himself as a "progressive pragmatist." I'm not quite certain what the ideological difference is between "pragmatic progressive" and "progressive pragmatist," but it must be profound.
My friend Bob Dole is fond of Robert Frost's observation that a liberal is someone who won't "take his own side in a quarrel." I will. I believe that the most practical and hopeful compass by which to guide the American ship of state is the philosophy of liberalism. Virtually every step forward in our history has been a liberal initiative taken over conservative opposition: civil rights, Social Security, Medicare, rural electrification, the establishment of a minimum wage, collective bargaining, the Pure Food and Drug Act, and federal aid to education, including the land-grant colleges, to name just a few.* Many of these innovations were eventually embraced by conservatives only after it became clear that they had overwhelming public approval for the simple reason that almost every American benefited from them. Every one of these liberal efforts strengthened our democracy and our quality of life. I challenge my conservative friends to name a single federal initiative now generally approved by both of our major parties that was not first put forward by liberals over the opposition of conservatives.
We need conservatives, of course, to challenge liberal ideas and proposals and to impel us to examine their soundness, but we cannot depend on conservatives to offer constructive new ideas of the sort that might bring about a more just and equitable society or a more peaceful and cooperative world. If we assume that Lincoln, the first Republican president, was a liberal (which he surely was), nothing inspiring has come out of the conservative mind since the age of John Adams. As my friend and sometime debating partner William F. Buckley puts it in his book Up from Liberalism,
Conservatism is the tacit acknowledgment that all that is finally important in human experience is behind us; that the crucial explorations have been undertaken, and that it is given to man to know what are the great truths that emerged from them. Whatever is to come cannot outweigh the importance to man of what has gone before.
The business of conservatives is, in other words, to cling tightly to the past, and although such a stance can be admirable, a stale and musty doctrine is of little use at a time when the nation needs not to fear the future but to seek out ways to improve it.
Instead of spreading fear across the land, our leaders should be asking themselves, and asking us, thoughtful questions about the world in which we live. Why is it that a wealthy and misguided zealot was able to recruit young followers in the slums of Cairo, the hills of Afghanistan, and the back country of Saudi Arabia? Why do these young men hate the United States? Is there something we can and should do to change that attitude toward what we believe to be the greatest country on earth? Is the fact that half the people of the world live in poverty perhaps the key to terrorism? Is it possible that we cannot reduce terrorism except as we reduce poverty in the world? Is there some practical merit in the proposal Senator Dole and I have been pushing, which calls for the U.S. to take the lead in providing, through the U.N., a nutritious lunch every day for every hungry schoolchild in the world? Does not the creative director-general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, Jacques Diouf, offer a useful instrument of reducing misery and terrorism when he seeks $500 million for simple tools such as water pumps for the poor farm families of the world?
My historical heroes-Tom Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Henry Wallace, Adlai Stevenson-used the instruments of government to benefit the citizenry of America, and they also understood that America had responsibilities to the rest of the world. By contrast, the Bush Administration, in an unvarnished revival of the know-nothing spirit of an earlier age, actually withheld $34 million in family-planning funds for the United Nations on the grounds that any money going into the U.N. Population Fund would allow the Chinese government, in the words of Secretary of State Colin Powell, "to implement more effectively its program of coercive abortion." His statement was raw deceit: The Bush Administration knows full well that none of the family-planning funds from the United States can be or would have been spent on coercive abortions in China. No U.N. funds are used for that purpose. In the words of veteran commonsense columnist Ellen Goodman, "To appease the domestic `right-to-life' lobby, we are going to withhold enough money to prevent 2 million unwanted pregnancies, 4,700 maternal deaths, and over 77,000 infant and child deaths." Frankly, I can't see much of a future-for Americans or for anyone else-in that brand of conservatism.
Liberals are left of center; to their left are socialists and communists. Conservatives are right of center; to their right are fascists and despots of all kinds. In World War II we fought the fascists and despots, and the socialists and communists were our allies in this fight. But after we crushed the fascists and the despots, we forgot about them. We turned our enmity instead toward the communists-Russia and China, plus such little states as North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. During the Cold War, conservatives discredited liberals by suggesting that the far left had infiltrated American liberalism. It was not nearly so effective for liberals to suggest that conservatives sometimes climbed into bed with fascists. The fascists, after all, had been defeated, whereas communists were everywhere on the rise. With huge campaign war chests and clever propagandists, conservative political candidates in the postwar years depicted their liberal opponents as weak on national defense, indifferent to family values, soft on communism, and captives of the welfare lobby, the gun controllers, and the abortionists.
This false and destructive approach has defeated many a Democratic liberal candidate and has, for the most part, kept true liberals out of power since 1969. As a result we have had more than our share of conservative leadership devoted to killing progressive programs while spending lavishly on the military and cutting taxes for the rich-a formula perfected during the Reagan years. Attempts to utilize the powers of government to improve the well-being of ordinary Americans have been shouted down in favor of policies serving only the commercial interests of the nation. In foreign policy the conservatives have tended to be isolationists or unilateralists, distrustful of dialogue with the other nations of the world, quick to resort to military force, and seemingly opposed to international assistance when it does not involve sending guns and land mines to the odd Asian despot who claims to have converted to Christianity.
President Bush is just this sort of unilateralist. Despite the fact that the United States stands alone as the world's greatest polluter, he rejected the international agreement reached at Kyoto, Japan, under which nations were to take concrete steps to reduce the enormous danger of global warming caused by increasing environmental pollution. Despite the obvious folly of the so-called Star Wars missile-shield fantasy, he abrogated the ABM Treaty of 1972 between Russia and the United States, which forbids either nation to build or test an anti-ballistic-missile system and has long been regarded as the cornerstone of worldwide arms control. For thirty years both nations had faithfully adhered to this treaty.
The Bush Administration has also turned its back on the idea of genuine cooperation with the United Nations, the World Court, and an international criminal court in favor of a go-it-alone policy that is obsolete in today's interdependent world. With the Cold War behind us, the U.N. is now free to become the great international organ for peace, development, justice, and freedom that Franklin Roosevelt, Wendell Willkie, and others intended it to be. As the host nation, America should take the lead in calling for a strengthened U.N., a stronger World Court, and a modern, well-equipped international police force directed by the Secretary General of the U.N. and the U.N. Security Council rather than view such ideals as obstacles. The United States has neither the right nor the ability to play the role of international policeman. The problems of the world are too great for any one nation to master.
An attack on Iraq is opposed by virtually every country in the world. We would be alone in such an action, unlike in the first Gulf War, in which Iraq was the aggressor and the whole world knew it. Do we really want to duplicate the lonely course we followed for nearly thirty years in Vietnam? Supposedly our leaders are trying to build support for attacking Iraq because it might develop weapons of mass destruction similar to ours, but international law does not give the President of the United States, or any other head of state, the right of "preventive" war. Historian Arthur Schlesinger has pointed out that the Japanese claimed to be waging preventive war when they attempted to sink the American Navy at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Japan's leaders were eventually tried as war criminals for that action. If President Bush attacks Iraq, under his doctrine of "preemptive war," could he not be similarly tried as a war criminal? During the long years of the Cold War strident voices were sometimes heard calling for nuclear strikes to eliminate Russia and China. But when the Russians and the Chinese eventually became our friends, "everyone thanked heaven that the preventive-war loonies had never got into power in any major country," Schlesinger writes.
President Bush has said repeatedly that the terrorists hate us because of our freedom. I don't believe that. The world's people have always admired our freedom. What they don't like is the arrogance and indifference to world opinion inherent in so much of our international policy. Plenty of my fellow citizens don't like that either. I'm not alone in my dislike of the way our government is waging the so-called war against terrorism, in my opposition to a war with Iraq and to calling Iraq, Iran, and North Korea the "axis of evil." And I intend to press these points as long as I believe my convictions are grounded in common sense, patriotism, and veneration of life. One reason I am cautious about sending young men off to war is that I have seen what war does. Half of the bomber crews that I flew with in WWII never made it home again. The images remain with me after fifty-five yearsyoung airmen laughing and talking over breakfast before daylight, and then a few minutes later being blown to bits when their huge, overloaded bomber filled with men, bombs, and high-octane gasoline crashed during takeoff. I see the image of a bomber taking a direct hit over the target, catching fire, exploding, and falling in pieces over hostile enemy territory. I tell you these things because no man who has had these experiences will ever again speak carelessly about war. It is the worst thing that men do to each other. When I listen to the bombastic rhetoric of Messrs. Bush and Cheney and the war cries of Ms. Rice, I know that I'm hearing from people who've never been near a battlefield. The British conservative Edmund Burke put it best: "A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood."
During my years as a combat pilot I read the huge, two-volume tome by Charles and Mary Beard entitled The Rise of American Civilization. Lying on an army cot in southern Italy, with only a candle to light the page, I more than once was still reading when the call came at 4 A.M. for me to fly another bombing mission over Nazi Germany. Reading helped take my mind away from the other pilots and crews who had died. It was also a way to discover, in some 1,600 pages, what America was all about.
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote of "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind." And Abraham Lincoln said of this founding document that it "gave liberty not alone to the people of this country, but hope to all the world, for all future time." Liberal ideas, in other words, have informed American politics from Jefferson to Lincoln, and we are no less in need of the vitality and redeeming strength of the liberal spirit today. Liberalism is not dead, though it does seem at times to be besieged and bewildered. Indeed, I fully expect liberalism to be stronger and more successful over the next twenty-five years than it has been in the past twentyfive-provided that liberals learn to shed a little of their timidity.
Most of today's liberals are too intimidated for my taste. When I look back on my twenty-two years in the U.S. Congress, I don't regret the questions I directed at policymakers; I regret the times that I didn't ask questions when I should have. The way of a public critic is uncertain and difficult, especially when flags are flying and drums are rolling, but patriotism includes the responsibility, when the nation is following an unwise course, to call it to a higher standard. A political leader has the obligation to identify as best he can the mistaken aspects of government policy and to lay bare the malfunctions of our body politic so that sensible repairs can be made. Beyond this, a political leader should offer a vision that can light the way for the days ahead.
Clearly we can't expect this of our conservatives, but we should demand it of liberals. Going to war with Iraq is a bad idea, and our liberal leaders should say so. They should speak out as well about the absurdity of a $355 billion annual military budget (if only for the sake of our overworked Pentagon employees-a budget that size, after all, requires them to spend almost $1 billion each day before they can go home to dinner). With careful planning to convert from a war economy to a peace economy we could gradually move to a military budget of $200 billion-still vastly beyond any other nation's. We might use the savings to extend Medicare to all American children, to raise the quality of public school systems in the states, to give millions of Americans a second chance at higher education, to develop a national energy policy based on conservation and renewable sources of power, to rebuild decaying water and sewage systems and repair other problems in the infrastructure, and to create in America the finest railway system in the world. I firmly believe that if we were to take such steps, America would be a better defended, more secure, happier nation than it is today.
We need to restore calm and confidence to American society-including our airports and presidential press conferences. That would be good for our souls, and it might even be good for the stock market. It was, after all, the freedom from groundless fear and the bold liberalism of Franklin Roosevelt that saved American capitalism after the disastrous collapse of the stock market in 1929.
The America I fought to defend as a young man was great enough to allow freedom of speech for all its citizens-even those citizens, especially those citizens, who ask questions and demand answers about government policy. The genius of American politics has always been the creative tension between our two great political philosophies, liberalism and conservatism. If either of these traditions is diminished, the American nation is diminished. And so, to the self-styled patriot with his bumper stickerAMERICA, LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT-I would respond, "America, let us improve it so that we may love it the more." U
* Here are a few more: guaranteed bank deposits, the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Park Service, the National School Lunch Program, the Voting Rights Act, and the graduated income tax.
George McGovern, the United Nations Global Ambassador on Hunger, was the Democratic candidate for president in 1972. He is the author of numerous books, including The Third Freedom: Ending Hunger in Our Time.
©Harper's Magazine Foundation Dec 2002
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Hypocrisy comes in many flavors but generally only one color - green. I don't mean to discount the blacks and whites and browns of racism, but America's love affair with money is a remarkable engine for hypocrisy.
I'm not sure if I was reading George Will or Ann Coulter or some other far, far right-winger, but a light popped on in my head. Conservative rich people and their not-so-rich followers hate socialism: they despise socialist medicine, socialist economics, socialist societies. Still, most all of them profit from some of the biggest socialist set-ups in America.
Case in point, Will's beloved major league baseball, or the very popular NBA basketball league, are set up as socialist structures. Workers -- the athletes -- would actually be able to make more than the astronomical sums they already make in a pure capitalist setting. But, the structure is socialized for the good of the owners. Players can't jump willy-nilly from team to team chasing dollars, even though it might seem that way when reported in the mainstream press.
Look at the facts: athletes can't charge what the market will bear; they have to share revenues with the owners. Those who are new to the league are not allowed to make more than a minimum salary (for the good of the league). Athletes are contractually tied to communal organizations called teams and taught the value of the commune (team) over individual achievements. Those who rail hardest against the commune receive reputations as troublemakers, or spoiled or worse. Every major sports league has rules that inhibit purely capitalist behavior, which they say are methods to increase competitive parity between teams.
Trotsky would see the irony in this situation. American socialism does exist, but instead of a pro-proletariat spin; it has a pro-mogul spin. Capitalist rules are shaped into socialism for the robber barons. Corporate welfare is a socialism that few seem concerned about. And, if society is viewed only through the lens of the very wealthy, other trends for super-socialism (what I term collaborative economic acts made for the good of a select few) are apparent: e.g. bailing out Northwest Airlines to the tune of about a billion dollars, only to watch the company rip off the state's taxpayers; federal support of credit unions that stiffed their members; firing air traffic controllers to grant breaks to the airline industry, throwing out the old bankruptcy laws to make it harder for working class people to escape crushing debt... and on and on.
The government has created a community of the wealthy and subsidizes their lifestyles.
Yet, when African Americans -- who are overrepresented in the lower income brackets -- are reviled for not partaking fully in the American Dream, part of "their problem" is being too communal; too clannish. Ann Coulter wondered aloud why African Americans feel they have to identify with certain criminal elements of the community.
Speaking on behalf of African Americans everywhere; here, abroad and on the ships at sea, we deal with issues that go beyond money (as crazy as that may seem) and we're pretty smart. We're not voting primarily Democratic because we have a knee-jerk love for the party; it's more that we are voting in our self-interest. At the core of modern Republicanism is racism. I have yet to hear a viable explanation for all the code words such as 'state's rights' 'quotas' or 'reverse discrimination' that don't make me want to wag my finger and say 'liar, liar.'
We are a collective-oriented people and we aren't liable to succumb to the type of successful campaign that made "liberal" a bad word. The reason Republicans are having a hard time recruiting us is because by definition they don't want us. We're not stupid. Like every other human on the planet, from Park Avenue to a hut on the Sahara, we recognize that tone of voice that is, on the surface, inviting us to a party, but really begging us not to come.
'No, thanks. I appreciate the offer, but I've got to wash my yak tonight.'
Yes, we are a communal people. And, so are all the rich socialists; why is it a crime for us? I don't see Tom DeLay saying that all of his rich friends need to be held to the same standard as the poorest among us. He's already chuckling about his hardball exploits in a Texas courtroom; we wouldn't want the poor guy to explode into laughter in front of his hand-picked judge.