Monday, September 6, 2010

A Gut Punch

I got an email from a reader today calling my attention to Frank Rich's column in last Sunday's NYT. I hadn't read it until after the email; I confess to becoming fairly disillusioned with the Times of late. I don't know exactly why, but between Maureen Dowd and her particular brand of snark, to Paul Krugman, a Nobel Laureate who I believe is simply wanting to go to far with fiscal reform (not to mention the fact that the Times did not use the word "torture" when it was entirely appropriate to do so, showing cowardice and capitulation to the Cheney/Rumsfeld propaganda machine), I find the opinion page more than a bit distasteful. On top of that, Rich, himself a fantastic writer/thinker, has gone over the top more than once.

But Rich has struck a chord this time in his piece, called "Freedom's Just Another Word." The fatalism in that title echoes the weariness I have been feeling lately in navigating the cesspool of 2010 politics. On one side, there is the obviously reality-challenged Republican Party, a group of people so out of contact with anything except the most remedial forms of citizenship imaginable that the very mention of a word like "teacher" brings rolled eyes of disdain (as if there was NOTHING of value in the profession that helps to turn kids into thinking adults). On the other side, there is the bloated, complete impotence of the party that was handed the reins of power in a landslide nearly two years ago, a party whose leadership has capitulated utterly to the arrogant, nihilistic, and unhinged rantings of the principal voices on the other side (including Sarah Palin, the one person whose very candidacy was nearly single-handedly responsible for their own victory). A party whose Senate leader stands a good chance of losing to one of the most farcical, mentally retarded individuals I've ever seen, a person who runs away from and refuses to take a single reporter's question at a press conference she herself convenes.

In his conclusion, Rich calls us all to account as President Obama announces the "end of combat" in Iraq:
And yet here we are, slouching toward yet another 9/11 anniversary, still waiting for a correction, with even our president, an eloquent Iraq war opponent, slipping into denial.
While Rich's piece gave me pause, it was two of the comments I read following his piece -- one of which was forwarded to me by my reader -- that truly stopped me cold. The first was one from "Joe," a 35-year-old man who went from Republican in 2001 to Democrat in 2002 to someone who is not even sure he wants to be American anymore. Money quote:
We no longer live in a functioning democracy. That is not the grim pronouncement of a dour hippie (not that there's anything wrong with that). That is a sober account of the state of America today, spelled out by a skilled guy with a future and a solid moral foundation, someone that should be encouraged by some credible accountable leadership to stay and help make this country better. Rahm Emanuel dropping F-bombs to liberals and the UAW, Larry Summers running economic policy and Harry Reid grabbing his ankles for the GOP: not change I can believe in. And no more dear to me is a country where multitudes descend on DC to listen to a Weimar Republic beer hall speech at the Lincoln Memorial, listen to a fork-tongued Jabba the Hut seething chaos over public airwaves on a daily basis, or vote for a lobotmized governor in Arizona or openly racist senator in Kentucky. Where a "liberal" president convenes secret meetings to dismantle the last shred of fairness in American society, Social Security.
See, I can hear the voices of the cynics: "If he thinks he can find a better life somewhere else, he can get the hell out; we don't need him." But the real truth is, we need Joe, and we need him desperately. It's not America -- or at least the America I knew and love -- unless guys like Joe feel that his voice is heard, that his opinions matter, that he is needed. The real tragedy in Joe's comment is that he tells real truth when he writes, "there are places are far more congruent with my secular moral values, with highly regulated free markets, robust public services, democratic freedoms and a sense of shared sacrifice." One of my closest friends, also a reader of this blog, is currently an ex-pat living and working in China; when I recently had a visit with him, it was pretty clear that his self-imposed departure from America might well be permanent. He would be the second such close friend who has permanently left the country, for work and family. But their voices are needed here.

And while I find another Joe's voice excruciatingly painful to hear -- that of Joe the Plumber -- I also believe his is needed, if only to illustrate how dangerous citizenship can be when it is exercised absent any use of one's gray matter.

The other comment I read was from someone who identified himself as "OIFVet75." This guy was a soldier in the Iraq War, who describes his experience thusly:
I've heard the screams of agony from my fellow soldiers as they died before me in Iraq. I've held held their eviscerated organs in my hands and had the obscene smell of their burned flesh permanently etched into my brain.
Even I can appreciate that every veteran of every war has that "I was there, man!" way of separating himself from those who did not serve, but I defer to his perspective when he puts it this way:
The net result for the wars is a ponzi scheme with human flesh as the substrate and power, ego, and glory at the top. As a perfect example of this, look at the commander at Walter Reed. It's 2010, and he STILL doesn't have a combat patch! The COMMANDER of our wounded warriors has never once been within a 500 mile radius of a gunshot or IED blast!!

COIN doesn't stand for counter-insurgency, it stands for career obsessed incestuous narcissists. I've sat in ivy league halls and in think-tanks circles where these COIN strategy discussions happen. And not one, NOT ONE person in these discussion has ever known the trauma of tactical operations "outside the wire".
For Obama to pronounce that combat has ended was a dog-and-pony show, a necessary whitewashing of the history to be written so that we can turn the page and move forward. Nuts.

I sat driving with the family the other day and mentioned to my wife how disappointed I have been in Obama. A man who has no doubt accomplished much in his first 18 months, but all of it mediocre, politically compromised, and all but useless to anyone but the wealthy lobbyists who crafted legislation to avoid accountability for the eight disastrous Bush years. And the man who campaigned on the promise of changing our politics in Washington had enabled all of this by engaging in the very politics he said was so wrong. Or, on the other hand, was he talking about polarization being wrong? Or are they both wrong? In any event, by reaching across the aisle to shake hands with those whose free hands are stabbing him in the back, he has disemboweled his own office and may have cost America the very brilliant ideas that propelled him into the White House. Over-promised, under-delivered. The default state of affairs in government.

I believe that Republicans will regain the House and possibly the Senate, and it won't be because Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid failed at their jobs. They weren't empowered by the president to wage battle. One thing Bush understood, albeit too simplistically, was that a wartime president needs to be at war. And fiery campaign speeches delivered in his shirtsleeves in only part of it; he needs to be in front of the camera more often, eschewing the drab rhetoric of the modern politician for the uplifting rhetoric of a statesman. He needs to read more Churchill, listen to Roosevelt, and study Kennedy and Truman, and avoid any attempt to emulate Johnson or Clinton. What Obama needed to do, contrary to what I probably wrote many months ago, was to kick Republican ass, to expose their previous leadership as war criminals, and successfully own a legitimate pair of progressive balls.

Until the president gathers his troops and starts actually to fight both the right and the left, America will be on the wrong track.

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