Saturday, November 10, 2007

ROLE PLAYING

The sounds from last week’s Democratic debate still ring in my ears, and I cannot forget the role played by each of the candidates. Hillary was the defensive coordinator employing the prevent defense. The one who says, “Crap, we’re leading by 11 points and there’s only 5 minutes left. As long as we don’t give up the big play, we can’t lose.” Any football fan can tell you what happens next – the other team throws one ten yard pass after another, then a guy breaks a tackle and gets 20 yards, and the next thing you know the other team has the ball and the momentum, and is driving for the game winning touchdown … with plenty of time left on the clock. All the “prevent” does is prevent a team from winning; Hillary presumably has been told that by now. In future debates, she’s going to have to stop dodging every question. Do that, Hill, and you just might win the nomination (though I don’t see you winning the Presidency).

Next, there was Barack. He played the role of the earnest, concerned political observer who noticed Hillary’s increasing unwillingness to answer questions. He was critical, but in a detached, passionless way – much like you’d expect from a professor, one of his former occupations. Still, it was probably a pretty wise tack to take because the dirty work was being done by his new ally, John Edwards. Edwards played the role of trial lawyer. He finally looked to me like he learned something from all those years in the courtroom. He went for Hillary’s jugular and, like one of Michael Vick’s dogs, didn’t let go until he drew plenty of blood. Of course, in Iowa the attacker gets as bloodied as the person attacked. But that was fine with me, since I’m an Obama guy. Seriously, though, I was impressed with Edwards. As a litigator myself, I appreciated his skills.

Next came Richardson, who I’ve decided is every sane Democrat’s second choice – or at worst third. Richardson played the Den Mother. “Can’t we all just get along?” Well, Bill, no we can’t – especially when the one ducking all the questions is cleaning up in the polls. Does Bill have a job promised to him in the Clinton Administration? I don’t think so. I think he realizes his only chance is in a brokered convention, and he’s trying to position himself as the nice guy who everyone can live with as a “compromise solution.” Pretty shrewd, really.

Then came Kucinich. He played the role of Randle Patrick McMurphy – you know, the Nicholson character in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Actually, there was difference. McMurphy was institutionalized for being crazy, whereas in fact he was sane. And Kucinich? Let’s just say the inverse applies. OK, so maybe he’s not certifiable, but I don’t think the country is ready for a guy who can talk matter of factly about witnessing UFOs, and then goes home to a wife who is less than half his age and wears a tongue stud. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see those two in the White House. Oral sex in the White House? Never.

That leaves us with two candidates – Biden and Dodd. They played the role of the owl. They’re both under 65, only a few years Hillary’s senior, but they came across as being a generation older, a generation more experienced. “Trust me,” they both said, in their best avuncular voices. “I’ve seen it all in my career. At this point, I’m the closest thing we have to omniscience. Methuselah and I.”

So what did we learn from these wise old owls? That the most dangerous country in the world isn’t Iraq. Nor Iran. It’s Pakistan. That’s what we were told during the debates. And then, as if on cue, America’s favorite General/Dictator/Fuhrer, Mr. Musharraf, declared marshal law.

Score one for the owls.

Must I describe the goings on in Pakistan today? Our beloved Mr. Musharraf, who we count on to keep the nukes out of the hands of Bin Laden, has ordered Pakistani’s lawyers, judges, and human rights activists to be beaten and incarcerated. Meanwhile, our “friend” is releasing terrorists by the score – no doubt, to make room for the real criminals, the disciples of justice

Oh, those wacky friends of ours. Sometimes they get a little carried away with their fascistic tendencies. But that’s OK. Because they have their roles to play, and we have ours. In this case, our role is Benefactor. We continue to supply our buddies in Pakistan with monetary aid. That’s right, at a time when our national debt is reaching $9 trillion and when Musharraf is beginning to resemble Mussolini on one of his bad days, we have decided to pump him up with American largesse at a rate exceeding a billion dollars a year. Man, there’s nothing quite like Christian generosity, is there?

At times like this, I guess there’s nothing else you can do than point out how strange it is to be Uncle Sam these days. Essentially, we’ve become a Thespian-Superpower. Sometimes we’re funding military dictators who violently oppress any signs of dissent. Other times, we’re saying things like “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.”

That was a quote from President Bush, back when we claimed to believe in freedom. It was thrown back at us from Harvard trained Beazir Bhutto, who now lives under house arrest under the orders of our beneficiary, Fuhrer Musharraf. When Bhutto doesn’t realize is that our roles have changed. In our current part, we’re not just playing the Benefactor. We’re playing the wise, old practitioner of real politique. The scriptwriter in the sky – or in the bunker, as the case may be – is telling us that if we push back against Fuhrer Musharraf, we’ll somehow unleash the nukes of war. For practical reasons, then, we have to actively support tyranny.

Funny, but Hitler probably had his own practical justifications, didn’t he?

When I look at this mess in Pakistan, I can’t help wondering what a country like India is thinking right now. Forget about the idea that they would ever again trust our rhetoric. How can they possibly predict what we’ll do from one year to the next? They’ll surely think back to the days when we were friends with Saddam. Or Bin Laden. Maybe they’ll even remember that James Bond movie when our hero, then played by Timothy Dalton, was cavorting about Afghanistan with a tall, dark, bearded leader of the Afghan resistance and fighting together against the Soviets. You need a scorecard to figure out who our teammates are and who our enemies are from one season to the next. Thank God there’s not this much mobility in the NFL or the NBA.

Let’s leave aside the issues of shifting alliances, rhetoric, or even morality. Let’s see if there’s a greater lesson to be learned here. I say it’s this: given how friggen fickle and hypocritical all countries are, given how difficult it is to trust what a world leader says, and given how dangerous American weapons of mass destruction have become, it is incumbent on our nation to choose our wars very, very, very carefully. We can give this reason or that reason for invading, but who is going to believe us? And when we attack another country for reasons that aren’t readily apparent, but have to be unearthed from “secret intelligence,” you can believe that the world won’t support us and our enemies will fight us tooth and nail.

Then again, maybe we don’t care. What’s another 30 or 40 thousand American casualties? And what’s another trillion or two in debt? Once you’ve made this much of a mess, it doesn’t feel like you can dig any deeper.

Of course, no sooner do I say that than I see the grizzled faces of Biden and Dodd remind me of Dante. Just when you think you’ve found the deepest circle of Hell, there’s always another one deeper still.

17 comments:

Finding Fair Hope said...

I give this post a gold star as your very best, Dan --so much food for thought!

I've been trying to tell you that Edwards is better than you thought; however, things being as they are I agree that he helped Obama more than himself in that debate. An Obama/Edwards ticket looks awfully good to me, but of course Edwards wouldn't settle for #2 at this point. How about reversing it? Obama would be a great v-p and one term at that would give him the experience he would need to take the big job.

Daniel Spiro said...

At this point, I would be happy with any of the Democrats other than Hillary (the DINO -- that's Democrat in Name Only) and Kucinich (who seems a little loopy). Frankly, though, Edwards wouldn't have the gravitas as President that Richardson has, and I would prefer Richardson. Most people don't trust Edwards. He seems to be playing a role, rather than being himself. Remember that it wasn't that long ago when he came across as a centrist.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I enjoyed reading the post. It is funny how Democrats devided roles, like in an old play. How about a a royal court analogy, the King and the Queen, the wise advisors, the fool, the young prince (to be or not to be?).

Also, I wish world politics were played like football, with clear rules and referees. Unfortunately, it seems to be more like dating in highschool, with backstabbing, betrayals, egocentrism and short-sightedness. The world needs a stabilizing force/teacher to keep the class under control, doing something productive, and not destroying school property, but there is no one there now. UN is the inefficient wimp of a substitute teacher, who does not have a clue, US is a limited-minded disciplinarian that everyone loves to hate, Europe has disengaged when US became disfunctional and appears to be waiting for us to figure things out for ourselves. Oh well...

As far as H.Clinton is concerned, I do believe that she cares about liberal causes: health care, education, peace, environment, science. She adopted Edward's health care plan b/c it is a good one and people say her science program is exellent. She will be appointing qualified individuals to important positions, not her friends, which helps a LOT. She is a pragmatist not a revolutionary, which I consider to be a positive trait. Revolutions are overrated.

Daniel Spiro said...

We're a long way from a sane system of international relations, aren't we? Pretty sad.

As for your discussion of Hillary, Anonymous, I agree that it is better to have a pragmatist than a revolutionary. And I even agree that she cares about some liberal causes. But my concern is that she cares a whole lot more about what will boost her popularity, and that means that she will always govern as close to the center as possible. One of her centrist votes was to ban flag burning, which almost by itself renders her a "DINO" in my book (Democrat in Name Only). Another of her centrist votes was to support authorizing the Iraq invasion, and while that is bad enough, what is worse is that she has never truly apologized for her vote.

After eight years of Bush, this country will be open to a politician who is at least half as far to the left as Reagan was to the right when he ran for President. My main problems with Hillary is that (a) she is not such a politician and (b) she is so overwhelming polarizing that she'll never be able to implement most of whatever liberal agenda she does possess.

In any event, as I said in the original post, I no longer think she'll prevail next November. No matter which Republican she runs against, if she wins the nomination, this election will be a referendum on her, and I see the "No's" predominating. Let's face it, if Edwards and Obama can make her look like a sleazebag phony, thereby pushing her negatives close to 50%, you can only imagine what the country will think of her after the GOP's negative campaigning hits its stride.

Betty C. said...

I enjoy keeping up with your political musings, which mirror my father's to a great extent. My mom quite likes Hillary and Obama, but I think she is pulled in by the idea "a first."

My Dad is pulling for Edwards and wishing for Richardson -- so I guess he's a "sane Democrat" in your book.

Daniel Spiro said...

Betty,

I hope you tell your Lorac and Mij about my friend, Steve Novick, who is running for Senate in Oregon. Any Democrat living as close to them as your parents do should definitely check out his candidacy. The glib way of putting it is that he is the reincarnation of Paul Wellstone. It's not exactly true, since Wellstone died long after Novick was born, but Novick is, IMHO, the closest thing to Wellstone that we have today.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,
it is hard to predict the future, but the more I learn about this country the more pessimistic I become about the future. You think that Kucinich will be viewed as cookie for his comments about UFOs, but most people will disagree. Did you know that majority of american believe in ghosts? that a bunch of them calims they saw one? that only 15% or so understand and accept the theory of evolution? How do you talk to these people and get them to help themselves? Did you know that the poorest states, most dependent on federal aide states are red states, yet they continue to vote republican against their own interests. I think it is anyones bet right now who is going to win, since you can not count on rationality here. And since there is no rational, everything is possible, even another republican. How depressing...

Daniel Spiro said...

Anonymous,

I don't know if you read The Creed Room, but I really do try to grapple there with the kind of Fundamentalism you're talking about. My basic conclusion is that we should dialogue with everyone, but not expect to get very far with the most ardent Fundamentalists. Still, I also come to the conclusion that they're NOT in the majority, and I think they can increasingly be marginalized if those of us who believe in science and reason can unify a bit more.
One of the reasons why I love Obama so much is that I believe he can bring people together like no other politician on the scene today.

As for the assertion that only 15% understand evolution, I'm not surprised, because most people don't "understand" science. I'm happy enough if they at least take it on faith that evolution (whatever it means) is a theory worthy of our trust.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,

I noticed a contadiction in your reply to my post. You say that we can get a majority of people that believe in science and reason, yet you are not surprised only 15% understand evolution because so few people understand science.
Actually the statistics that I was remembering was about people "believing" in evolution, but I could not bring myself to write it down. For me "believing in evolution" is a very disturbing term. How is it different from believing in God? or the president? or a UFO or whatever? For me, the difference, is that unlike God, evolution does not ask you to believe in it. In fact, I'll rather you don't believe in it, but go and measure population dynamics of some bacteria exposed to antibiotic in your handsoup over time and see for yourself. When you say people don't understand science, what it means to me is that most people are not commited to independent critical thinking. What they are looking for in a leader is an authority figure. Somebody who is most "Daddy-like." So the million dollar question is "Who's your Daddy?" Hillary? Barack? Matt Romney? I am not worried as much about the fundamentalists, as about the plain old lazy thinkers.

Thanks for replying to my posts, it's fun.

Daniel Spiro said...

Let me explain what I was thinking. I suspect that most of us do believe that evolution is a theory that explains extremely well the workings of living beings. I would not expect, however, that too many people have a fine understanding of the theory itself.

As for my views about politics, I trust that the Fundamentalists can someday (I don't know exactly when) be marginalized, and that we can elect relatively honest, progressive candidates who attempt to solve some of the world's pressing problems. I would put Obama at the top of the list of individuals who might be able to fit that bill, though he obviously hasn't convinced the majority of voters to agree with me just yet.

As for people wanting authority figures from politicians, that is probably a true statement at this point, but it shows that we still need to "evolve" somewhat before we can have the kind of democracy this world needs us to have.

Anonymous said...

did you see this?

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/16/opinion/16krugman.html?hp

Obama is not perfect also.

Daniel Spiro said...

So Krugman thinks we have no problems with Social Security. Obama might legitimately feel differently. Maybe Krugman is right. I don't know. But why does this suggest something wrong with Obama -- other than the lack of omniscience? There's nothing in that article to support the belief that Obama is pandering or otherwise acting in bad faith. Maybe his economic advisors and Krugman just disagree. For Krugman to call Obama is fool base on his evidence reflects poorly on Krugman, not Obama. (Unless what Krugman is saying is that anyone who is mistaken on a matter of economics is a fool, in which case we should all just call ourselves fools.)

Last night, Obama proposed his solution -- higher taxes on the 6% that make the most money. They probably should be paying more anyway, if for no other reason than to pay down the national debt.

All that said, I'm tired and perhaps I missed something in the article. I, too, can be mistaken. And I too am often a fool. Such is the human condition.

Anonymous said...

Hey, sorry if you feel I was attacking you. I guess I argue to keep the discussion going. if we all agree, what's there to talk about.
That said, I found Krugman's article interesting b/c he is often right and he was suggesting that Obama sometimes is inclined to compromise to appease both parties, the sin often ascribed to Hillary. Anyways, hope you are feeling better. Wish ya best.

Daniel Spiro said...

I didn't feel you were attacking me at all. I just called it as I see it -- that Krugman was taking a cheap shot at Obama.

Maybe you got Krugman's point and I didn't. But my sense is that Krugman had some cognition of a mistake Obama was making (or at least a mistake he thought Obama was making), and decided to use some silly rhetoric against Obama based on that cognition.

I certainly agree that Obama, likes Hillary, looks to compromise. But that's probably OK. The difference between the two, in my view, is that Obama has a recognizable center of gravity and when topics come around that are truly important, you can pretty much tell where he'll be. Hillary, by contrast, strikes me as someone who will virtually always be wherever she thinks the Gallup Poll is. That's why I won't vote for her as long as she represents the Democratic Party. I want that Party to stand for something other than "we agree with the results of the Gallup Poll on all issues."

Betty C. said...

What if you lightened up just a bit and had a little fun on your blog...

Read about it here:

http://franceprofonde.blogspot.com/2007/11/ten-reasonably-random-things-about-me.html

No obligation of course! You probably have an image to keep up...

Daniel Spiro said...

Well Betty,

I commented briefly on your (amazing) blog. But here's the real message.

Had I not read that blog, I would have posted this morning an entry about -- get this -- politics and philosophy. In your honor, I will choose a different area altogether. And yes, it will be more idiosyncratic.

Also, for those who don't know, Betty and I are old college friends. And listen young lady -- your coming to the next reunion (in 2011) is not optional. It's mandatory!

Betty C. said...

If these reunions were in the summer, I could work out coming. But imagine how inconvenient football weekend reunions are for a college teacher living in Europe!

I can't promise anything...but I will think about it harder next time.