Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Uncurious George

(Humor me while I go off on a political rant. This should get it out of my system for a while, though.)

Frankly, I’m having trouble with my politics these days. Years ago, I suffered a tragic accident in a voting booth. Yes, that’s right—as an impressionable young college student, I cast my first vote for Jimmy Carter. My complicity in the resulting horror of his administration has scarred my political life. I went the Libertarian route for a while, but found refuge in the GOP by Reagan’s second term. Here I discovered a respect for tradition and an acceptable mix of idealism and pragmatism. But my heroes in the conservative movement were people like Bill Buckley and Russell Kirk—hardly icons for today’s GOP.

A short list of my peeves regarding the Republican Party would include the following:

• A foreign policy seemingly crafted in equal parts by Pat Robertson, Benjamin Netanyahu and Daffy Duck
• Sporadic attention to our ever-looming energy crisis
• Tom Delay
• Fiscal irresponsibility
• No commitment to a policy of natural conservation
• Tom Delay
• Tax-cutting seen as the highest virtue
• The leader of the Free World who cannot string 3 coherent sentences together, who drops the “g” off the end of words and insists of saying “gonna” instead of “going to,” regardless of the audience
• Slavish patronization of the religious conservative base by emphasizing hot-button issues, with little real attention to the fundamentals that maintain societal stability
• And of course, Tom Delay

And yet, every time I am tempted to stray off the reservation, Jimmy Carter and/or Al Gore will give another speech, and I will scurry back—aghast at what I’ve heard. In fact, I’ve taken to calling myself an “Al Gore Republican.” But beyond these two no-class acts, I have real problems with the Dems, as well. Their short list would include:

• Elevation of the so-called “Woman’s Right to Choose” as a religious article of faith, from which there can be NO dissent
• The politics of racial polarization
• Jimmy Carter and/or Al Gore
• A party that still thinks it is running against Herbert Hoover
• Naiveté on all levels—cultural, political, economic, religious, diplomatic
• Jimmy Carter and/or Al Gore
• A party that actually expects you to believe the simplistic platitudes offered as policy
• Judicial litmus tests
• A party that professes that there can be no such thing as gay rights short of an absolute societal acceptance of gay marriage
• Shameless pandering to their special interest groups
• Demagoguery
• Smug self-righteousness
• And of course, Jimmy Carter and/or Al Gore (Oddly enough, the Clintons don’t bother me much. Go figure.)

Our options remind me of Jeeves’ characterization of Bertie Wooster’s Aunts Vera and Agatha as being caught between Scylla and Charybdis--godawful choices on either side.

These morose sentiments are not helped by the 2 books I’ve recently finished reading: Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East and George Packer’s The Assassin’s Gate. Each addresses the on-going conflict in the Middle East. Bush supporters will find little comfort in either.

Fisk has been a Middle East correspondent for the Independent for over 30 years and has lived in Beirut since 1975. He knows everybody and has interviewed everybody from Osama to Saddam to Sharon to you-name-it. His work weighs in at about 1100 pages—a wide-ranging, impassioned and almost obsessive effort to tell the whole story. From the Armenian Genocide, to the Western overthrow of the democratic Persian government of 1953, to Nasser, to Algeria, the Jewish-Palestinian conflict from the initial occupation of Palestine, Jordan, Syria, the Saudis, and of course Iraq—it’s all there. One finds the speeches of the French commander in Algeria in 1830, the British commander in Mesopotamia in 1920 and Cheney/Rumsfield in 2003 to be eerily and depressingly similar. Fisk’s account is marred somewhat—perhaps in desperation--when he succumbs to a shrill screed against Bush in the last 150 pages or so. This is unfortunate as it distracts from the legitimate points he has to make. Packer’s book focuses solely on Iraq and is, on the whole, a little more balanced.

Reading these accounts (and others) reinforce a number of recurring truths.

• First, our disfavor in much of the Middle East is not because of our “freedom,” as politicians are fond of stating. That is just silly. Nor is it necessarily because of our decadence—though here they would certainly have good reason. They oppose us because of our policies, pure and simple. Not just the policies of this administration, but the on-going heavy-handedness of the Western powers, going all the way back to the days of the English and French colonialists. (Mind you, I am NOT an apologist for the Islamic world; far from it. But that doesn’t justify our own bone-headedness.)
• Second, our eventual invasion of Iraq was a foregone conclusion from the first days of the Bush administration, come hell or high-water.
• Finally, there was not a lack of intelligence going into the Iraqi war. It was there. But if the data differed from the “game plan,” if it contradicted the set world view of the decision-makers, then it was discounted or never saw the light of day. President Bush, with absolute surety, seemed taken aback when the occasional piece of real information permeated the protective bubble around him.

This brings me (finally) to what is sticking in my craw about President Bush; namely this singular lack of curiosity about the world. I think it is instructive that in his pre-political life, Bush never traveled (summering in Kennebuckport doesn’t count). I find this odd. With family money and connections, he was positioned to be as informed and experienced in the world as anyone could be. Yet, he doesn’t seem to have availed himself of this opportunity. Bush is certainly comfortable in his own skin, self-assured in his worldview. This can be a good thing: backbone and resolve are needed in a time of crisis. But we also need intelligence and perception.

So what is the solution? There is none, of course. I’m reminded of a line from one of my favorite movies, “Situation hopeless, but not serious.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Surely a country which has produced Jaroslav Pelikan or George Weigel can find within its population a person who is more astute than the current president.
I suppose the problem is the party apparatus selecting candidates immediately filters out people who cannot speak in sound-bytes.
Not to mention the conspiracy of class, or rather, filtering out those who don't have the capital to become members of Skull & Bones.