Friday, October 17, 2003

It's Complicated

The girls and boys at CNN et al would like us to think the everything is simple, and can be summed up in a clever sound byte.  We know that's not true and older I get the more I understand that most things are actually complex.  That doesn't mean we don't have points of view.  Our core beliefs and opinions are not expressed in shades of gray.  But there is gray around the edges, and if we want to be really honest with ourselves we shouldn't either avoid or deny them.

I opposed the Iraq war.  It was the wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place and, worst of all, like others I sensed it was based on half truths.  Increasingly, it's becoming clear that the latter was an understatement.  Lies are probably a better description.  I have not changed my mind about it and hope, perhaps somewhat naively, that we will be able to extricate ourselves more or less in one piece.  I hope we'll be able recapture our moral center and the respect of the world.  That's why I'll do everything possible to get George Bush and his gang who hijacked our precious democracy out of Washington.

That said, we are in Iraq and whatever is physically broken at this point is our doing.  You can't espouse a moral center and not take responsibility even if others took actions in your name without your consent.  That is doubly true if they had your consent.  Whether or not we should have gone into Iraq is our problem and what we did there is our problem as well.  The idea that Iraqi's should now be punished economically when we rebuild what we broke is not only ridiculous it is dishonorable.  It pains me to see some Democrats in Congress who should have known better than to support this war in any fashion a year ago tying to recoup their reputations and lack of judgment by penalizing the Iraqis who have suffered so much at our hands.  The loan idea is silly on the face of it.  Let's say, for example, that we got hold of Osama and asked that he pay for the damage at the World Trade Center.  Of course, this is an apples and oranges comparison, but humor me, how would we feel if he said OK, but it's a loan that you'll have to pay back from any money made there?  Bush should be held accountable for how the money is spent (including which of his near and dear get contracts to do work).  His feet should be held to the fire for a plan, but all of that is our problem.  Let's not lay on the Iraqis whose "liberation" has hardly been a bed of roses. 

We are in Iraq.  We should get out as soon as possible, but we better help them fix it before we do.  Let's not repeat the mistakes we've made in the past, especially in places whose culture and beliefs are not the same as our own.  There are enough legitimate ways to challenge George W. Bush.  This is not one of them.  Gray around the edges.  Complicated not simple, and a price we'll have to pay.

Friday, October 10, 2003


A raw vote plurality and the questionable intervention of the robed gang of five notwithstanding, Al Gore lost the 2000 election.  That was clear to anyone who watched his dismal campaign.  A wooden candidate evoking the pretense of synthetic dynamism and running against, rather than on, an obviously powerful message.  Gore lost.  So, too, with Gray Davis, only in spades.  The stiff Davis didn't even attempt the pretence and, in any event, couldn't have pulled it off against a cinematic, not to mention media, super hero.  Gore lost, Davis lost as did Bob Dole and Papa Bush in elections past.

What is the lesson here?  Elections are lost, perhaps as often as they are won.  Perhaps more often.  To win, one has to win.  That means, if not electrifying the public, then at least eliciting a spark.  Listening to Bush & Company pontificating this past week to selected friendly audiences, sanctimoniously repeating the now discredited "truths" that were used to sell our preemptive interventionism, I was struck by how much ammunition they are providing for the inevitable foreign policy debate of 2004.  This and a still lackluster jobless recovery with ballooning deficits (and the resulting ballooning interest rates that will certainly follow) provide powerful arguments for the opposition.  But in the end, someone, whether it be Howard Dean, Wes Clark or John Kerry, will have to win.  That's the rub.

Everyone is trying to find the message in California.  Democratic optimists see it as a sign of powerful dissatisfaction that will ultimately and naturally translate into a Bush defeat.  My good friend Clifford Kulwin in a Friday night sermon reminded us that when people are energized by a substantive cause, they can be driven to the polls in numbers that Americans rarely see.  Republicans have taken heart that the heretofore solidly Democratic stronghold of California went 60% for their party's people.  All true, all valid.  There is deep dissatisfaction, it can lead to unprecedented turnout and party loyalty is not what it used to be.  But, in the end, it may be much simpler.  Gray Davis lost.

I think the recall set a terrible precedent in a country where politicians already are constantly looking over their shoulders or at polls before making decisions.  Jack Kennedy would have difficulty finding the courageous to profile in these times.  Then again, I wouldn't over read the precedent.  After all, we're talking about California where politics is always a little off the national norm – lot's of propositions, ultra conservatives and ultra liberals.  It's hard to keep tabs and difficult to make predictions about what might come next, much less consider what happens out there predictive. 

So I would suggest that those who will ultimately emerge from the nine, and especially he who ultimately emerges as the One, focus on a single truth.  Elections are won or lost.  Without discounting the role of the voter, it is the runner who has to win the race.  Al Gore and Gray Davis lost.  The country can't afford another such capitulation.