Saturday, October 30, 2004

After the Vote – Now What?

The campaign is drawing to a close and I truly don't know what the outcome will be when we go to the polls on Tuesday.  Is it too close to call, or have a majority of Americans decided on change or continuation?  Needless to say, in casting my ballot for John Kerry, I'll be hoping for change, even yearning for it.  However, in a way what really concerns me now is exactly the same thing that troubled me on March 9, 2003 when I wrote a blog about the Iraq war entitled "After".  Millions of words have been spoken during this campaign, but what happens after?  The conventional questions are how many of those promises will be kept and how will governing differ from campaigning?  These remain valid, but my real concern is about something totally different.

We're told time and again that the nation is deeply divided.  Being skeptical about oft repeated truisms, I am prone to suspect such pronouncements.  Sadly, I find it difficult to refute them.  I was struck in this morning's Times Book Review by the title of Ann Coulter's most recent book, "How to Talk to Liberal (If you Must).  Of course, Ms. Coulter is part of that slick group, both Conservative and Liberal, who engage in Crossfire Speak focused as much on provocative rhetoric and entertainment as expressing a coherent point of view.  Nevertheless, the troubling fact is that our national discourse has been poisoned in such a way that most of us old enough to have lived through many of the 20th Century's ups and downs have never before experienced.  This is not to suggest that there weren't times when people didn't speak past each other, but the arguments never got quite as personal.  Also in the Times was the photo of a couple sitting angrily side by side in bed, his wall decorated with Kerry posters, hers with Bush's.  They are staring straight ahead, certainly not talking to one another and that tells it all.

Leaving aside where one stands on the various foreign policy and social issues that hang in the balance as we move toward Election Day, I think all of us should mourn the tragic fact that George W. Bush's single greatest failure may have been not delivering on his promise to bring the nation together -- "a uniter, not a divider".  He made it during a campaign that also was conducted against the backdrop of division, but incredibly what we thought of as polarization four years ago pales in comparison to what we experience today.  What's even more damning is that the President squandered a historic opportunity of binding the wounds of division immediately after 9/11, something that in the long run may have caused even greater damage to the nation than the horrendous events of that day.

I am a Liberal.  I believe in a government that supplies a safety net to those in need, that treats the citizenry with equality, that doesn't impose one ideology over another, that affords us the right to manage our lives and control our bodies and that really goes to war only as a last resort.  Other's believe differently, sometimes diametrically so.  I am convinced of my beliefs, they are convinced as well.  Why can we no longer talk about those differences, defend our beliefs, without acrimonious character assassination?  Ann Coulter doesn't want to talk to me, and I really don't want to talk to her.  That's where we are, and nothing good can come of it.

The campaigns are coming to an end.  I'm glad.  I can't stand listening to another of the same speeches or hearing the predictable scripted spin from each side's spokes folk.  I've given up on hearing about all those unspoken issues and most assuredly won't be burdened with anything thoughtful in the next two days.  I hope John Kerry is our next President.  If he is, then in addition to bringing together his new cabinet, I hope he spends some time, and political capital, in bringing us back together.  I hope George Bush is defeated, and that his loss is decisive.  If he loses, historians may look back to 9/12 and the opportunities cast aside.  If he wins, and despite all the evidence of his ability to do so, I hope he too will look at bringing us together.  The campaign is over.  Now what?

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

God Troubles

This isn't a good time for God.  Listening to those who claim to talk or act upon God's behalf, and who have collectively brought more havoc than solace into our lives, one has to wonder what's in it for all of us.  Let's just mention a few of the wonderful things wrought by Divine direction.  Suicide bombers are being sent into the world and killing more innocents than combatants.  God imbued settlers are occupying the land of their neighbors on the West Bank and in Gaza.  Medieval Crusade-like conflicts are threatening human survival in a nuclear age.  The Catholic Church covered up horrendous sex abuse perpetrated by men of God.  The Anglican Church is outraged that an openly gay priest was elevated to Bishop and now, after denouncing homosexuality as a sin, has essentially adopted a don't ask don't tell position on the subject.  Science, arguably the essential of human survival, is being dragged back into the ideological constraints of the Middle Ages by people who seriously are still fighting Darwin.  We are being taken into war because God wants us to be there.  Well if that's what God is all about, I want no part of Her.

Religion is in deep crisis, not spiritual revival.  It has become, or more accurately reemerged, as a tool of political necessity and agendas.  God has been hijacked and used to justify the imposition of one point of view over another.  Our diverse pluralistic society which was founded on tolerance and a clear separation of Church and State is in danger of being subsumed into broad scale theocratic governance.  We're returning to the world of "some of my best friends" where neighbors of a different point of view or belief system pay lip service to tolerance but move aggressively forward with an agenda of submission.  All this in the name of God.

I don't know for sure if there is a God.  I live under the assumption that there is.  I don't know if there is a God, but I sure know that God doesn't whisper into my ear.  In fact, we all used to think that such a notion fell into the kook category, the hearing of voices by the unbalanced.  I still think that's true, but the bother is that the kooks have truly taken hold of the asylum.  God's whispers are scary.

Perhaps worst of all, moderate voices are, for all practical purposes, silent.  Anti-God talk, which is what any challenge is labeled, is an untouchable hot potato.  Moreover, they are frightened, consciously or unconsciously concerned for their personal safety.  You don't have to be paranoiac to be scared of people who murder doctors at abortion clinics or who blow up children at play.  The threat of governmental power used in the name of security – read that protecting the will of God – may not reflect a current reality, but its there hovering in the air.  Philip Roth's chilling it could happen here metaphoric novel is looking less fanciful by the day.  Moderate voices, especially the voices on the pulpit need to be heard, regardless of the risk.

God's trouble?  Only we can redeem what we all know is God's humanly tarnished reputation.  If we don't have the will or we can't, God help us.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Post-Debate Thoughts

What Dan Rather has appropriately termed the "joint appearances" are now history.  Of course I thought John Kerry won -- no I really do think he won, and big, in the larger sense.  Even those who support George Bush will have to agree that either man is plausible as President.  No Franklin Roosevelt, Jack Kennedy or Abraham Lincoln here, but plausible.  That is a big win for a challenger as Jerry Ford, Jimmy Carter, or George 1st will attest.  Kerry, unlike Terry (Brando), is a contender.  He's seriously in the game and now all he needs is a knockout, even a technical knockout.

What strikes me about the joint appearances, and the campaign at large, is not so much what is being discussed, however superficially, but what is totally absent.  In general both candidates seem to be going the extra mile not to offend or stir controversy.  Yes they will make some statement on a hot topic, but it's always nuanced or "caveated" to death.  Bush can't bring himself to say he's against choice and Kerry can't quite mouth the words Pro-Choice in anything much above a figurative whisper.  That doesn't mean that they don't have real convictions about this, they just want to be careful not to rock a boat that is maneuvering through a very narrow channel.  I for one feel that we are less safe since Bush and company began their Iraq folly, but equally feel that we are far too safe when it comes to confronting real issues in the campaign.

Have you noticed, just to use two examples, that there has been scant discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and no mention at all of Abu Ghraib?  It boggles the mind that we are discussing an exploding Middle East and Moslem-Western culture conflict and not seriously addressing solutions to the unending Holy Land turf war that increasingly threatens world stability, not to mention brings death an destruction to thousands of innocents and both sides.  It isn't mentioned because neither side wants to offend the American Jewish Community – my community – which they assume to be single minded on the subject.  I hear Jews saying they are voting for Bush because he so strongly supports Israel and it astounds me.  Speak about the big lie.  Bill Clinton spent inordinate time and personal capital on seriously seeking a negotiated solution that would ultimately safeguard a Jewish State and bring about a legitimate Palestinian homeland.  In the end his time ran out, but there is no doubt that had the Constitution permitted a third them, the effort would have continued.  George Bush has done nothing except to mouth support for a Palestinian State (with which I agree) and bolster his fellow Rightist Arial Sharon (with which I strongly disagree).  Roadmaps, notwithstanding, there has been no peace process under this Administration.  And, to his discredit, John Kerry has not added much to the discussion or risked telling us how he would get it started again.

With the absence of WMDs, the entire Iraq argument has rested on bringing the wonders of democracy, including one would assume moral decency, to the unwashed multitudes in backward Moslem states.  Thank God for America.  Abu Ghraib, more than anything else has sullied those high purpose platitudes, calling into question why democratic states are any different or better than the combination of dictatorships and monarchies in place.  The fact that not a single senior official has paid in any way for this monstrous breakdown in stewardship is shocking and a serious threat to our moral fiber and national reputation.  The fact that abuses have also taken place in Afghanistan and, one must now assume in Guantanamo, speaks to an underlying cultural problem that at the very least seems prevalent in our military, but most disturbingly may also reflect something more wide spread.  The truth is that "everything is not fair in love or war," and whoever is in charge of conveying that message seems to lack a moral compass.  That John Kerry has not made something of this very fundamental issue is disturbing and disheartening.

I'll vote for John Kerry and without any doubt that he is the superior of the two.  America will be safer and better off with him in the White House.  I'll feel more sanguine about the social issues from environment to scientific research.  I wish George Bush had been asked an updated version of the Kitty Dukakis question, "what would you do if Laura had suffered spinal damage and there was a cure developed from stem cell research?  Would you  let the doctors cure your beloved wife?"  With Kerry on Pennsylvania Avenue I'll feel better about Constitutional issues, about a daughter's right to control her own body and about Dick Chaney's daughter's right to wed.  I hope everyone will vote for John Kerry, early and often.  He says we can do better.  I agree and perhaps, if we get our heads straightened out during his days in the White House, we will.  I yearn for an FDR somewhere in the future and for a time when more Westsiders will be wearing buttons for rather than against someone during a Presidential campaign.