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Archive for May, 2007

We have it on very good authority (George W. himself) that, in this post 9/11 world, it is imperative to strike the first blow when we have the slightest notion someone–anyone–out there means to hurt us. Any perceived enemy is fair game; no hard evidence of imminent danger necessary. W. goes with his gut. His primary job, he declares with John Wayne sincerity, is to protect us from harm. What a fair and sensitive guy he is. Or not. Insiders say he’s got a petty mean streak a mile wide. And he smirks when he punches below the belt.

The sitting president plays host, every election cycle, to newly elected legislators. Everyone’s invited to the White House to meet and greet the Commander Guy. They all make nice–even though they’ve said some pretty awful things about each other during campaign season. The 2006 shindig was a doozey.

Senator-elect Jim Webb (D-VA) was there. He’s the ex-marine who beat Bush-buddy/wannabe George “Macaca” Allen in a tight race. Senator Webb was no supporter of Dubyah’s Iraq War and, unlike the Prez, Webb actually had a son serving his country in Iraq. He chose to avoid Bush during the White House reception. Not a bad idea when you’re no fan. It beats hissing at him. Or tossing your cookies.

But old Dubyah was having none of that. He made a beeline for Jim Webb. Here’s how it went:

Bush (smirking): “How’s your boy?”

Webb (not smirking): “We want them to come home, Mr. President.”

Bush (maybe not smirking): “I didn’t ask you that. I asked how he’s doing.”

Webb (definitely not smirking): “That’s between me and my boy.”

Conservative columnist George Will was utterly appalled. He said Senator-elect Webb was rude to the President of the United States. He said Bush was only being sensitive and Webb was a boor. Foul play.

Well, big whoop. How many parents of servicemen and -women are feeling all warm and fuzzy toward a president who misled their kids into a disaster in the Middle East and is determined to keep them there? Seems to me every family member of everyone serving multiple, extended tours of duty in Iraq has earned the right to say whatever he or she likes. They’ve earned the right–the hard way–to state their own opinions. No matter who it is they’re talking to. Jim Webb should have been praised for his self-control. He could have balled up one powerful, ex-military fist and made a pre-emptive strike of his own; to defend himself against both Dubyah’s invading his personal space and his Commander Guy “sensitivity.” Fair play and all.

War Games. That’s what it’s all about. It’s just fine to play the War Game when the “pieces”–the toy soldiers–belong to somebody else. When the same group of military families bears all the burden of The Game while the rest of America shops-for-freedom and complains about the cost of a gallon of gasoline.

There’s an answer for that. Look to games to define the rules of fair play for games. We need a draft again. Not the old one. Nothing like it. The old Selective Service was just that: Selective. There were easy deferments for those who could afford to stay in college. Lots of Vietnam era privileged guys got a sudden yen for graduate degrees. And you could avoid the draft altogether–like Dubyah, like Dan Quayle–if your daddy had power or influence. He just saw to it that you got bumped ahead of every other guy on the National Guard waiting list. Or he got you into graduate school even when your academic record put you so low on the list of applicants you left skid marks. Nope. Can’t have that. We’re going to play fair this time no matter whose keester winds up in a sling.

Let’s do a shiny new draft. Let’s do it like, say, the NBA. Like basketball. You know–first round draft picks, second round, third round and so on. No deferments. None. Here’s how it goes:

First round: The kids, the nieces, nephews and grandchildren of every member of the Executive Branch of government. The president and the vice president are the very first to see their families’ kids off to war.

Second round: Kids from Legislative Branch families. Every last one.

Third round: Department of Defense kids; the kids of war-mongering think tank policy makers.

Fourth round: Hit up big business. Defense contractors, oil company execs…take your pick.

If you love the notion of a war, if you stand to make a profit from it, your kids are fair game. They’re gone.

It’ll work. I’m absolutely sure of it. There won’t be another Vietnam or Iraq in our future–not with the sons and daughters of the powerful at risk first. You can bet we’ll see some serious talking going on; a veritable renaissance of diplomacy and intelligent, compassionate discourse in solving problems worldwide. No more dishonest, for-profit, pre-emptive rush to war. Ever again.

The cost of such a war, our leaders will tell us then, is just too damn high.

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Nothing moves me more than the story of this country.  

It is the story of liberty, of freedom, of the rights of man. It is the story defined by a long line of underdog rebels, stretching from the Boston Tea Party to the Underground Railroad to the Freedom Riders. In all of these accounts, we find people who contributed in their own times to the idea that all men are created equal. This is the American tradition, the best and truest expression of our national character. No other national history is so typified by a sense of basic decency. It is about what is good, what is right, and what is true.  

Yet, even in light of my honest passion for our country’s story, I also acknowledge to a certain extent that each chapter in our history inspires a certain competition between feelings of pride and outrage. While we are the nation of the Emancipation Proclamation, Manifest Destiny, and D-Day, we are also the nation of the Peculiar Institution, the Trail of Tears, and internment camps. It seems that often the greatest testaments to the American spirit seem to exist alongside the very things that by definition contradict our founding principles and national purpose. 

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the roles of pride and outrage as part of the American identity. And to be even more specific, I’ve been thinking about my own senses of pride and outrage as an American. While I have known and continue to feel tremendous pride for my country, and always will, over the past four years I have grown increasingly frustrated with the direction of our country. I think of the long arc of our national story, with all of its black spots and moments of triumph, and I wonder how exactly the America of today aligns with that tradition. And I wonder how the chapter we are living through now will ultimately honor the history of this country that I cherish so much.  

I remember the words of George W. Bush when he campaigned for president in 2000: “If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll [other nations] resent us. If we’re a humble nation, but strong, they’ll welcome us. Our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power, and that’s why we have to be humble. And yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom. So I don’t think they ought to look at us in any way other than what we are. We’re a freedom-loving nation and if we’re an arrogant nation they’ll view us that way, but if we’re a humble nation they’ll respect us.” Even now, when I read his words they seem good, right, and true. It honestly breaks my heart to have seen President Bush veer so dangerously far from his campaign positions seven years ago.  

The fact is that the Bush administration has been an ever-escalating series of mistakes, abuses, and embarrassments.  

Abu Ghraib. Valerie Plame. Domestic wire-tapping. Suspension of Habeas Corpus. Guantanamo Bay. Hurricane Katrina. Scooter Libby. The nomination of Harriet Meyers. The resignation of Donald Rumsfeld. The recent resignation of Paul Wolfowitz. The firing of U.S. Attorneys. The testimony of Alberto Gonzalez. 3422 American soldiers killed. Mission Accomplished.  

These are the defining moments of the Bush Era. These are the snapshots of America today. This is the foundation on which we are building our future in this country. And not only do I think these things are not good, not right, not true; I believe they are disgraceful, offensive, and immoral. These things, by definition, contradict our founding principles and national purpose. 

And I am left outraged. These things deprive me of my national pride. 

I desperately want a way to channel that outrage into optimism. I want to honor that long history of underdog rebels who have defended the rights of man. I want to believe that this current chapter in our national story can yet inspire a sense of pride.  

It is in that frame of mind that I respond with such enthusiasm over Barack Obama. When he says “This President may occupy the White House, but for the last six years the position of leader of the free world has remained open” I feel that there is an answer to my outrage. When he says “It is time to show the world that America is still the last, best hope of Earth” I feel proud.  

I feel proud because Obama echoes not only Lincoln’s words, but also his capacity for reason and leadership. Just as Lincoln understood the significance of his times, Obama also understands the magnitude of this moment in our national history. He understands that we as a country will be judged by our response to the crescendo of failure in the Bush years. He understands the demands and the difficulties of such a response. But perhaps most importantly, most inspiringly, he understands what Lincoln did: that by our response “we shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of Earth.”

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Today, the Washington Post compares commencement addresses given by candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Clinton’s speech outlined a proposal for federal involvement in rebuilding New Orleans, while Obama used the opportunity to offer “words of inspiration and hope” and to encourage the new graduates to get involved in the world around them, decrying the “political and media culture that he said prizes the inconsequential at the expense of the important.”

Critics might say this type of speech amounts to nothing more than a pep talk – style as opposed to Clinton’s substance. A few months ago I might have said the same thing. But recently I’ve recognized something about Obama’s efforts to inspire hope – they’re working. His campaign website and conventional news coverage alike are rife with vignettes of the hardworking, everyday American who just a few months ago couldn’t care less about politics, but has now been inspired to give their time or money to a campaign for the first time in their lives. Obama is clearly striking a chord with people, and I’m willing to guess that the reason for this has been the “rhetoric of hope” critics have been so quick to dismiss. (more…)

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It’s over. Too often, for too many women, that’s the best that can be said for Mother’s Day. Some of them need nothing so much on that second Sunday in May as a T-shirt to wear on Monday:

                                           Don’t even ask.

                             I SURVIVED MOTHER’S DAY

I know a few of them. Some of them have grown children who, in an ever more mobile society, live in other states–to far to drop by for a visit. They love their moms but they’re busy with their own lives now, too busy to get a card in the mail. A gift? Maybe next year, “when money’s not so tight and we’ve got more free time.” These women don’t celebrate Mother’s Day. They wonder what they did wrong, get through it the best way they can.

Others I know have a far worse time of it. One, who hung on as best she could to make it through weeks of incessant Mother’s Day commercial hype–and the day itself–with no hope of a card, a hug, from her only child. He died last year, at sixteen.

Another, whose son is in Iraq. She’s not unlike thousands and thousands of other military moms. Except that her son is in the war zone on his fifth deployment and, at 32, he’s the “old man” responsible for all the 18-20 year olds who serve under him. They spend their wartime effort in convoys, moving whatever is needed to wherever it is needed on roads beset by bullets, rocket and mortar fire, IEDs and a burgeoning Iraqi population who see us as the enemy. Her Mother’s Day gift this year? Word that her son’s fifth tour of duty in Iraq is being extended. She survived by praying her son would, wondering if their luck would hold this time. How many “lucky” deployments is one family allowed before tragedy strikes?

Over 3300 American military mothers felt only loss and grief on Mother’s Day.

In 1870 Julia Ward Howe–who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”–penned the original Mother’s Day Proclamation:

“Arise, then, women of this day…Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender to those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own, it says ‘Disarm! Disarm!’ The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.”

Julia Ward Howe meant to establish an International Mother’s Day for Peace.

In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother’s Day should be celebrated as a national holiday on the second Sunday in May. A fine thing.

But somewhere along the way Hallmark and Nordstrom and Wal-Mart and all of corporate America who could see a dime of profit to be made in “Mother’s Day” took over. They’ve made a commercial mockery of what was intended to be a worldwide day of mothers united for peace. They’ve substituted a price tag for a lofty ideal and we’ve allowed it. They’ve placed a bounty on the worth of motherhood and left those who are poor, those whose children are “too busy,” those whose children are caught up in wars and far from home, those whose children will never return, to suffer their losses. To feel less valued than luckier mothers. The trade-off cheapens us all.

“Happy Mother’s Day.” The cruelest words some women ever hear.

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Cross-posted at Future Majority.

Yes, Barack Obama went through his own troubling youth identity-crisis. He has openly admitted he inhaled; he’s been wasted and hung-over more than once in his youth; and he often found himself feeling lost and uncertain about his identity and his ultimate place within the world. But that’s not the youth identity-crisis we’re talking about here. (For the engaging story about this first one, check out Obama’s autobiography Dreams from My Father.)

Barack Obama has another youth identity-crisis taking place today: within his unprecedented youthroots movement. The Obama youth movement is by far largest and most energetic of all the 2000 presidential campaigns. Currently the national student network Students for Barack Obama (SFBO) is the official student wing of the Obama campaign, but as Barack Obama continues to rally young Americans from all sectors of the broad youth demographic with his fresh spirit and generational call-to-action, the question is arising as to how best to integrate this rapidly growing movement into the most effective and efficient structure that can accommodate the broadest number of young Americans—students and non-students, youth activists and young professionals, and the countless other youth and young adults who are ready to change our nation and transform the world.

(more…)

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New Questions of Faith

While Rudolph Giuliani may claim the political tradition of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, I can’t help but notice how much he actually sounds like Bill Clinton and John Kerry.  

Yesterday, in an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, Giuliani channeled Kerry’s signature tediousness and paradox saying, “I’m very, very passionate about abortion and the whole issue of abortion. But it leads me to a conclusion that may be different than some, the same as others, which is I oppose it. That’s a principle I’ve held forever, and I’ll hold it forever. That’s not going to change. But I also believe that in a society like ours, where people have very, very different consciences about this, it’s best for us to respect each other’s differences and allow for choice.”   

Or, in other words: I oppose abortion personally, but I support abortion constitutionally. 

Compare that with Kerry’s response from the second presidential debate in 2004, when he said, “First of all, I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the belief about life and when it begins. I’m a Catholic – raised a Catholic. I was an altar boy. Religion has been a huge part of my life, helped lead me through a war, leads me today. But I can’t take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn’t share that article of faith, whether they be agnostic, atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever. I can’t do that. But I can counsel people, I can talk reasonably about life and about responsibility.” 

Or, in other words: I oppose abortion personally, but I support abortion constitutionally. 

Maybe both Giuliani and Kerry would have been wise to echo Clinton’s comparatively concise take on the subject: “Abortion should not only be safe and legal, it should be rare.” Either way, it’s clear that on the issue of abortion the current front-runner for the 2008 Republican nomination is on the exact same page as a two-term Democratic president and the 2004 Democratic nominee.  

It is no small matter that the current favorite for the Republican nomination happens to support a women’s right to choose. His position is a virtual rejection of the long-established influence of the Religious Right on the Republican agenda and begins to chip away at the keystone of the party by alienating a religious, antiabortionist contingency with a historically significant impact at the polls. It simultaneously marginalizes the voice of the Religious Right and undercuts general assumptions about which candidates and which party people of faith should support on election day.  

For many people, the issue of abortion is oftentimes viewed as a matter of black and white, of good and evil, of right and wrong. More importantly, its profound ability to regularly affect an entire presidential race is such that it often casts the candidates in a similarity dualistic light: one candidate is good and right; the other is evil and wrong. If 2008 does eventually find the two candidates on the same side of the abortion issue for the first time, many voters will have to venture into a new gray area to resolve questions of right and wrong, of good and evil. And to do that, new questions about faith will be required.   (more…)

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We have seen more of Michelle Obama lately: numerous profiles in the media, a direct mail appeal, and coverage of her decision to put her career on hold and campaign for her husband full-time. In all accounts, she is described as a willful, intelligent, and compassionate professional who has enjoyed her own degree of success. In her direct mail letter, she explains her former skepticism about politics and how Barack inspired her to have more faith in national politics. She also relays an anecdote about how she helps keep him “grounded” by not letting him lose sight of the everyday needs of the household.

For a woman who has gone through the struggles of balancing her career and family life, and has been open about the difficulty of the decision to continue her career, the move to campaign full-time for her husband was certainly not easy: (more…)

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