Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Gulf War 2010

Everywhere I go these days I see a gulf opening up among my fellow citizens.

I struggle to understand the gulf that our political landscape has become. When there's all gulf and no shoreline, there isn't much left. I believe government is "us", all of us, unless we abdicate our role in government and leave it to only the few and the powerful who fill the vacuum that we leave.
I believe government is not the only tool for carrying out vital functions that a safe, orderly and good society needs.
But there are important areas where it is really the only tool, and that is precisely why we as a civil society have contracted with one another to have a government at all. Ronald Reagan became president largely on an anti-government platform and sanctioned much of the extreme terminology widely used today without much understanding.

Karl Rove, of course, articulated a kind of scorched-earth, single-party rule obtained by creating fear and distrust and using nearly any means possible to discredit and defame and divide those outside the circle of ideological purity. Rove's assassination of John McCain's character in the 2000 South Carolina primary led to the ascendancy of George W. Bush in the race for the GOP nomination.
Now whether Bush or McCain would have been the better nominee or president in 2000 is not the issue. Rove's tactics should have led to a full-scale repudiation by the entire party, the entire nation. It did not happen. Instead, Rove got the job of puppeteer-in-chief in the White House.

Rove may be gone from the White House, but he continues to work behind the scenes as he always did; and his legacy is broadening. Privateers such as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly found out how to profit wildly from this self-destructive (to the country) brand of loathing-by-definition. It is important to remember that these folks are primarily interested in self-promotion and financial gain. It is not thoughtful, reflective journalism.

Their entire business model collapses when there is consensus. They are not programmed to lead us consensus but instead to conflict and contempt. The more, the better; but our country is not the better for it. Their foothold should vanish for lack of an audience, not because we had further tuned out but because we had all risen to something far above it.

Meanwhile, one of the most important tools we have ever had for doing things and doing good falls farther into disrepair and distrust. I'm not sure how much we can recover from this, especially as America faces its fiscal holes, diminished world power and a diminished value-added economy. For most of our nation's history, we have approached the world from a position of abundance and prospects of limitless growth, believing that we were the exception and would always be so. When that falls apart, as I believe it is doing before our eyes, I'm not sure where the retrenchment will finally come to rest.
That concerns me. I believe that we are not at all immune or exempt from the forces and the responses that led to the rise of Nazi Germany. I'm sure that if anyone had told educated Germans in 1914 what they would become 20 and 30 years later they would have screamed "Niemals!"--not ever! But after 1945 in a number of tragic sites in Europe, death camps were turned into museums of contemporary history. At the exits to all of them, memorial plaques in cast bronze have had to transform "Niemals" into "Nie wieder", never again.
Never again--until the next time.

My wife and I both said in 2008 that anyone running for president would have to be crazy to want the job and to believe that they could do it. What sane person would want to try these days? I believe Obama has done a rather mediocre job and has made many mistakes. We have always feared for his life as President. Perhaps being seen as weak and vulnerable by radical opponents is the only thing keeping him alive today. Had he been stronger, would he have survived a year? Those are deeply repugnant thoughts about a country and a people I love, but I can't escape them. I have eyes and ears.

But here's a thought I also have: most worship services that I attend offer no petitions and prayers on behalf of our president and other leaders. Some offer what seem like canned perfunctory prayers "for kings and all that are in authority", etc. I haven't experienced any that seem to have real heart behind them. We had special prayer times after 9/11 in most churches. Some had special prayer services after Hurrican Katrina.
When was the last one you saw on the schedule specifically to pray for our leaders, the wars, health care, our fellow citizens?
Funny. The homeless people I worship with always want to pray for the President and out soldiers.
As the Brits might say, "There's a bit of headroom there," meaning there are miles of room for improvement. Years ago in Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain titled a chapter "You Can't Pray A Lie".


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