Today's Note From a Madman
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
LYING KINGS: THE ESSENCE OF THE GREAT POLITICAL DIVISION IN AMERICA TODAY
It’s no secret that, in terms of political ideology, personal morality, perceptions of federal responsibility, and so many other critical issues pertaining to the administration of our government and way of life, Americans are divided like they’ve never been before. While political division is nothing new to a country and democratic system based upon the very concept, it seems that, presently, we Americans have surpassed our customary disdain for fellow countrymen who don’t share political and moral ideology and have graduated to a type of hateful intolerance. How did we get here? What’s happened to us?
The history of our country shows plenty of discord between Americans having different ideas about morality, religion, and how government should govern such a varied, multicultural people. Even before the creation of our Constitution, people wishing to shape the path our country would take were sharply divided concerning the social-political issues we face still today. History testifies to the fact that many people then, as now, loathed their fellow Americans who held drastically different beliefs.
What is unique about the divisive climate today is how pervasive and passionate it is—how it seems to affect everyone, everywhere, segregating Americans into, essentially, two political camps customarily described as “conservative” and “liberal/progressive.” Yet these traditional tags don’t aptly describe the dichotomy prevailing today. While the hostility and division primarily manifest in politics and political ideology, it is only because this conduit is the social outlet most visible to the public eye. After all, more than drafting our laws, maintaining our systems of justice, and regulating economic vitality, our government determines our quality of life. It defines what principles we hold sacred.
Unsurprisingly, Americans focus on the office of the Presidency more than any other political role because it is arguably the most powerful position, not just within our country, but the free world. The President is America’s king. The might of the world’s most lethal military is at his command. He has vast authority to execute new and existing laws, and, indirectly, even create and curtail them. How presidents act, what they choose to do with their authority, and which motivations shape their conduct are, quite naturally, the questions from which stem immeasurable discord and passionate debate within our country. Discussion like this provokes fiery discourse from a population who sees the current political situation in wholly contradictory landscapes.
Many suggest that President Bush (43) ushered in a new political era when elected in 2000—a higher level of bipartisanship and political cacophony, the likes of which have been unprecedented. Few see this division disappearing in the next four years now that Bush has won reelection. This is a president who claimed to be “a uniter, not a divider,” and a “compassionate conservative.” So, while Bush is America’s king, he is also the king of controversy in a deeply divided country.
As mentioned, the customary tags affixed to each side of the political dichotomy in the United States—“conservative Republicans” and “progressive (liberal) Democrats”—hardly describe the extent to which we are divided as a people. Essentially, our nation is split along, more than anything, our ideas and perceptions pertaining to religion, morality, and the role of the federal government pertaining to each. This gives rise to Americans perceiving our nation and its quality of life in starkly different colors these days.
This super-dichotomy dominating American politics as well as the social-moral philosophy of government is aptly demonstrated in the reactions of these opposing groups “when two kings lied” to us during their presidencies. Our reactions, as a divided nation, to the very different types of untruths told to us by Presidents Clinton and Bush capture the very essence of what’s really eating us about each other—why we sometimes hate our fellow Americans.
When most of us voted for either John Kerry or George Bush last November, it was because they are the representatives of our respective political parties, but, more importantly, because they are symbols. They’re the objects of a new diametrically-opposed, moral-political fracture drawing Americans to one view of political morality or the other. The public reactions to these presidents provide perspective why Americans diverge so dramatically in political views having more to do with moral relativity and social-religious dogma than with politics and the role government should play in the lives of Americans.
THE GOLDEN KING: BILL CLINTON
You might remember a time before this present darkness, an age before the whole world went irreversibly mad. There was a time when phrases like “weapons of mass destruction,” “smoking gun,” “axis of evil,” “global war on terrorism,” “military preemption,” and so many others didn’t pervade the American political lexicon. In a world that has moved on, that has “changed” in the wake of the September 11th attacks, the golden age of the 1990’s is only a distant ship’s smoke on the tumultuous horizon of the present. But it was an era of prosperity and multifaceted national success unequalled in the annals of human history. You might remember those happier times, those roaring nineties, when President Bill Clinton was America’s Golden king.
The historic accomplishments of that era and presidency are too numerous to list here. Whether you love him or hate him, nobody can deny that Clinton presided over one of the most peaceful, productive, and prosperous decades in American memory when he took office in 1992. His presidency will be remembered for more than its significant victories, though. Perhaps, more than anything, President Clinton, the Golden king, will be remembered for the lie he told about a personal relationship. Specifically, we all remember President Clinton testified, under oath, that he “did not have sexual relations with [Monica Lewinsky].” This, of course, turned out to be untrue.
The details of that affair were mercilessly fleshed out and exposed by an independent investigation initiated by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives seemingly famished for the sexual minutiae of the relationship. The moralist/conservatives among our people reacted to the scandalwith contempt and outrage. We remember how the House drafted articles of impeachment against the president, articulating that his lie, told under oath, and about a personal and embarrassing relationship, met the threshold of “high crimes and misdemeanors” under Article II of the Constitution.
Those people, more than just “Republican,” or “conservative” formed the core of what is today’s social-religious, morality-centered conservative ideal. These were the progenitors of today’s particular brand of “neo-conservatives,” and “compassionate conservatives.” Essentially, these people had (and still have) very concrete notions of morality to which they feel all Americans should adhere. In their view, government is a vehicle by which to realize their moral vision for an ever-degenerating America. They feel our country’s gradual departure from traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and conservative social morals will ultimately lead us into hedonism and chaos. They, therefore, view the apparatus of government as a necessary and effective tool with which to reign in an unwilling nation.
It’s no surprise then, that when President Clinton lied about his sexual encounter with Ms. Lewinsky, this group refused to place the lie into national context or evaluate its relative importance. Clinton’s lie, after all, was of the most intimate nature because the truth could easily cost him the relationship he shared with his wife and daughter. Clinton didn’t want his family to know the specific sexual details of the ordeal for which so many of America’s “religious” and “moral” leaders were grasping. Though this doesn’t excuse President Clinton of his deceit, very few husbands and fathers would be so inclined to tell the truth to the whole world at so great a personal cost.
Yet, the conservative moralists of the time insisted that the “job” of being President entailed adopting the highest moral standards pertaining to personal (sexual) conduct in executing the office of the Presidency. Their view is that President Clinton failed in both capacities by engaging in the affair, and more importantly, lying under oath in denying it. Conservatives believed that being President is to embrace the highest standards of both on a professional and personal level. Consequently, when Clinton had the affair then had the audacity to lie about it, conservative lawmakers and religious leaders expended millions of taxpayer dollars and inestimable resources to expose his lie and press for his impeachment.
Americans in this camp felt President Clinton’s many considerable policy achievements and national successes were insignificant in light of his perjury. To so many, he was an unprincipled caricature of a leader—a man who eschewed propriety for lust. Such was the disdain for him among America’s social-moral conservatives.
The people constituting the other “side” of America concerning Clinton’s lie formed the core of today’s liberal-progressive intellectual ideal. They are the progenitors of today’s “liberals” and “social-progressives.” Americans of this persuasion regarded Clinton’s perjury in a wholly different light. Their view was that the President is also a fallible person who, like everyone, is prone to mistakes, bad judgment, and shakable principles. They believed performing the job should not entail exposing the most private details of one’s personal life to the public—or even adopting a moral standard of the type even many religious Americans fail to meet. These people believed President Clinton should have been given the same deference extended to so many other presidents. Liberals and Democrats argued that, if the type of intrusive investigation made of Clinton was made of previous presidents, far more malignant activities might have been uncovered.
Liberal/Progressive Intellectuals placed (and still place) greater importance on the process of reason and social context in political analysis than blanket one-fits-all concepts of moral conduct. His perjury, then, to so many, while not excusable, was understandable given the nature and context of Clinton’s lie. He didn’t lie to affect government generally in some way, or to secure personal gain, financial or otherwise. He did not tell the type of lie that might affect millions of Americans or the world at large in instituting military aggression. He didn’t even lie about his taxes. In the end, the president much hated and maligned for his perjury, lied the way so many husbands and fathers lie—in the attempt to hide an ill-advised sexual encounter during a chance affair.
To his progressive supporters, Clinton’s gifts to our country during the golden era of his presidency far outweighed his deceit about a personal affair.
Thus these two competing political ideals during Clinton’s presidency was the genesis of today’s contempt. That division in America, which was more about types of people than the politics representing them, has become larger. The political labels have become sharper. In short, the late 1990’s paved the way for the type of heated discord alive in America today.
THE WAR KING: PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH
Which brings us to President Bush, the War King. We might have known that controversy and discord would follow Bush all the days of his tenure by the debacle of the 2000 election. He lost the popular vote to an uninspiring Al Gore who failed to connect with much of the public during his campaign. The electoral vote, we remember, was far too close to determine and, but for a 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in January of that year, President Bush might never have become president at all.
The 911 Commission concluded its investigation of the worst terrorist attack in American history last summer citing numerous failures by various federal agencies charged with keeping us safe. Despite evidence that 18 of the 19 hijackers perpetrating the 911 attacks were Saudi Arabian nationals and that Iraq played no part, President Bush chose to wage a preemptive war against Iraq claiming that the country was a “hotbed for terrorist activity.”
The administration’s zeal, almost inexplicable lust even, to pursue Saddam Hussein and regime change in Iraq at all costs provided the opportunity for the President and his administration to engage in a protracted pattern of deceit, effectively steering the United States toward a costly, bloody, and unpredictable war.
If you had to nail Bush down to a single lie, however, you would point to his notorious assertion in the State of the Union Address that Saddam Hussein was attempting to obtain “yellow-cake plutonium (depleted)” from Africa in a bid to “reconstitute his nuclear weapons program.” More than just an inaccurate statement based on ridiculously forged documents that made their way, unbelievably, past CIA, FBI, and Cabinet scrutiny into the most important address of the year, this assertion lent immediacy, a sense of urgency to the President’s case for invading Iraq. As with President Clinton’s situation, our nation is deeply divided regarding Bush’s lie. However, this time we are far less tolerant of each other, far more likely to regress to naked hate for the opposition as evidenced by the sensational commentary of so many public media figures.
Social-religious conservatives and other moralists, for the most part, aren’t even prepared to admit the President’s statement, taken alone or in conjunction with the many other statements his administration made in its case to invade Iraq, was, in fact, a lie at all. The explanations range from Bush not having accurate intelligence when he made the statement (therefore, he didn’t know it was incorrect), to technically the statement was correct because it only quoted British Intelligence as confirming the claim, to it doesn’t matter whether the statement was true or not, Saddam was a “bad guy” and the President wanted to remove him and was right to do so.
It does matter, though, and Bush’s statement, especially taken in conjunction with so many other incorrect or misleading claims of the administration pressing for war, is patently untruthful. Congressional hearings recently revealed that the CIA, in fact, warned President Bush that the statement was probably not true and that it shouldn’t be used in the SOU address. Ultimately, President Bush, not his advisers, speechwriters, or cabinet members, he alone, should be responsible for his own words, his own assertions. For a president championing “conservative” values such as truth, morality, and responsibility in governance, their application to his own false statement seems remarkably elusive for him.
Yet, the social-religious “conservatives” and other moralists excuse the President’s lie and larger deception on the basis, first, that none of these statements were meant to deceive—that, in effect, all were made in good faith and on the basis of faulty intelligence. More importantly, though, this camp believes that President Bush is essentially a good, moral man who is waging a war against, more than terrorism, evil itself. They view the world in moralistic simplicity: essentially, we are good, they are bad, and President Bush should do whatever it takes to win the war on terror and keep our country safe. Further, people in this social-religious “conservative” camp consider it completely irrelevant whether Bush accurately characterized the threat Iraq posed. It would be sufficient justification for war if only the President felt “the world was better off” without Saddam Hussein’s government. Since Bush is fighting a war against evil, in their estimation, as much as a war against terror, he was right to depose one of the world’s most evil and despicable leaders. Basically, the greater good of a post Hussein Iraq stemming from the murky events and claims leading up to the war outweigh all other concerns and attempts at intelligible justification.
Conservatives believe our nation, our way of life, and especially our traditional moral and religious values reign supreme over all nations. They view themselves especially as the conservative guardians of this select morality. Many are and, traditionally, have been “fundamentalist” Christians or engaged in other forms of Christianity, although not all. More than any other characteristic, the people in this group share an unshakable faith in their president and his vision of what is “good” and right in the defense of our nation against the forces of “evil.” Accordingly, they quickly dismiss all attempts at serious scrutiny into President Bush’s intentions, statements, and actions—they presuppose his benevolence because he is, in a sense, “one of them.”
Progressive Liberals see Bush’s SOU statement and so many others made by his administration as a purposeful, malevolent attempt to frighten and deceive our nation into invading Iraq for reasons having nothing to do with fighting terrorism. They marvel at the simplicity and naivety of social-conservatives concerning this important issue. In keeping with their intellectual tradition, people in this camp pay little attention to sensational notions of “good vs. evil” with regard to the issue and carefully scrutinize the facts leading up to the Iraq war and subsequent occupation.
Liberals and other progressive groups feel that, unlike President Clinton’s lie which was about a deeply intimate situation not affecting our country generally, Bush’s lie and pattern of deception directly affected our nation and the world at large. This is attested to by the nearly two thousand American soldiers, and estimated 100,000 innocent Iraqis who’ve died as a result of the war and occupation there. The social-progressive/liberal block feels that, if ever there was a presidential lie that should invoke impeachment considerations, this was the lie, and Bush is the president. These people consider the vast quantity of crude oil from the region as the real motivation behind the war. Interestingly enough, after Iraq fell, American troops were ordered to secure crude oil targets as prime objectives even while chaos, looting, and lawlessness prevailed throughout the land. To Democrats and progressives, President Bush, the War King, told an unforgettable lie to justify war.
-Jason N. Kamalie
Go to College, When You Can be Cannon Fodder?:
Do You Know What Your Kids Are Watching on "Educational" TV at School?
I learned something new yesterday. Channel One News, the "educational" TV show that my daughter Isa and millions of other American kids watch every morning at school, is busy recruiting our teenagers into the military.
"Mom, they're really aiming at the black kids, and the Hispanic kids too. I'm so sick of seeing those military ads everyday. "The Power of One", and all that lots of my friends are falling for it!"
This is especially upsetting to Isa because several of her black friends, 18, 19 and 20 years old, have been shipped to Iraq. Some were promised they wouldn't have to be in combat, but would be doing "mechanical work", "communications", or "wiring".
It seems doubtful that, when push comes to shove, kids who've been promised such jobs will be allowed to avoid combat. One of her friends has already been shot "in an embarrassing place"; he's being treated overseas instead of the US so that he can be sent quickly back into combat in Iraq. Mr. Bush's military needs warm bodies, able or not.
I stopped the car and asked, "Wait a minute. What do you mean when you say you're 'seeing those military ads every day'?"
"We have to watch this short thing every morning in homeroom called 'Channel One News'," Isa explained with a weary tone. "It's educational, supposedly. You know, the day's news, so we'll be up on current events. But in between the stories, there are more and more ads for the Army and the Marines."
I thought about "No Child Left Behind" and the malignant purpose behind that sweet-sounding act that Mr. Bush and his men (and at least one journalist paid $250,000 by the White House) have continuously promoted to trusting parents across the US. After catching my breath I asked, "Are you saying you're being recruited through the TV you watch during homeroom?" She nodded. I asked again, "What do your teachers think about this? What about Mr. Hitchens (not his real name), who told you privately that he's antiwar? Doesn't he say anything against it?"
Persuaded Away from College, Towards the Military
"No, I think the teachers and the kids are so used to it at my school that they don't even notice anymore. I mean, the other day I was walking to Sociology class and heard the ROTC instructor telling the kids, "Okay, this is how you hold your M-16". The whole culture of the school is military these days, so nobody notices anything unusual about this. And I think the few teachers who aren't prowar or proBush are afraid to get in trouble if they say anything that doesn't sound pro-military."
As noted in my recent articles on military recruitment and the coming draft, for two years my daughter and I have been fighting the aggressive and often sneaky efforts of military recruiters to sign her up. Certainly they don't want her for her physical prowess-she weighs 98 pounds-so I can only assume they want her for other reasons. Either they've seen her high verbal scores, or they just want young bodies--even a tiny one--to serve as cannon fodder.
With a military recruiter present every day in the cafeteria, military "speakers" visiting classrooms, and huge recruiting posters in the guidance office, perhaps it's not surprising that teachers and even guidance counselors have been influenced by the constant hum of "enlist, enlist, enlist". Students at Isa's school are told that, yes, they could consider college, but that it's "very expensive" and "may not guarantee you a job", while the military "will pay for college" and "practically guarantees you'll have a great career". Oh, and "a big cash bonus right now if you sign up today!"
Joining the military is presented as the one and only path of honor, heroism, and service to one's country. Many students, not surprisingly, want to be heroes or get out of poverty, so they're signing up in droves. College recruiting is a rarity at this school, and at her previous school, as well. Ah, but military recruiters are constantly lurking around, spending quality time with fatherless boys, handing out materials, giving "aptitude tests" (played down as "just helping you figure out what you're really good at"), handing out Marine bumper stickers, and otherwise making their smartly-uniformed presence known.
"It's just everywhere", Isa continued. "Here's an example: In gym we don't exercise or play sports like we used to do-now we "sound off", just like in the military, while running and doing jumping jacks, push-ups, and pull-ups. The freshmen are told to shout, "one, two!", then the sophomores are supposed to answer, "three, four!", and then the whole group of us has to say "Sound off!" I mean it's ridiculous Mom! How are you supposed to exercise while you're shouting at the top of your lungs?"
As I started driving again, I took a moment to reflect on this "military culture" that's replacing the educational culture in America's public schools. Surely Channel One News, which parents and educators have criticized from the start as nothing more than a way to let corporations advertise their products directly to kids without their parents' knowledge, wouldn't go so far as to market the military to children as a (better, more heroic, more exciting) alternative to college? Surely they wouldn't override Mom and Dad by sneakily recruiting through "educational" TV at school? Would they? Could they?
-Dr. TERESA WHITEHURST
rise in oil prices "has not notably fed through to core consumer prices."
-the Federal Reserve, after oil prices have recently climbed to more than $57 a barrel
Really now. I guess Federal bank workers don't have to buy their own gas these days, because when i go to the pumps, it costs me anywhere fro 10c to 15c per gallon more.
When did the Federal Reserve get their own filling stations? Or are they just taking limos everywhere on the US taxpayers' dollar?
Get out of the tub, Mr. Greenspan. You're really wet enough.
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