HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

April 30, 2007
From the Editor

John Turner


Last week I watched Bill Moyers's interview of Jon Stewart in which Moyers repeatedly accused Stewart of being a serious political analyst and Steward resolutely denied it. But in the interstices between his denials Steward made the most intelligent comments about our political situation I've heard in a long time. And gradually, the truth of the interview came through to me: if you're an ostensibly serious politician, you can't say serious things about politics. And since Stewart wants to say serious things, he has to remain a comic.

Moyers continued to ask why politicians gauze over everything, why they won't speak honestly, why they adhere religiously to talking points, no matter how irrelevant they are. And Stewart answered that politics is not about speaking sensibly to the people. Rather it's about getting somewhere. Speaking sensibly would be only a barrier on that path.

Government says Stewart counts on the people being busy, so they can't pay close attention to what's going on. Government wants to keep us relatively fearful but not fearful enough to cause us to activate our minds and start looking into things. For politicians, active-minded people would be a disaster.

We saw that last week in the Democratic debate. Over and again there were chances for the candidates to say something incisive. And always, they backed off. When, for example, Brian Williams asked Barack Obama what he would do if, God forbid (the "God forbid" was, of course, a requirement) he learned that terrorists had just launched massive attacks on two American cities, Barack didn't respond with the obvious answer, that it was a sleazy question, designed not to elicit any information but rather to achieve a "gotcha" moment and sensationalize the TV broadcast. Nor did he proceed to say, as he should have, that he would do what was appropriate, based on the facts and that the question didn't contain enough facts to justify a serious answer. Then he could have ended by saying that any politician who could be led by the nose by a question of that character doesn't deserve the confidence of the American people.

Obama, however, didn't do that. It would have been the answer of a serious man, and Obama is a politician, who, as Stewart reminds us, is trying to get somewhere. He's probably a decent-minded politician and I would vote for him before I would vote for most of the candidates I've heard proposed. Still, he can't talk to us honestly. That's forbidden. So, the question becomes, forbidden by whom? I don't know the answer, for sure, but I do know it's not Obama.

We were entertained this week by the revelations of George Tenant who told us shocking things about the start of the Iraq war that we knew already. Guess what? Intelligence didn't have anything to do with the invasion of the country. Wow! Maureen Dowd wrote a fairly clever column about Tenant, whom she calls "Slam Dunk," intimating that maybe we shouldn't be as sympathetic towards him as he would like us to be. I enjoyed the column, but I didn't much need that advice either.

The aftermath of the Alberto Gonzales testimony showed us, beyond doubt, that Bush officials would rather be seen as pathetic dopes than to give even a hint of what's actually going on within the administration. They can't seem to imagine that charades of that kind make us even more curious about the actuality.

The Harvard Square Commentary is a little less full than usual this week. But, that's all right. We would still like to hear from you about what is here.


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