HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

December 17, 2007
From Liberty Street

Landmark Election

John Turner


In the election of 2008, the American people will define themselves for the coming generation. The slate of candidates shows us clearly what our choices are and who we might become.

On the Democratic side we have three credible candidates -- that is persons who could win both the nomination and the election -- who, though they are imperfect, represent at least some of the better features of our character. On the Republican side we have a set of men who portray what's bubbling in putrid depths we are reluctant to face. Having said that, it's important to add that these men are not devils. Outside politics they may even have some virtues. But their thinking is flawed in ways we shouldn't any longer indulge.

To say that they are stupid is to malign stupidity. There is a certain baseness of taste and thought and soul that runs far deeper than mere error and deeper even than stupidity itself. If you want to see its face, find a way to review the 60 Minutes segment broadcast last night titled "Military Soft on Don't Ask, Don't Tell," in which Leslie Stahl interviewed Duncan Hunter, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee and a Republican presidential candidate. Mr. Hunter explained why the United States cannot abide homosexual persons in its military forces. We're not like the British, or the Europeans, he said. Their forces just try to keep the peace whereas ours have to be real killers. Presumably, homosexuals can't kill in the way Mr. Hunter wants Americans to do it, which, perhaps, is one of the finest compliments the homosexual community has ever been paid. But implied in Hunter's spiel was the notion that if America can't kill in the manner Hunter wants it done then America will lose its way. And if you think the American way should be the Hunter way, then he's right.

It's true that Duncan Hunter doesn't have much chance to win the Republican nomination. The shrewd leaders of the party know that his stance is too blatantly honest to succeed in a general election. What they want is someone who believes what Hunter believes but who can package those beliefs in smoother, more deceptive rhetoric. That's what Mitt Romney can do and Rudy Giuliani can do also, although in his case with, perhaps, a bit less slickness than  exhibited in the style of the former Massachusetts governor.

We all need to be aware of the forces driving us in their direction. There is, first of all, a continuing bigotry against any group or any mode of life seen as deviating from white-bread tastes and white-bread morality. People who exhibit these attitudes view themselves not only as the real Americans but as the chosen people of God. Consequently, they see no reason to observe any limits in their quest to maintain their concept of the nation.

Second, there are the proponents of a militaristic empire. They find their meaning in raw physical power and they identify not with the actual people of the United States but with a structure of force they conceive as being the same thing as the nation.

Third, there are the money-worshipers. They seek not a secure, comfortable life but wealth at a level to provide themselves with conspicuous consumption and luxury beyond the reach of anyone in the past other than kings and emperors. Ultimately, they lust for money itself, independent of anything it can buy or do.

It's a potent trio and despite the truth that their goals aren't congruent they have placed themselves under the banner of a single political party which they view as being the only instrument to protect themselves against the phenomenon they most hate and fear -- a liberal democracy.

This is old-hat stuff but we need to repeat it regularly to remind ourselves of what's at stake. It is entirely possible that this degenerate threesome could use up the public lives of our children and grandchildren. Consequently, the overweening political question of the coming year is who can best thwart the desires of the forces now aligned by the Republican Party. If this is seen as a divisive or reactive stance, so be it. It's the situation in which we find ourselves.

I have said that any one of the leading Democratic candidates could help us defang the three-headed serpent. I continue to believe that's true. Even so, it's time for me to rank them. When I consider who can best move us towards the country I'd like to see, I put them in this order: John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama. Each of them has much to offer, and it may be the case that in office they would each do about the same things. But, at the moment, that's the order prescribed by the candidates' understanding of the forces that have to be countered.

We should remember, as a footnote, that healthy politics has no need of punishment or vindictiveness. The wealthy can still be rich; they just can't have the percentage of the nation's wealth they covet. The nation can still have more than enough military force to defend itself; it just can't be used to dominate the rest of the world to their detriment and our, supposed, benefit. The bigoted can still think what they think and express themselves about it; they just can't use public power to suppress those who think differently.

Taking these steps won't solve our problems. But it would place us in a situation where we could begin to work on them sensibly. And reaching that point is what this election is all about.


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