HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

July 14, 2008
From the Editor

John Turner


Skipping a week of the HSC caused me to read less journalism than I've been in the habit of doing and, consequently, sent me more regularly to books. That's not a bad thing. I don't think a steady diet of journalism does for the mind what book-reading does and I suspect that one of the reasons our political affairs are so shallow is that our major political figures often boast about reading books they haven't read. Remember the book lists the White House put out for a while as Mr. Bush's reading? The whole business got to seem so absurd, I guess they just gave up on it.

The best thing I read over the past week was Nietzsche's discussion, in Human, All Too Human, of the necessity of the "reverse movement." By that he meant the need humans have to revisit past thought and make a sincere effort to understand the attitudes and emotions which have since been discarded. It's easy now, for example, to see earlier concepts of God and the divine as childish fairy tales. But if we're going to be mature we need to entertain, in our imagination, at least, the kind of simplistic belief that motivated previous generations. And what we can say about the deity, we can say also about patriotism, loyalty to kings, reveling in military glory, and so forth. I don't suppose anyone today would wish to take up the habits of the Spartan ruling class, yet there's doubtless some value in trying occasionally to think as the Spartans thought. It broadens our perspective and reminds us of where we came from and what we need to guard against.

Probably the biggest news of the week, but not the most widely publicized, was the announcement that the EPA will not be allowed to announce what most of the scientists there wanted to announce -- that global warming is caused by human behavior and is harmful to human life. The White House squelched that. When the final assessment of the Bush administration is made, I suspect the number one indictment will be the assault on the Constitution, especially the attempt to do away with habeas corpus. But the second will be the attack on science and the terrible effects that have flowed from it.

Speaking of the first indictment, Jane Mayer's The Dark Side will be published this week. She's a competent journalist and her book reputedly lays out in detail just how blatantly the Bush administration attempted to wipe out major elements of the Constitution and substitute a presidential dictatorship for them. There's little doubt that criminal acts were committed, and one of the major debates in the coming years will be whether the criminals should be prosecuted. I have been generally of the mind that once officials were out of office and no longer had the power to harm us they should be left alone. Going after them simply diverts attention from current needs. But I'm beginning to think the Bush administration presents us with an exception to that rule. The crimes in this instance have been so momentous and have so dirtied the reputation of the country, that not to make them official would be laying up trouble for the future. In a way, I wish international legal institutions would do the work for us. Even though they couldn't enforce their convictions they could establish what happened. But they would be dealing only with violations of international law, and what's most needed with respect to the Bushites is an official finding that they consistently violated the Constitution. Only U.S. legal processes could accomplish that. If you haven't yet had a chance, go to the Washington Post and read Andrew Bacevich's review of Ms. Mayer's book.

A curious feature of pundit talk is the assumption that the presidential campaign between July and November will have relatively little influence on election day. The pundits don't seem to think that the two men, standing side by side, will be able to sway voters' sentiments one way or the other. That, I think, is a mistake. Unless John McCain can make a major reformation of himself and his message he'll be looking pathetic by the time we go to the polls.

Tell me what you think about that, or anything else that appears here. And if you do we'll publish it in next week's edition.


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