HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

September 1, 2008
Implication for the Long Run

Developments Last Week

John Turner


The Ultimate Icon
August 28, 2008

Politicians are required always to speak in code. The particular string of arbitrary meaning I find most difficult to swallow lately is Democratic criticism of the Bush administration for "going it alone in the world." What's actually being spoken of is a imperial, militaristic policy which has caused the deaths, in a near-murderous fashion, of tens of thousands of persons over the past seven years. But no politician can say that because it might be taken as criticism of the brightest current icon of American romanticism, "the troops," or more accurately, "our troops." (Have you noticed how no one talks about "our FBI" or "our CIA"?)

"Our troops" must be saluted as the best thing about America, rising far above anything else in which we might presume to take pride. And, certainly, no evidence about what American military personnel actually do can ever be allowed to darken the glowing image we have made of them.

When young American men take bound Iraqis to the edge of a canal, shoot them in the head, remove the restraints, and dump the bodies in the water, are the shooters "our troops" then? It would be an interesting question to put to John McCain, but I'm pretty sure that no one able to get into his vicinity would have the courage to do it.

You don't have to make monsters of American soldiers and marines to see them as they are. They are not monsters. But neither are they gods, and casting them as gods is not doing either them, or us, any good. I was a soldier once, and I can assure you that the soldiers around me were not celestial beings.

Why is it not good for them to be spoken of as gods? Because it helps manipulative politicians send them off into violence -- in which many of them are going to get their brains blown out-- for reasons that cannot stand examination. Examination, you see, is not an appropriate response to the actions of gods.

Hundreds of thousands of people are now dead or maimed because we enjoy indulging ourselves in military romanticism. We ought to stop doing it. But guess what? We're not going to stop doing it anytime soon, and as long as we don't, our politicians won't either.


No More Lying in the Road
August 29, 2008

Obama's speech last night accomplished two things, both necessary but one more important than the other. First, he laid out in greater detail than he has before the major policies he will pursue when he becomes president. He has been short -- in his major addresses -- on that sort of information, so though he has published fairly full position papers he had not pushed his program into public view as forcefully as he needed to.

The second, and far more important part, was his announcement to the public and, particularly to the Republican Party, that he's not going to cower before Republican attacks. If John McCain thinks he going to drive a Hummer over the Democratic candidate, he had better go shopping for a pretty big Hummer.

Obviously, it has been intensely frustrating to watch Democratic candidates in the past shy off from punching Republicans in the mouth. Both Gore and Kerry were too timid to do it, and watching them neglect opportunity after opportunity was almost enough to drive one crazy. Recently there has been a fear that Obama, in the interests of unity and attracting disgusted Republicans, was about to follow the same course. If he ever had that in mind -- which I doubt he did -- the Party has let him know that they won't stand for it. The two Clintons led the way and Obama followed them with full vigor. It was a satisfying moment and the crowd in the stadium showed how long they've been waiting for it.

One thing more Democrats need to do to show they're not going to be patsies any longer: stop praising John McCain for his service to the country. He has been praised more than he deserves. He got shot down while dropping bombs on people who posed no threat whatsoever to his country. I understand the conditions under which he did it, so I'm not blaming him for it. But, on the other hand, it wasn't the most glorious thing ever done either. And it has nothing to do with his abilities to manage the government intelligently. So, as far as I concerned, Democrats should hush up about it and concentrate on John McCain the politician while forgetting about John McCain the jet jockey. I know the Democrats won't be bold enough to follow my advice in that respect. But, I wish they would.


Gravitas -- Republican Style
August 30, 2008

It has been clear for some time now that John McCain isn't a serious person. He seldom says anything that digs more than an inch beneath the surface of an issue. He brags that he doesn't have to think. Little he has done during his political life indicates a broad grasp of governmental problems. And now he has chosen a person to be vice president of the United State to whom he had talked briefly two times before he announced her as his appointment.

If the choice of the vice-presidential running mate is a candidate's first presidential decision, then John McCain has revealed himself as a frivolous aspirant to the Oval Office. Flippancy has been McCain's strategy for promoting his status as a maverick. He likes to say things he considers witty, and he likes to be known as a person who utters clever sentiments. That might be okay were there anything else to go with them.  But McCain is nothing but flippancy; he doesn't balance it with thoughtful concern for the public well-being.

We can hope the public will see McCain's appointment as the garish insult to their intelligence it is. Supposedly, women who were disappointed because Hillary Clinton didn't prevail over Barack Obama will vote for McCain simply because he now has a woman on his ticket.  No matter that the woman is opposed to virtually everything Senator Clinton stands for. She's still a woman.

That McCain couldn't find a single well-known Republican politician he dared to put on his ticket should have told him something about the state of his party. But that's not the kind of lesson McCain can take in. In fact, the Sarah Palin shenanigan shows he's incapable of learning. He has to fall back on childish antics whenever he decides to demonstrate boldness. That is the man the American people are being asked by the Republican Party to invest with dangerous powers of life and death. It's a silly request.


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