HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

November 3, 2008
From Liberty Street

Off the Point

John Turner


The past few months have been a lively campaign season, but as I look back on it I realize that the issues that concern me most have scarcely been discussed.

The change I want most from our national government is for it to stop killing people who pose no threat to the United States. For me, that is more important than anything else the government could do or fail to do.

I am voting for Barack Obama because I believe he would kill fewer people than McCain would.

I realize that my concerns are very different from those of most Americans. So, I can't blame the candidates for not taking up the issue of killing. After all, they both want to be elected. And in the case of one them, killing is seen as the primary function of government.

I wish I knew why Americans, mostly, don't care if their tax dollars are used to kill people outside these borders. It bespeaks an insularity that is frightening. It seems to be that many Americans do not regard non-Americans as human beings. Why is that?

John McCain is the candidate of national power. For him, increasing national power is the main thing we live for. He has proclaimed, over and over, that he has devoted himself to national power more than to anything else. He wants the United States government to dominate the world, and tell other people how to live. The good of U.S. dominance strikes him as self-evident. It doesn't need to be defended or explained. I doubt he can imagine an argument doubting the overweening virtue of U.S. control of world affairs. If someone were to say to him that neither the people nor the government of the United States are wise enough to direct the rest of the world, he would probably gape in amazement. It may be that he has led a life such that he has never heard that proposition.

To me, his attitude is fanatical. But I understand that many see it as patriotic.

I suspect that Barack Obama understands all this. But he knows he cannot give a hint of that comprehension. If he did, he would be painted by the nationalistic fanatics as being even more un-American than they have already tried to depict him. They fear and despise him because they suspect that he has heard and entertained ideas that are outside their range of conception. And to know about things they have not grasped is, for them, tantamount to treason. In their minds, Americans are not supposed to think about some things, or to know anyone who does think about them.

The price of electing John McCain will be worldwide contempt of the United States, a stronger contempt even than George Bush has brought upon us.

The problem is that those who support McCain would wear that contempt as a badge of honor. They are incapable of seeing how a near universal reputation for bullying, arrogance, and indifference to the well-being of non-Americans will diminish the lives of their children and grandchildren. They think the world should lie down in the path of the U.S. bulldozer, and sings hymns of praise to America as they are run over. And they have chosen as their candidate the perfect exemplar of that attitude.

Again, Obama can't say that. But I hope in my heart that he knows it and is determined to do something about it.

It may not be the most noble thing in the world for Americans right now to care more about the economy than anything else. But I'm glad that they do. It takes the national mind away from the desire to rule the world. It focuses thought on something other than American soldiers parading down the streets of foreign capitals. It introduces the suspicion that maybe we can't quite afford as many bombs, tanks, battleships, and predator drones as we have been in the habit of coveting.

If we can, for just a moment, turn our attention away from the vision of an American soldier sticking a big gun in the mouth of the world, we might move toward a government that will serve our interests and the interests of people everywhere, American or not.

That's my hope for election day.


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