Saturday, October 30, 2004

Reflections before Tuesday

Tuesday's election is the next big world event. Even our enemies are trying to weigh in with their own brand of influence pedaling. When the Russian premier endorsed Bush I figured that was as far as reality could be stretched. Then we got a Real Live Terrorist on the air, scarf and all, threatening severe consequences if we didn't vote the right way. Talk radio, the CIA and the rest of the spin machine quickly elevated this guy to the status of a Kerry operative, suggesting that a vote for Kerry would be a vote for appeasement. Refereneces to Neville Chambarlain were mentioned. Remember what happened in Spain? Remember how bombing trains resulted in a wholesale reversal of Spanish public opinion?

Entire populations in France, Germany and Russia have been branded with ugly adjectives because those countries failed to march in lock-step with the Coalition of the Willing (love that phrase, implying lack of courage on the part of all who fail to join).

Now comes Osama Himself, looking all executive-like, sitting behind a desk and telling everybody that he not only isn't dead, he is alive and wanting to put in his two cents worth in time for next Tuesday's vote. Ain't that something? The big guy himself is putting in an appearance that will surely make even the most dedicated supporter of the opposition think again about betraying the Commander in Chief at this, his hour of need.

The word for this is blackmail.

Holding hostages and killing them when demands are not met is blackmail.
Releasing hostages safely is also blackmail.
Threats to strike American targets at home and abroad is blackmail.
Killing patriotic (unarmed, by the way) Iraqi troops in training is blackmail.
There can be no one left who does not understand the dynamics of blackmail.

I don't like to feel blackmailed. No one does. Even if I was about to do something anyway, it rubs me the wrong way to have somebody tell me I have to do it or else. If I am about to correct a mistake, or apologize, or ask my wife for advice, or do something at work that I am really not required to do, or volunteer my time to help the community or donate my hard-earned, after-tax money to some cause... if I am about to do any of that and somebody tells me I "better do it," then it pisses me off and makes me not want to do it just to show them I have the option.

That's the way I am beginning to feel about this election. I have tried my best to be clear-headed and unemotional. I have read and studied, sought the facts, looked at alternatives and come away (once again) with the sad conclusion that I don't like either candidate. The candidates I would have preferred were left in the dust long ago. Some of them quit politics in disgust before that.

But even when I am about to cast a vote for the less disagreeable of two alternatives, having the feeling I am being blackmailed triggers in me an impulse to rebel, just to show them who's in charge of at least one person's vote. That's the feeling I get when the headlines keep beating the drum with messages about terrorism.

I don't need to be told about terrorism any more.
I got it.
I got it on September 11, 2001.
I got it when I looked at that horrible video of a beheading.
I got it when the President rode it into the ground during the GOP convention. And I still got it, thanks. More reminders are out of order for me. Every time I hear someone mention September 11 now I want to puke.

The connection between September 11 what is happening today in Iraq is virtually non-existent. We are in Iraq because a lot of good people made a lot of mistakes in good faith (another great phrase, don't you think?) but were not able to admit it for political reasons. The end of the Saddam era in Iraq may become one of the most important and beneficial events of the Twenty-first Century, and I'm glad that it happened. Although the tyrant is no longer there, the aftermath of his poison remains and America has an obligation to finish what it began, like the doctor who removes a limb has an obligation to his patient help him recover from the trauma then provide him with a prosthesis.

But American young people are not sacrificing their lives in Iraq because of September 11. They are there because criminals released by Saddam from Iraqi prisons are running unchecked among a diminishing population of decent Iraqis. They are there because outside forces, probably Sunni and certainly of the extreme fundamentalist stripe, are penetrating the porous borders of that country and are raising hell. They are there in order to make good a commitment to hold elections in January, one way or another. But they are not there because airplanes crashed the World Trade Center three years ago.

The connection, of course, IS world terrorism. But that is the beginning and the end of the connection. I am firmly persuaded, no matter whatever else may be true, that our presence in Iraq is feeding the forces of terrorism with eager recruits. We are not ameliorating terrorism by waging war in Iraq. We are, in fact, doing just the opposite. And thanks to modern telecommunications, we may be recruiting more terrorists outside of Iraq than there.

Having said that, I reserve the right to vote for an alternative as my conscience dictates. I have lived my adult life standing for constructive, peaceful alternatives. I have faced the word "coward" in a very personal way and discovered that the use of that word is really another form of blackmail. It is a rhetorical device calculated to manipulate the emotions of the persen so branded for the purpose of making him yield to peer pressure.

There is a very thin line that divides peer pressure from mob behavior. I think that some time in the last several months a lot of people have crossed that line. I have read passionate appeals, in English, from Iraqis who truly believe that if George Bush is not returned to the White House then the forces of evil will have prevailed in Iraq. By extension, when the forces of evil prevail in Iraq, then they are also about the prevail all over the world. I want to reach out an hug those passionate writers in a warm and comforting embrace, to assure them that in the end the forces of good will prevail...they make me want to cry in sympathy.

It's not easy to grasp, but when I vote Tuesday to send a message to Washington that there are still plenty of us left who do not like what is going on both there and abroad, it would be best if I didn't have to listen to how ignorant and unpatriotic I am. There are at least two levels of political reality that separate me from Washington, not counting the level of ignorance that seems to prevail there. The first is the electoral college. Thanks to that system I live in a Red State. It wouldn't matter if I lived in a Blue State, the same system would insure that any vote that I make contrary to the majority in my state is mainly symbolic. The second level lies, as my friend Catfish points out, in our being a republic, not a democracy.

The memorable words of Ben Franklin echo in my head. After the constitutional convention someone asked Franklin what do we have, a monarchy or a republic. He replies "a republic, if you can keep it."

Sometimes I wonder if we can keep it, Dr. Franklin.

Despite all the checks and balances, the incredible power of lobbies, the pork barrel nature of appropraitions, the fact that a century after that first constitutional convention we finally got around to freeing slaves, and a century after that we were able to admit that "separate but equal" really meant "unequal." I went to a birthday party yesterday for a lady who was a child when women finally got the right to vote in America. I guess we are hanging on to the republic. Keeping track of political progress is like watching a tree grow. As long as it greens up in the spring and lives for another season, life goes on for another year.

But I sure will be glad when this election is over.

1 comment:

pictruandtru said...

Hoots, Well said, and spoken from the heart. I voted last Saturday during early voting. It seems more people are voting this year, a lot of them early. Some folks argue that voting should be held only on Election Day and for typical absentee voter cases. I believe the case of declaring winners before polls close nationwide is far greater a denigration. I don't believe any change of events could sway my decisions at this point. Yet, I wish my choices on the ballot were more broad than two men, and a approved list whereby I could have chosen to write-in one of the others who were unable to be on the ballot.

The issue of being relegated to vote either Republican or Democratic, or else minimize your vote is not good.

In 2004, I've seen only one commercial by a presidential candidate, not that commercials are objective by any means, its that we're not a swing state, not really revelant in the process.

I do believe that searching for ones news, unabridged and across many sources is the only way to discover some thread of truth in this election arena.