Friday, April 28, 2006

Defining moments

In all of our lifetimes, we experience some defining moments. The loss of a father, a extremely challenging and difficult time at work, marriage, the birth of your first child, and the list goes on. These are all things we go through as ordinary humans.

Then there are defining moments we face as a nation. The Revolution. The Civil War. Both World Wars. Vietnam. Desert Storm. 9/11.

In all of those conflicts, there were disagreements, but political differences were muted, moderated by the fact that presidents and congressmen knew there were larger stakes.

Except for 9/11.

We barely lasted six months through goodwill when the President (acting on the advice of Karl Rove), started interjecting politics into this conflict. Democrats introduced a Homeland Security department bill months before Bush even brought up the subject. Republicans rejected the idea until the President decided to introduce his own version, albeit without any worker protections. Democrats were then stuck in the position of voting for a bill that contained an outlandish position, or voting against it and risking political attack.

Make no mistake about it: the removal of worker protections was political. Worker protections may be overemphasized in government, but there is a certain degree necessary to protect bureaucrats from political pressure (as we have seen with Bolton's group at State). By interjecting this into a vital debate over security, the issue was politicized. But it didn't stop there.

Adding to this was the introduction of the Iraq issue to Congress in the heart of campaign season. This was such an obvious ploy to affect the elections that Andy Card freely admitted it to Bob Woodward in Plan of Attack when he said, "You don't introduce a new product in August. You do it in September or October." Democrats again were put between a rock and a hard place. Seeing how opposing Desert Storm had hurt some of their number (although, in my opinion, Desert Storm was as valid an intervention as they come), they were loath to oppose it, even if the evidence was shaky. As it turns out, Bush also withheld vital information in the intel he gave them, intel that might've kept Democrats from voting yes on the bill, and information that might have cooled the ardor of the public to go to war.

During that buildup, Bush also pushed away key potential allies. Mexico, a putative friend, declined to vote yes on the U.N. resolutions. France and Germany (admittedly, diffident at best about joining in) were nonetheless repulsed at the sudden push that Bush made. He wanted inspectors, he got them, and then insisted Saddam was lying when he made a weapons declaration that was free of WMD. We "knew" he had it, and so he's lying, let's end inspections and go in. We all bought it. I certainly bought it. I wrote a column
which showed my complete transition to believer. I admit that I wrote some things that may make me look like a hypocrite now. I look back at some of those words and wonder what I was thinking, but then I remember that I, like this nation, was manipulated. We were only told part of the story. Saddam's declaration appears to have been correct. He no longer possessed WMD.

Rolling Stone's cover asks the question, "The Worst President Ever?" I haven't read the article yet, but I do know Professor Wilentz is a very thorough researcher and historian, so for him to make the claim is astounding. Historians tend to be reluctant to issue such opinions. I do know this: This President has not even tried to work with Democrats since 9/11. He has made everything a battle over power. He has demonized them as traitors, giving aid and comfort to the enemy for daring to criticize him. He has helped poison the level of discourse in this nation. He refuses to admit error or change course when such course change is required. He stubbornly retains a Secretary of Defense who has redefined incompetent and pigheaded. Worst of all, he blew the greatest coalition in the history of mankind. Had we stuck to Afghanistan until it was finished, we would've retained virtually every nation on Earth as our ally. We enjoyed unprecedented support and sympathy after 9/11. Sadly, mistakenly, we wasted our goodwill fighting for a war that turned out to not be necessary. We further worsened the situation by not executing properly, not planning properly, and by making assumptions that clearly made an ass of us all.

None of this matters to the President. He's not affected by this at all. He's not affected by the fact that on the eve of the Iraq invasion, gas stood at an average of $1.49/gallon. Today, I paid $3.11, and that was the LOWEST price in most of L.A. county. Wasn't Iraq supposed to produce more oil after we 'liberated' them? They might've, but our security has been for beans because we sent about 1/3 of the necessary troops into Iraq based on some sort of 'plan' that looks like it was drawn up on the back of a comic book by two kids with no realistic idea of warfare, even in the technological age.

We are now facing a new defining moment. As Americans, we have a choice. We can vote for status quo in November, hoping that a thoroughly corrupted party that has forsaken the ideals of its modern leaders (Reagan and Goldwater) will find its way, or we can vote for the minority party, the party that has been kicked around for the past dozen years, and still is stuck showing timidity in an environment that demands decisiveness. To me, change is necessary, and the Republicans won't change because they would be admitting that they have been wrong about almost every single thing in the past four years. The Democrats will, at the least, restore balance to the seesaw of power, and force the President to demonstrate the bipartisanship that should've been done four years ago. It's something every president does. Reagan did it masterfully. There's a picture of Reagan cracking up a group of the powerful, including powerful Democrats. He charmed them. He worked with them on Social Security, giving it the footing it needed to continue succeeding. He repealed his tax cuts on the upper class when the economy tanked. Reagan did these things as governor of California as well, earning the respect of Democrats for sticking to his principles while demonstrating a grasp on reality. Bush does not do these things, and it is why when our defining moment came on 9/11, he became the first and only president to make the least of it.


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