Wednesday, March 26, 2008

An Emotional Roller Coaster of Hope and Pessimism

Maybe it is because my good friend died night before last and maybe my sadness is in part because his death is a reminder of my own mortality, but I find myself on an emotional rollercoaster with few glimpses of hope at the top and too much pessimism on the bottom.

Even though Saint Augustine said that “Hope” had two lovely daughters, one named “Anger” and the other “Courage,” he didn’t say anything about what might be two not so lovely cousins named “pessimism” and “cynicism.” So I have to assume that what I am feeling today is not an expression of “hope.”

I see the two Democratic candidates locked in a struggle that is the outcome of the party’s rules. According to the rules, the race is not over until one has a majority of the delegates, no matter what kind or where they reside.

Clinton gets into the Jeremiah Wright controversy by saying that she doesn’t have a choice about who her family is but she does about her pastor and that she would have walked away from Wright. Obama says it not that simple and he’s right, but it will be one of the big weapons used against him in the general election. Obama picks up on Clinton’s false report about being under sniper fire. Obama is right to call attention to it because it calls into question the “experience” factor that is the hallmark of the Clinton campaign, but it is only small arms fire now compared to the Republican artillery barrage it will be in the fall if Clinton is the candidate.

Please understand, I do not equate the two issues. In the case of Clinton we have deliberate fabrication to pad her “experience” resume. In the case of Obama he has made a serious and not fabricated effort to address the issue of race and, in my view anyway, has done it in a way that can only help our country. What I fear is that the fight between the two candidates can only help John McCain. I would like to believe Tom Brokaw’s assurances that the bitterness of intra-party fighting in the primaries does not have a long shelf-life when it comes to the fall campaign.

I see a Republican candidate who is either having “senior moments” of confusion in his several time identification of Al-Qaeda and Iran, only to be corrected by his sidekick Joe Lieberman, or is actually reflecting a connection that is forged in his mind, like that of the current administrations linking Al-Qaeda and Iraq before the war. I’m not sure which worries me more.

There is an upside to the current Democratic blood-letting, I am told:
Figures released by Pennsylvania's Department of State on Monday night showed that Democrats have topped 4 million registered voters, the first time either party in the state has crossed that threshold. Democrats have added 161,000 to their rolls, a gain of about 4 percent; Republican registration has dipped about 1 percent, to 3.2 million.

That is consistent with the pattern since the beginning of the year: Democratic turnout in primaries and caucuses has topped Republican turnout, often by huge differences.

That is an up side! I just hope it won’t be undone.

And then, of course, there is the war. I participated in a conversation yesterday with thirteen others who are opposed to the war in Iraq. We discussed a variety of motivations for the invasion—the threat of WMDs, removing a tyrant, establishing a democracy, protecting a source of oil, seizing an opportunity to create a permanent military base to insure imagined U.S. hegemony in the world, revenge for Hussein’s attempt to assassinate the President’s father, and others. While we agreed that the administration had knowingly misled the country about the reason for the invasion, those of us in the conversation were not sure that even now we know the reason.

Does the reason why the administration deliberately chose to ignore international law and launch the invasion make any difference now? Some of us said that it did, but others cautioned that preoccupation with that now may distract us from critically thinking about how we get out. In addition, there is still the worry about how we condemn the war without adding to the already heavy burden being borne by the soldiers, their families, and their loved ones.

Where do we draw the line of responsibility for the war after Cheney, Bush, and Rumsfield? What of the other cabinet members who were circumvented but continued to serve in the administration? What of the career service people who knew that there was no connection between Al-Qaeda and Iraq but continued to serve? What of Congress who approved the war and who has been as yet unwilling to cut off the funds for it? What of the media who appeared to be willing handmaidens of the administration’s propaganda? What of us, the American public, who have as yet failed to mount a significant anti-war effort? I do not say this to excuse what I regard as the impeachable offences of the leadership of the current administration, but rather to remind myself that few of us come to the war at this point in time without our own complicities, our failures for what we have done and what we have left undone.

As we sat at table yesterday we asked what we, as a small group of citizens out here on the high desert, should be doing to end the war? We are critical of the politicians who put their finger up to test the wind of public opinion and we wondered what we could do to “change the wind.” If we can’t change the wind, what can we do? Be informed, write letters, publish blogs, make telephone calls, visit our elected representatives with our concerns on the multitude of issues that relate to the war? Of course! Do not stay silent in the face of disagreement with family and friends? Agreed! But what more must we do? No one mentioned personal participation in nonviolent actions to protest the war. Are we not at that point yet? Will we ever be? If not us, then who?

Intellectual advocacy for one or another of the ways to get out of the war must—or so it seems to me—be accompanied with the willingness for personal sacrifice to make it happen. Neither pessimism nor cynicism will do anything but allow us to wallow in self-pity. If we are to be the people of “Hope” that presidential candidate Obama has challenged us to be, then we need to embrace not one but both of “Hope’s lovely daughters:” “Anger” at what is that must not be, and “Courage” so that what must be will be. Some of us are pretty good at the “anger,” but I’m not sure about the “courage.”

What are you doing to end the war?

- Milo


Anonymous said...

"What are you doing to end the war?"

I believe we would have the answer if we all simply worked harder at perfecting our souls.

Milo Thornberry said...

You're right. If we worked harder on our souls we wouldn't be so tolerant of war, injustice, and the suffering both bring. Thanks!