Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Failure of leadership, and...

There was a post on the Mahablog yesterday proposing a Civilian War Footing Act to involve the citizenry in wars started by our government. It was inspired by a New York Times editorial by Bob Hebert dealing with the image of Americans on a shopping craze while Iraq burned and people there died in large numbers. I can’t post a link to the editorial, because the Times doesn’t want anybody other than its privileged paid subscribers to read it.

I have written before that one of the most misbegotten aspects of this war is that the burden of it has fallen exclusively on the men and women of our armed forces and their families; that for the rest of us it is tax cuts, business as usual and, as mentioned by Bob Hebert, shopping. Once more for the record, I served in a diesel submarine in North Atlantic during the Cold War; I am 63 years old and I have Parkinson’s Disease, so I am not on the sideline by mere choice.

Like the Maha, I believe that any time we send our young men and women into harm’s way, any time we send them to place their precious lives between us and an enemy (real or imagined) that threatens us, we owe it to them to support them with every ounce of every resource that this nation possesses. That means not just putting the military on a war footing, but putting the nation into that status as well. That means paying taxes, rationing critical supplies, being confronted with the carnage of war in a way that does not allow us to ignore our responsibility – not on the back page of the local news.

That means seeing the flag-draped coffins as those who have lost their lives are brought home. It means being told the count of the wounded and the seeing the degree to which their lives and the lives of their families have been disrupted. That disruption is on our hands.

That “they die while we shop” is indeed a failure of leadership. Our leaders wage war abroad and promote false prosperity at home. They keep the war cost off budget, passing it as “supplemental” funding so that they can claim a lower deficit than actually exists and protect their pork barrel spending and tax cuts. They try to avoid the unpopularity of war by not asking the nation to bear the cost of that war either personally or financially. They popularize the war by fearmongering and promoting a false “war on terror.”

But in a larger sense the failure is us. We are a nation that overwhelmingly does not vote. Some sixty percent of us are too busy shopping to take time to go to the polls, to care who is running our country.

And those of us who did vote – we elected this government, and we reelected it. Bush preached fear and we allowed fear to rule us and we reelected him. Our legislature was corrupt, rubber-stamping presidential excesses and tax cuts and spending like whores, and we reelected its members in droves. Even in the current year of national revulsion, only something like 10% of incumbents were defeated. Voting for the incumbent is easy and we’re too busy shopping to research the challenger.

This country does not elect leaders. It elects people who can raise money.

Voters today do not listen to or read speeches. Votes are not based on in-depth evaluation of the candidate’s multifaceted persona. Votes are based on a single-issue sound bite aired hundreds of times on a thirty-second television commercial. That sound bite may very well be a lie, but it will get the person who has enough money to air it elected.

Don’t blame the person who raised the money and aired the sound bites. Blame the person who based a vote on that sound bite.

Taking time to read the life history of and the collected essays written by a presidential candidate is hard and it cuts into one’s shopping time. It’s easier to just react to a television ad that claims that someone beats their wife and vote for the other guy.

After all, there’s a sale on at Macy’s today.

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