I think many of the distinctions we find so compelling in American life are manufactured -- sly political moves which trap people into a way of thinking about each other. I first noticed that compartmentalization when I lived overseas and would buy Time or Newsweek occasionally to stay in touch.
What was so odd when observed from other cultures -- places where fine lines weren't drawn between one group and another, or one way of looking at the world and another -- was the division of the news into, say, "national news," "religion" and "art" and "science" and "international news." Are these distinctions we naturally make in our daily lives? Or are they thought tools which have turned into very handy political tools for partisans who (for example) found a motherlode in the separation from religion from science or (say) art and "real" life? (In the case of art, it was great as long as it was easily comprehended and entertaining, dangerous when it strayed into the thought-provoking and complex, or challenged cultural verities.)
Karl Rove came up with a hyperdetailed system for dividing Americans into tiny groups who were then set against each other politically. But he wasn't the first. For years Democrats have clung to affirmative action. What this former Dem saw was a race-based system which should have been affirmative action for anyone unable to pay for their education. The Democrats meant well, but affirmative action has worked against the party in many ways. We don't need or like racial divisions. We've had way too much of that. If you think this is apostasy, take a look at this sensible piece over at "The Daily Dish." Patrick Appel begins with a quote from Ta-Nehisi Coates:
"For blacks, Jim Crow America meant, not simply white people not wanting
to be around them, it meant a concerted effort to restrict the creation
of wealth. Redlining wasn't just offering a racial preference to whites
(indeed it actually punished whites for living around black people) it
was a government-conceived and sponsored effort to devalue the homes of
black people, thus draining what little wealth there was in the
communities. When post-slavery Southern and Midwestern blacks--following Booker T's
conservative line--created wealth by working the land, and building
their own businesses, white terrorists violently undermined their
efforts at every turn while the government refused to do its most basic
job--protecting its citizens. ..."
We haven't emerged even now from the battlegrounds of economic warfare, god knows. Look at how corporations make out as "special people" in our society. Check out our courts and see how the poor are treated vs. the rich and lawyered-up. Look at job security now that many at the lower end have no way of getting to work that isn't very costly, while the impact of $4 gas is much easier on those with high incomes. Look at the minimum wage. Patrick Appel, who has always liked race-based affirmative action responds to Coates' piece with this:
"Conservatives often chastise liberals (often rightly) for social
engineering, but it's hard to deny that the root of racial inequality
was a massive system of social engineering itself, meant to
economically advantage whites. Though the most malicious elements of
that system have been dismantled, inequalities persist generation to
generation partially because of prior meddling. These long-term effects
are what make social engineering so dangerous in the first place. ..."
He's right. Both sides have used social engineering to gain political advantage. Appel has second thoughts now about "minority"-based affirmative action. He reads what Richard Rodriguez has to say about his experience.
"There was a point in my life when affirmative action would have meant
something to me — when my family was working-class, and we were
struggling. But very early in life I became part of the majority
culture and now don't think of myself as a minority. Yet the university
said I was one. Anybody who has met a real minority — in the economic
sense, not the numerical sense — would understand how ridiculous it is
to describe a young man who is already at the university, already well
into his studies in Italian and English Renaissance literature, as a
minority. Affirmative action ignores our society's real minorities —
members of the disadvantaged classes, no matter what their race. ..."
No matter what their race! Agree! Most liberals are uncomfortable with the notion that they, too, may be race-conscious. The race-conscious basis for Affirmative Action always bothered me while the commitment to investing in education for those who otherwise couldn't afford it has always made good sense. The American fantasy persists. It hold that this is a classless society because we now feel free to laugh at snobs. But we're trapped, like it or not, in a society with huge differences in education, economic opportunity, and the ability of all to choose what kind of life they want to live, what kind of work they want to do. We are faced with a large and growing group of genuinely economically disadvantaged of all regions, education levels, and races. Equality of opportunity, the thing we say we most admire about our system, has become a fantasy, provoking a grim smile from those whose opportunities have been severely limited.
The conservative social engineering which kept blacks poor and segregated was socialism, pure and simple. The social engineering of (say) the Bush administration which greatly advantaged the upper tiers of our economic classes is also socialism. Bush socialism gave economic advantage to large industries and to individuals and families made fortunate by earlier, more egalitarian decades. The socialism we need now is based on a healthy understanding that we rise or fall together. In case you think it's bullshit that we rise or fall together, look at the economic blows we're sustaining right now as a nation. Look at what has happened to our financial system: its capitalist darwins, enabled by a Republican senator, have brought the entire economy down and created something which comes (economists are now saying) very close to a national economic depression.
The last thing we need is to perpetuate the belief that distinctions among people have inordinate importance. The last thing we need is a continuation of America: The Land of Us and Them.
I don't think the people who are tending toward McCain for his "experience" really know much about experience and the role it has played in informing a presidency. Herbert Hoover had a lot of experience, and ohmigod. John F. Kennedy had no administrative experience and he did a lot better. Of course, getting popped on a PT-boat always helps -- like sitting in a tiger cage. Unpleasant experiences take precedence over solid organizing, administrative experience, or just intelligence and good judgment. The mental images of blood, guts and torture are more exciting. Presidents who have plenty of experience as, say, governor (like Jimmy Carter), get blasted when they micromanage. And let's not forget our favorite president, the unlovely W.
President Bush has a master of business administration degree from
Harvard University, served nearly two terms as the governor of Texas
and surrounded himself in the White House with experienced advisers.
But after seven and a half years in power he holds a dismal
public-approval rating rooted largely in the Iraq war and the
Then there's foreign policy experience.
Foreign policy also has proved to be an unreliable barometer.
presidents regarded as among the nation's weakest — John Quincy Adams
and James Buchanan — had extensive diplomatic resumes. Adams held
several diplomatic posts, was the secretary of state under President
James Monroe and negotiated an end to the War of 1812. But he met
difficulty when he tried to improve the economy with a road- and
canal-building program and high tariffs, and he was trounced when he
sought re-election in 1828.
Buchanan, who served as James Polk's
secretary of state in the 1840s, spent the three years before his 1856
election as minister to Great Britain.
Yet "he's quite possibly
the worst president in American history, because of his inability to
effectively manage Southern secession and the slavery issue," said
Chris Dolan, a professor of political science at Lebanon Valley
College, in Annville, Pa.
Similarly, Bush's father had been the
U.S. envoy to China, United Nations ambassador, the director of the
Central Intelligence Agency and vice president for eight years.
he was seen as an ineffective manager of the nation's economy, and the
nation spurned his 1992 re-election bid, giving him the lowest
popular-vote total of any incumbent president in 80 years.
So what does matter, according to those who know?
What matters more than experience, scholars said, is an ability to hone and trust one's instincts.
"Give me good judgment every time," [historian Robert] Dallek said.
But Americans don't read history. They go, they say, by their gut. McDonalds? Chinese takeout? Fish fingers? Twinkies? Two bits those guts go for McCain.
Barack Obama doesn't have a chance. He's too popular and you know how American voters are about popular candidates, appreciative crowds. An American who sees people smiling and clapping wildly will tend to walk away from whatever it is they're applauding.
Voters have nothing good to say about candidates they find intelligent and attractive and who have been complimented over and over again by foreign leaders. If he's well informed and tuned into their concerns, so much the worse. Experts who know about how to fix the economy are all flocking to help that candidate? Unbelievable. He wants to bring your kids home from war as soon as possible? Come on! Why on earth would all that stuff that appeal to a voter.
Above all, you don't want a leader who's knowledgeable about what's gone wrong and actually gives a damn about what happens to you. Then there's the matter of family values. The guy's been married once, has a terrific, loyal family and a knockout wife. That kind of stuff just doesn't appeal to most voters.
"One hot summer day in 1935, federal relief administrator Harry Hopkins presented his plan for alleviating the effects of the Great Depression to a group of shirt-sleeved Iowa farmers, not noted for their liberal ideals. As Hopkins began to describe how government-sponsored jobs on public projects would provide both wages for the unemployed and a stimulus for foundering businesses, a voice shouted out the question that was on everyone's mind: 'Who's going to pay for all that?'
"Hopkins, with his characteristic flair for the dramatic, slowly took off his coat and tie, rolled up his sleeves, and looked out at the now-fascinated audience. Everyone knew the extent of Hopkins's influence in Washington. His answer would reflect the attitude of President Roosevelt. 'You are,' Hopkins shouted, 'and who better? Who can better afford to pay for it. Look at this great university. Look at these fields, these forests and rivers. This is America, the richest country in the world. We can afford to pay for anything we want. And we want a decent life for all the people in this country. And we are going to pay for it.'" ... text here ...
____ Living in America, by Anne Stevenson
'Living in America,'
the intelligent people at Harvard say,
'is the price you pay for living in New England.'
living in America is a reward
for managing not to live anywhere else.
The rest of the country?
Could it be sagging between two poles,
tastelessly decorated, dangerously overweight? ... ... and the poem continues here ...
The ISI -- Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency -- was one of those entities with strong ties to US intelligence (Mossad was another) many suspected of having been involved in 9/11. I don't think we can discount the theory. It was rampant after 9/11, then dismissed as a conspiracy theory. Still, the suspicion that the attacks may have been anticipated? encouraged? assisted? by rogue elements on our own soil hasn't died dead yet and is fed by the secrecy, the autocratic behaviors, and the coverups of the Bush administration. Even without a direct connection to 9/11, the relationships among these intelligence agencies and their ties to Islamic militants need clarification. The ISI -- and Pakistan -- are allegedly helping us deal with Afghan militants at the Pakistan border.
"The ISI has for decades maintained contacts with various militant
groups in the tribal areas and elsewhere, both for gathering
intelligence and as proxies to exert influence on neighboring India and
Afghanistan. It is unclear whether the C.I.A. officials have concluded
that contacts between the ISI and militant groups are blessed at the
highest levels of Pakistan’s spy service and military, or are carried
out by rogue elements of Pakistan’s security apparatus."
What is clear in Michael Mazzetti's report in today's New York Times, is that the CIA -- the US -- has decided to take a stand on its "open marriage" with Pakistan. That marriage of convenience (we need Pakistan's assistance and intelligence) has always been full of infidelities. The awkward truth right now is the open secret that top officials in Pakistan are aiding the very enemy they're supposedly helping us fight.
"A top Central Intelligence Agency official traveled secretly to Islamabad this month to confront Pakistan’s most senior officials with new information about ties between the country’s powerful spy service and militants operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas, according to American military and intelligence officials.
"The C.I.A. emissary presented evidence showing that members of the spy service had deepened their ties with some militant groups that were responsible for a surge of violence in Afghanistan, possibly including the suicide bombing this month of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, the officials said.
"The decision to confront Pakistan with what the officials described as a new C.I.A. assessment of the spy service’s activities seemed to be the bluntest American warning to Pakistan since shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks about the ties between the spy service and Islamic militants..."
"...That ISI officers have maintained important ties to anti-American
militants has been the subject of previous reports in The New York
Times. But the C.I.A. and the Bush administration have generally sought
to avoid criticism of Pakistan, which they regard as a crucial ally in
the fight against terrorism."
Up until now, the US has been willing to go along with these "infidelities." I'm willing to bet that there has been a shift now within the CIA matching the shift within the Bush administration, putting some distance between the president and the angry cynicism of people like John Bolton. I'm talking about the kind of angry cynicism (often personified "at highest levels of the administration" by the vice president) which makes it easy for the rest of us to imagine that the Bush administration's self-styled "war council" may have also been responsible not just for the responses to 9/11 but for 9/11 itself.
This week's confrontation of the Pakistani government by the US may just be for show. Or it may be for real. Or somewhere in between. Meanwhile, it's interesting to look back at some earlier reactions to the US-Pakistan relationship.
November 2004. Kerry had just lost the election. A month or so earlier, Bush suppressed a CIA assessment of failures related to 9/11. That report could well have been helpful in electing Kerry but -- just as important -- it could have given us some clues as to the state of the CIA under the Bush administration and its willingness to deal with Al Qaeda. It turned out that the state of the CIA was bad and its ability/willingness to deal with Al Qaeda worse. In fact, the CIA's Al Qaeda team was worse off than before 9/11. Bush wasn't interested in Al Qaeda. Michael Scheuer wrote in the Atlantic:
"September 2004: In the CIA's core, U.S.-based Bin Laden operational
unit today there are fewer Directorate of Operations officers with
substantive expertise on al-Qaeda than there were on 11 September 2001.
There has been no systematic effort to groom al-Qaeda expertise among
Directorate of Operations officers since 11 September ... The excellent
management team now running operations against al-Qaeda has made
repeated, detailed, and on-paper pleas for more officers to work
against the al-Qaeda—and have done so for years, not weeks or
months—but have been ignored ..."
So what was the Bush administration focusing on if not terrorism? Or what were they covering up?
Also in 2004, a few months earlier, Michael Meacher, a British MP was up in arms about the Daniel Pearl murder. The wrong man was to be hanged for it, he said, and it comes back to questions about the ISI.
"It has been rumoured that Pearl was especially interested in any role
played by the US in training or backing the ISI. Daniel Ellsberg, the
former US defence department whistleblower who has accompanied [FBI whistleblower Sibel] Edmonds
in court, has stated: 'It seems to me quite plausible that Pakistan was
quite involved in this ... To say Pakistan is, to me, to say CIA
because ... it's hard to say that the ISI knew something that the CIA
had no knowledge of.' ..."
And on it goes. Each time there's a little break in the bubble protecting the US-Pakistan relationship, we get a whiff of just how far our leaders -- and theirs -- may have gone to protect their interests, whether those interests be oil pipelines or political power at home or any number of schemes we haven't even dreamed of yet.