Saturday, September 16, 2006

Political Perspectives

* 16 American soldiers died last week
I constantly see new political polls on television or read about them in newspapers on the internet. Bush is up; Bush is down. The Democrats are gaining; the Democrats are falling behind. The number one concern of the American people is terrorism; the number one concern is the Iraq War; the number one concern is gas prices. And on and on - up, down and all around go the polls.

And I wonder who these people are who are polled and how they can be so fickle in their determinations. Bush's poll numbers, for instance. They move higher or lower from one poll to the next. But, why? Who are these people who love him one day and change their minds the next? How can you not have decided about President Bush by now after 6 years? And what could change your mind at this point? Is it really possible to turn on the president, even if you were once a true believer, and then watch him give a speech which causes you to go back to your previous position, only to revert once again a week later?

And the Iraq War. Surely, after all these years, we have decided that we either a) think it was a mistake that has turned into a disaster or b) believe it may not be going well, but it was, over all, a good thing and in any case, it is vital to stay the course or some variation thereof?

I'm not dogmatic about my own beliefs. I'm capable of changing my mind on various issues. I'm not questioning people who move from one position to another based on new information. We all should be capable of and willing to change our minds at times. It is those who, if the polling is to be believed, flip up and down like jumping jacks, believing one thing one week and something entirely different the next that I wonder about.

Gas prices, for instance. Gas averaged about $1.97 in October of 2004, then rose to the neighborhood of $3.00 a gallon in many areas in August of this year. And people reflected their anger in their poll answers. Gas prices were high on their list of outrages. Now gas has dropped down to about $2.50 and lots of us are all happy again. Purveyors of various commodities do this to us all the time. They raise their prices and raise them again and we're mad as hell. Then, voila, the lower them and we forgive and forget that we are still paying 50 cents a gallon more than we were a year ago.

In any case, we are told by the business experts that politics plays no part in gas prices and the president and Congress couldn't do anything about them if they wanted to. If gas prices stay down after the November election, maybe I'll buy that but if they go up again right after we will be one of those things that makes you go "hmmmm".


I watched a program on C-Span in which an author of a book about military blogs was interviewed (I was cooking at the same time I listened so I never did catch the writer's name). What suprised me was the number of callers, especially those who are or had been in the military themselves, who are totally committed to the Bush administration's policies, even to the extent of trashing their military brethren. I have been amazed by this in other contexts.

In the last presidential election, for instance. It surprised me how willing soldiers or ex-soldiers were to excoriate John Kerry in favor of an administration consisting mainly of people, who whatever their reasons, passed on the Vietnam War themselves. Many of them were even perfectly in accord with casting doubt on the inherent honesty of the system of awarding honors, such as Silver Stars and Purple Hearts. Okay, maybe they were angry with Kerry about his anti-war stance and statements he made upon returning from Vietnam. But, now this has moved beyond Kerry. It has become a acceptable thing, with some ideological group like the SwiftBoat Veterans for Truth, rushing out to question the awards of anyone whose political stances, they disagree with, like John Murtha.

Do these military people not realize that what they are doing is lessening the value of every single honor given to every single veteran? Can they not see that by questioning the validity of the awards of John Kerry and John Murtha, they cause every award to be looked at with suspicion? It isn't possible that back during Vietnam, the military somehow knew who was going to "grow up" to be a Democratic politician. A commonsense claim can't be made that only Democrats were awarded undeserved honors. If the system was so untrustworthy that it handed out medals willy-nilly, without regard to actual merit, it must means a cloud hangs over everyone who received one (or more). I wouldn't think most veterans would care to slide down that slippery slope.

In the same vein, it also astonishes me that many in the military are even eager to bash those fellow veterans that belong to the same party the soldiers claim loyalty to if they dare to disagree with Bush in any way. It isn't so surprising that the former and current soldiers and sailors that called into the program about military blogs would criticize John Murtha, although he is a former Marine who has devoted his political life to veteran's issues, as a phony and insincere show-boater. He is, after all, a Democrat, but they were eagerly willing to say the same about John McCain and Lindsay Graham and John Warner. John McCain, we all know, is a former P.O.W. Lindsay Graham is a former Judge Adjutant General. John Warner is a former Secretary of the Navy, veterans all. They were concerned about military issues when George Bush was still only worried about where his next drink was coming from. In this particular case, they disagree with the administration on torture and the Geneva Conventions and military tribunals, believing that giving Bush the free rein he wants will, ultimately, hurt both the military and the country. But McCain, Graham and Warner got zero credit on the part of most of the callers. They were unwilling to entertain the possibility that these men could be motivated by genuine principle. Nope, they were just being political, unlike our president, who, presumably, never does anything for political reasons. But, if these three were driven by politics, what about Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of State, who has never expressed any interest in running for political office as far as I know? He agrees with McCain, Graham and Warner but if he isn't being political, then why is he speaking up? We don't know but certainly not out of sincerity according to C-Span callers.
I don't know for sure but I think if I were a soldier or a former soldier, I would tend to believe veterans inside the system who have proven over and over again their sincere love of the military before I would believe the current crew in the White House.

Some of the callers were even enthusiastically making excuses for the administration and the Pentagon for not sending our soldiers equipped with the proper body armor to protect them! It almost seems to me that the following Bush has in the military is cult-like and not explainable by any of the rules of logic. Maybe I'm wrong. If someone would like to explain it to me, I'd be glad to listen.

On another call-in show earlier in the week, the subject was "Should We Torture Terrorists?" and only Republicans were allowed to call. I could only listen for a short while before I had to leave for work but in that time, eight out of ten callers were gung-ho for torture.

One man called who said he had been involved in intelligence-gathering for twenty years and had participated in many interrogations. He made the point, quite forcefully, that torture does not work! He said that, sure enough, the tortured will talk their heads off, telling you anything you want to know in return for an end to their suffering but it is unreliable information.

Not one person who called in after him addressed this. It was as if they refused to hear him. It appeared that to the pro-torture people, the intelligence issue was beside the point. Based on statements they made in their calls, I think they are more motivated by emotional vengeance than practical "does it work" logic. In fact, some of their justifications for why they believe America should torture, were themselves rather tortured. Many of them wanted to play down what we've done, just as the President himself always seems to do - but when you have to have doctors standing by to monitor whether a prisoner can stand a few more volts of electricity or another dose of cold water while naked in a freezing room before death is imminent, that is far beyond putting a pair of underpants over someone's head.

What seems so remarkable to me is that the conservative Republicans in recent years have so co-opted Christianity that it almost seems you can't also be a Democrat and a Christian (or for that matter, even a moderate Republican). I think many of the rabidly right-wing Christians truly believe this. But how on earth can they fold acceptance of this kind of brutality into a religion founded by the Prince of Peace? Would Jesus truly have condoned torture? If He would, he surely is not the Jesus I learned about in Sunday school.

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