Political confusion, division, indifference…

September 16, 2008

(Copyright 2008)


By Tony Walther

While I don’t think one can put all the blame on the wars we are fighting for our current economic crisis, they sure play a major role. You just can’t spend billions of dollars every week on war and not have it take a toll on the U.S. treasury (estimated total, $3 trillion). We don’t tax directly to supply the war effort. Instead we borrow money from foreign nations, to include the oil-rich Middle East nations and China.

And I would like to write a blog without mentioning the lipstick on a pig woman (and I’m not really calling her a pig – I actually have a soft spot for pigs, real swine that is), but I read an opinion piece in the New York Times online that suggests that some conservatives are uneasy with John McCain’s vice presidential pick. They actually think experience matters. The piece is interesting in that the author brings out something I have noticed but would have had a harder time describing. It has to do with the fact that conservatism in America has a divide between traditional conservatism and a kind of uniquely American populist conservatism (and then there is neo conservatism, but I’m not going into that today). The best example I could think of along these lines is that in my neck of the woods folks whom might normally be considered part of the base of the Democratic Party, so-called working class or tradespeople, more often than not align themselves with conservative Republicans. They liken Democrats to the flag-burning, pot smoking, unpatriotic hippie war protestors of the past. Now for sure there is a lot of contradiction here. Some of those who detest the so-called left wing radicals of the past (the 60s) were part of that rabble themselves. I actually had a right wing guy confide in an e-mail to me that he was a hippie war protestor back in the 60s and never served in the military. He changed his mind. Today he sees politics as basically Bush or Reagan type Republicans against left leaning appeasers who would sell out their own country and run away from a fight in a second. Also, as a truck driver, I worked with a lot of guys who seemed to follow the conservative line, but admit that they were pot smoking anti-war, almost hippie types, but they served in Vietnam (and most seem proud of it, even though they realize it was a hopeless and misguided cause).

While I think that the bulk of the troops who were drafted and actually served in combat in the Vietnam War from the lower end of the economic scale, there were also those from nearly every level of society and every political persuasion (and as in society as a whole, no political persuasion). They were drafted, they did their duty as required by law, and if they were fortunate, they got to come home after two years or less, one year approximately of Vietnam service required.

Not to disparage our current all-volunteer military, but it primarily has to draw from those in search of employment who might not be able to find it elsewhere. Even though that force is fighting valiantly (by all accounts), it seems there is something inherently unfair in having primarily one part of society do our fighting and sacrificing for us. If all were subject to service and all were subject to sacrifice, we would as a nation be more selective in our use of military force, but more committed  toward meaningful results once the decision was made.

Another way to look at all of this is that in the world of politics, you have college educated people who look at things one way, and non-college educated people, who tend to see things from another perspective. To the latter, right and left and liberal and conservative are esoteric terms that carry little meaning or significance or even clear recognition (although calling someone “liberal” and “leftist” does seem to be an epithet). To them, you are either common sense and practical or you are someone with your nose in books and your head in the clouds and just don’t get it (in effect, you are too smart). You are either willing to defend your country (and that means support any military adventure the president initiates) or not. You either support the troops or not.

At any rate, I’m not sophisticated enough to do links correctly, but you can find that column I referred to earlier by calling up New York Times, Sept. 15, David Brooks column, “Why Experience Matters”.

I’m not in favor of re-instituting the military draft at this point, but I do think that if it were, we would quickly be out of our wars. The problem with instituting a draft would be that we have never resolved the issue of how it is we decide to go to war. It seems that despite the fact that the Constitution gives the power to declare war to the Congress, in reality it plays out another way. The president as commander in chief (as designated in the Constitution) can commit troops or take military actions and then essentially black mail the Congress to go along, with the argument that not to do so amounts to treason, and much of the public buys this or is indifferent to this.

The draft would force many to drop their indifference, but it would be unfair to call up people to fight in an unjust war under threat of imprisonment if they don’t.

I may have written here that many people still mistakenly believe we went to war because Iraq attacked us. In reality, I don’t think many believe that by now. It seems apparent that a primarily indifferent or apathetic public just went along with it content that without a draft, who cares? and besides, maybe we can whip those Arabs and get their oil, that would pay them back for gouging us and would send a message to Islamic terrorists (after all we are fighting over there in that world).

Supposedly, there is a lot more interest in the current presidential election than has previously been the case, with voters unhappy about the economy and the war. The turnout in November will tell the tale.

Indifference or not, reckless and unethical practices in the financial markets and the monetary cost of war is responsible for the economic crisis we now face.

Also I agree with a line out of a Barack Obama speech today that blamed our financial mess on: “policies that reward manipulation rather than productivity.”

John McCain rather weakly, I think, claims that he realizes that some things are amiss and that he will work for reform. Rather hard to believe since he has been in Washington for 26 years, and although he has differed from Republican administrations on some issues, for the most part he has gone along. Besides he is counting on the support and votes from the so-called Republican base who got us into this mess. While he may be trying to reach out to undecideds there is no indication he would abandon his base if elected.

When the cost of war and the cost of indifference and apathy toward both war and the out-of-whack financial practices really hits home, the mood will change.

Actually, that gives me hope, for no matter whether Obama or McCain is elected, they will face that mood of the public, who probably won’t be so indifferent anymore.

As to our war effort, strangely I see little difference between Obama and McCain, except that McCain has a natural proclivity for armed conflict.

Maybe Obama is closer to being anti-war, but he wouldn’t dare be too direct about that. I remember what happened to George McGovern.

The war issue is confusing in that there is certainly a terrorist movement, at least somewhat coordinated, and now centered in the Middle East, that means to do us harm (in the manner of 9/11 or worse).

But that just means we need someone level headed and not hot headed who can make reasonable decisions about the deployment of military force and other defense issues. And this is the 21st Century. We need someone who can think in terms of modern realities.

And finally, although I didn’t want to mention her name, Sarah Palin, due to McCain’s age primarily, has a good chance of becoming president. So far, the only knowledge of foreign affairs she has shown is that she says that from some point in Alaska you can see Russia. To realize that she would actually use that point to answer a question about her worldly knowledge, is scary, to say the least.

Setting things straight:

In the initial draft of my previous blog I said something about a woman who said she had no previous interest in politics but was intrigued with Sarah Palin and I went on to suggest that people who have no knowledge of current events should not be able to vote (I was being kind of sarcastic). Anyway, I wrote that after misinterpreting a TV soundbite. I saw the piece later and realized it was not what I thought. But then I read in the paper today that Palin is attracting some former Hillary Clinton supporters. I can’t see the logic there. The only similarity or connection that the two have is that they are both women and that putting them together makes a hilarious Saturday Nigh Live skit. Oh, and I removed my erroneous info and posted a new draft.

Bush as Hoover, our army, our beer…

July 15, 2008




By Tony Walther

Here’s some observations on the news and trends of the day:

– President Bush says we’re going through trying times, but basically our economy is sound. Kind of sounds like Herbert Hoover to me.

– Barack Obama says that we should have been paying more attention to Afghanistan in the first place, instead of Iraq. He may well be right, but his most recent statements involving the war over there should be instructive to anyone who might vote for him thinking he will get us out of war. More than likely, he’ll just move it over a little.

And on the subject of war, my wife and I were watching a television saga called “Army Wives” and in it there were these dedicated soldiers who fought in Iraq and wanted to go back for more. Now of course this was fiction, but I think we were both thinking of how in real life we constantly see and hear reports of military personnel who suffer terrible injuries wanting to go back and fight again. We sometimes wonder if the media doesn’t cherry pick (my term) who they interview, but whatever, most of these military people seem a reasonably intelligent and dedicated lot. Anyway, with that in mind, I made a comment on how dedicated they are (mixing fact and fiction, entertainment land with real world, kind of like Ronald Reagan used to do), and she looked at me and said: “yeah, they’re not a bunch of whiners.”

It got me to thinking about our all-volunteer military. I have had my doubts about whether we should have what I think of as something akin to a mercenary force (although my dictionary tells me mercenary only refers to fighting for a foreign country). I still do have concerns. But I have to say, from what I have seen of them, they are indeed the best fighting force we’ve ever had. Of course, that’s just an off-the-cuff opinion with nothing really to go by other than perception and comparison of news reports, newsreels, reading of history, and so on (and we also have seen the reports of the high suicide rate among soldiers and of complaints about unending deployments).

But, assuming that we do have this highly skilled and motivated military, we should use them to our best advantage. I still believe that the basic strategy of throwing everything we’ve got at the enemy would be the way to go. The other options seem to be endless stalemate, or to quit. If we were to just quit we have to realize the likely consequences: years of recriminations (who lost the Middle East?), emboldened enemies who will see the USA as what communist China used to call a “Paper Tiger,” and a demoralization of our military like we saw post-Vietnam (but also a much lesser drain on our economy).

Now I have just written something that makes me seem pro-war, militant, jingoistic, whatever. But I maintain that I am not. I would rather see the U.S. avoid conflict whenever it can. I actually like to the idea of neutrality, within limits. But when you pick a fight, you should be able to carry it off.

It’s a little late to conclude we just made a mistake –- where was the mass outcry from the public?

It still rings in my ears when pre-Iraq war it was pointed out that there seemed no logical reason to attack Iraq. The believers kept saying: “the president knows things we don’t.” I’ll just shake my head and leave that alone, well except:

In a recent letter to the editor in my local newspaper the writer implied nuclear weapons material was found in Iraq after all and that we shipped it to Canada. Looked that one up on the web and found that the U.S. did recently secretly ship 500 tons of low grade uranium, reportedly not weapons grade, to a private concern in Canada at a cost to the taxpayers of $70 million. Obviously it’s not a secret anymore. The Iraqi government had asked us to get rid of the stuff. If that was what Bush knew way back when, I think he’d be crowing about it now. And they didn’t throw rose petals at us when we “liberated” them either.

Moving on:

– Budweiser, the all-American beer, has been bought out by a Belgium-based brewing conglomerate. Ho hum I say. If you really enjoy beer, Budweiser is about as close to real beer as bottled water. Just don’t take over Sierra Nevada or Anchor Steam, to name a couple.

– Recently while waiting to get a blood draw, I thumbed through a copy of U.S. News and World Report. What a good weekly news magazine, I thought. I had been disappointed with Time and Newsweek these past many years. Now I read on the web today that U.S. News is dropping down to a once every other week cycle, a victim of online. Of course it is touting its online edition, but I can see the handwriting on the wall. Traditional print is dying, and it makes me sad.

As I was waiting in the doctor’s office today, I thumbed through the printed version of U.S. News and World Report and spotted an item that suggested that if elected Obama might consider a Supreme Court nomination (when the chance arose) for Hillary Clinton. I check the web every day and I hadn’t seen that one.

– Last Thanksgiving or Christmas I was talking politics with the family and I prognosticated that Mitt Romney would win the Republican presidential nomination, not because I like him, but because I thought he had the smoothness, the business tone, the look. I was surprised when he fell out of the race so soon. Well, He’s baaaack, maybe. The web tells me he’s high on the list for VP picks for John McCain. With the economy in the dumper, I’ll bet he would really strengthen McCain’s chances. Again, that is not an endorsement from me, just an observation. And with my track record on such prognostications, well, sorry Mr. McCain.