Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Cosmic Reality

One of my favorite movies has to be “The Rookie” with Dennis Quaid playing the part of Jim Morris, the real-life west Texas high school science teacher who took a shot at trying out for major league baseball well past his prime. The essential theme of the story is that it is never too late to pursue dreams. Just before he was called up from the minors and he was feeling dejected and more than a little homesick, he remembered what his father had told him: it’s ok to dream about what you want to do until it’s time to do what you are meant to do. By the time he had reached a decision to stop “playing” baseball, go home, and resume teaching science and coaching high school baseball, he was called up to the major leagues.

There is nothing wrong with having dreams. These are a huge part of what makes getting out of bed every morning worth the effort. There is also nothing wrong with wanting more out of life than whatever is set before us, but there is something desperately wrong with being so dissatisfied with life that we spin ourselves off into several different directions in efforts to find that happy place where all our dreams might come true and in so doing actually neglecting those things that do matter more than anything else. There are still bills to be paid and children to be raised and educated. And in a society in which divorce has become the “easy” option as a means by which we try to “find ourselves”, there is effort required to be put into one’s marriage and working on maintaining the relationship rather than neglect it to the point of disrepair.

Whether one is meant to do something as part of some cosmic destiny or is only a matter of having entered into certain commitments, the first obligations remain. There is still such a thing as “first things first”. Things get harder as we get older especially if we become dissatisfied with the way things are and try to think back on where we might have “missed the boat”. We question the wisdom of certain decisions while failing to realize that even the mistakes made in youthful haste are part and parcel of who we have become. Life is what it is, but there is also the element that life can be what we choose for it to be.

For grown-ups, some things will have to wait. We are owed nothing and are guaranteed even less than that, but we must find the happy place in our hearts when we can finally become at least content with what life has given us. It has everything to do with being satisfied that we are blessed even when we think we are cursed.

What do Americans Want?

Heading into a new election year, a year that promises to be anything but civil, what are Americans’ expectations? What do the people want? It is said that Republicans lost control of the Congress over the war in Iraq and even congressional Democrats are not faring well in public opinion polls because they are not doing all that was expected from them to end the US presence in Iraq.

The Democrat-controlled Congress just passed a bill to expand SCHIP, a program intended to provide health insurance coverage to poor children, which will now include “children” up to the age of 25 and will also include “poor” households with income in excess of $80,000.00 by substantially raising taxes on tobacco, a product most prominently used by lower-income folks. HillaryCare promises health insurance for everyone (actually, the proposal “mandates” coverage) to the tune of $10 billion per year while decrying the careless budget deficits of the Bush administration. The proposal also claims to be able to make the US health care system more efficient but is a little short on specifics. The Democrats have been handed a nearly made-to-order attorney general nominee but are suggesting that confirmation hearings will be delayed in an effort to force the administration’s hand over documents related to the FORMER attorney general while speaking of how desperately the US needs a new attorney general in place as soon as possible.

This is going to be an election season of “transactional politics”, to borrow a phrase from Time magazine, in which support for Democratic presidential candidates will go not necessarily to the highest bidder but will instead go for the highest bid, the candidate who will offer the most give-aways. Why is it that in a nation where freedom and liberty are claimed to be the cornerstones of our society, a society that expresses “fear” of illegal or unconstitutional wiretaps as a threat to our freedom even if for the sake of our national security, we seem to see no need to be fearful of a potential government that seeks to control nearly every facet of our existence? Why do we not see in these give-aways express threats to the very freedom and liberty we claim to embrace? Essentially it is that whenever the government dictates what we will or won’t do, what we can or cannot have and how much or how little we are allowed to have, the essential liberty we believe to have been ordained to us by divine authority is taken from us by government authority.

This is the fundamental philosophy that defines the difference between Republicans and Democrats. What is unfortunate is that so many – actually, too many – have come to believe that government give-away programs that attempt to manage and control our lives enhance freedom rather than restrict it. This must be the very reason why the late, great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Republican. He didn’t demand equality of outcome of every enterprise. Instead he expressed faith in the reality that man, regardless of skin color, is capable of thinking for himself and is due the right to succeed or fail according to his individual effort. Dr. King did not ask for public give-aways; he demanded that obstacles be moved away. It is the very principle by which a Republican president was compelled to face down a Democratic governor in 1957 to do nothing more than to enforce the law of the land, the law which demands that individual rights be respected … period.

We would all do well to avoid “pied piper” politicians who sound a good theme by promising something for nothing but are actually leading us to our own destruction, destruction of the very freedom Dr. King was willing to die for.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Dare to Hope

Former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales took quite a beating from the Democratic congressional majority after having been accused of ignoring the needs of the people by serving the needs of the Bush administration in the ongoing war on terror. In the interests of the nation as a whole, then, Mr. Gonzales decided it best to resign his position. Since his resignation, the Democrats have been demanding a candidate who will be qualified for the position and who respects the rule of law.

In this unique moment in US history, President Bush has nominated a candidate who can meet all the requirements of the office, all the expectations of the Democrats, and all the needs of the people of the United States during this time of war. And during this time of war in this unique moment in US history, we are presented with a gentleman who is uniquely qualified to lead the Justice Department. Judge Michael Mukasey has been presented to the people of the United States and will soon be presented to the US Senate for confirmation.

Let us hope that the Democrats are as serious about their commitment “not to obstruct or impede” as they claim to be about the rule of law and public service in this country. Let us hope that the irresponsible talk of holding up the nomination of Judge Mukasey in an ongoing effort to locate the ever-allusive “smoking gun” of the US attorney matter is just that: talk. Let us hope (dare we hope?) that the Democratic leadership is as serious and as committed to the rule of law and sound leadership at the Justice Department as they claim to be. Let us hope that they recognize during this time of war and the unique legal challenges this country has faced for the sake of national security that we have been presented with a genuine leader who has faced these unique challenges with “extraordinary skill and patience, assuring fairness to the prosecution and to each defendant, with helpfulness to the jury” (US Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, in congratulating Judge Mukasey in his exceptional handling of a terror trial).

It will not get much better than this.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Claim the Name!

Jeremiah 4:11-12; 22-28
Revelation 2:1-7
Matthew 10:16-25

The other night my daughter asked me what it means to be a Methodist. The sad part of this inquiry is that she has been a Methodist all her cognitive life. She is baptized and confirmed as a Methodist Christian. The sadder part still, her Methodist preacher dad could not answer her question except to point out some differences between Methodist theology and other denominations that see things a little differently.

I have long maintained that the matter of our denomination affiliation is not nearly as important as the manner in which we live out a life of faith. Being a faithful Methodist is not nearly as important as being a faithful disciple of Christ. I almost wrote that it is slightly akin to being a faithful Democrat or Republican above being a faithful American, but this is not a fair analogy – at least not in the realm of theology. In fact, I would come close to saying that while we should be profoundly grateful and daily count our blessings for living in such a country as ours, it must necessarily be considered primarily in a theological sense in that we recognize that we were born Americans for a reason when we could just as easily have been born in any other country. It is, after all, a very big world, and everyone has to be born somewhere.

For Methodists – actually, for all Christians - one must consider what is written in the greeting in the Book of Discipline as this book defines who and what we are as Methodists: “it affirms with John Wesley that solitary religion is invalid and that Christ lays claim upon the WHOLE life of those who accept Him as Lord and Savior.”

The United Methodist Church “is an inclusive society without regard to ethnic origin, economic condition, gender, age, or disabilities. It asserts that all who are baptized and confirmed are MINISTERS of Christ.”

Part of what distinguishes United Methodism from many other churches in the Protestant tradition is our connectionalism and sense of global mission as a single body, recognizing that Christ Himself is but One Body; we dare to be no less. We must never attempt to lay claim to be American Methodists above our calling to be “ministers” of Christ in willing cooperation and fellowship not only with Methodists worldwide but also with all Christians from other denominations who are willing to sit at a common table of worship in unity with Christ and with one another. We recognize that universality of the Lord.

“The underlying energy of the Wesleyan theological heritage stems from an emphasis upon practical divinity, the implementation of genuine Christianity in the lives of believers.”

Even though there have been doctrinal disputes as long as there has been religion and some new denominations and even whole religions did arise from such disputes, the Methodist movement did not set out to reformulate or create new doctrine. Rather, the Methodist Church came from an essential belief that Christianity is not only social but is also dynamic. Christianity is nothing if not social and if we are not representative of “streams of living water” – meaning MOVING water – then we are putrid, stagnant swamp water where only death can flourish. Our stated mission is simple: to make disciples of Christ. Since it should be obvious that this monumental, worldwide task cannot be accomplished within a single hour during only one day of the week, it must necessarily be what we affirm: solitary religion is invalid, and Christ lays claim over the WHOLE life.

How strange it is that ancient “Egyptians did not really have a name for religion as such because it was an inseparable element of the world order to which Egyptian society belonged.” (pg 14, Duiker, 3rd edition, Essential World History) Because Egypt lay in the Nile River Valley, agriculture became the society and the abundant produce may have been a driving force behind creating their many gods. And even though trade certainly flourished, Egypt was largely geographically isolated from invading armies. There is harsh desert to the east and to the west, the Mediterranean Sea is to the north, and there are so-called “cataracts” in the Nile River to the south. So they were largely a society unto themselves. Religion was not a “part” of their society. Rather, their society seemed to revolve around religion. It might be said that society and culture were a “part” of their religion.

The same cannot be said of American Christianity or American Christians. Obviously we have our jobs and our businesses that lay claim to a big chunk of our lives, and we cannot set them aside. We have families to support and bills to pay. Growing children are constantly in need of new shoes, and they eat! The world in which we live has become very expensive and we are directly connected into it. Be aware, however, that this may be reality but it is only because we have allowed it to be so. It has not necessarily been willed upon us by our Holy Father.

I try never to put too much stock into national polls. The sampling is always going to be inherently flawed because it is just not possible to contact every single person in the US nor is it fair to say that a sampling of white, middle-aged American men can speak on behalf of ALL white, middle-aged American men. Nevertheless, it is interesting that when polls are done regarding religion in America, the question “how important a part of your life is your religion”? Do you see the flaw in the question? It is already designed, even if unintentionally, to categorize our faith. Even if we answer that religion is VERY important, we nevertheless answer that religion – though important – is still only a PART of our lives. Hence the problem as per the Lord’s judgment in Jeremiah and the Lord’s admonishment in The Revelation.

Jesus warns His followers that they are going out into a strange world where they actually do not belong, yet they are sent to proclaim the Word. And for what reason? It must surely be the knowledge that there are others out in that strange world who cannot find their way back, and the only way to get them back is to go to them and provide the Light that has been granted to us. In order to do this effectively, we must become more attuned to not only our religion but, more importantly, the faith we proclaim. This, though perhaps overly simplified, is the Methodist movement in a nutshell.

Regardless of our station in life, there is always going to be a gap, a void, if Christ is not present foremost. It is never an easy calling to take on the role of “witness”, yet it is a calling that belongs to all who have claimed the Name above all names. It is a calling we dare not reject lest we be rejected. And the time we spend in witness may be hard as we face the temptations this world offers to us, but that time is short compared to the Time Rewarded to those who remember FIRST – the FIRST LOVE. The desolate land envisioned in Jeremiah is a land void of the Word, void of “witnesses”, void of “streams of living water”. It is a world lost BUT NOT COMPLETELY.

It is still a world worthy of redemption – as are they all – as are we. AMEN.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Who is kidding Whom?

Unless I am mistaken, I seem to recall that not long after the attacks of 9/11/01 the television networks took a stand perhaps at the request of the White House and declared that Osama bin-Laden’s time on American television would be ended. Now he’s back in the news and is being quoted and shown on news networks for all to see, and I don’t understand how we have come to such a pass that we would allow this man to have free air time on American television.

Of course he’s still news and what he does and all that he’s involved in still concerns many Americans. However, there is no justification for allowing this murderer time in the American media to pontificate about his perverted religion (whatever it is, it ain’t Islam!) and his even more perverted world views. Why should anyone in the United States give one whit about what this man has to say? Is being willing to hear this mass murderer’s thoughts what it means to be enlightened? If so, darkness now appears the better alternative because this man is not capable of rational discourse.

Unlike Democrats, I am willing to trust Homeland Security, the CIA, and the FBI to get to the heart of what this maniac is up to and to do what needs to be done to maintain reasonable national security since, as far as I can tell, they’ve done a pretty remarkable job since 9/11/01. Though I am a freedom-loving libertarian Republican, I also acknowledge that in matters of national security there are some things I don’t need to know because if I as a citizen who reads in public can have access to inside information, so can bin-Laden and his band of marauders. This alone is a compelling reason why citizens should be well informed about potential candidates for public office. We have to be able to trust them to make sound decisions.

It is not a matter of choosing to live in ignorance. As a student of politics and as an informed voter I am painfully aware of what is happening around me. As a somewhat reasonable man, I am equally aware that there is only so much I can do to protect myself against irrational “martyrs” who are willing to die in their crazed efforts to accomplish whatever mission they feel compelled to fulfill. I am not willing to receive a voice that claims to speak on behalf of such perverted minds, and I expect US media to respect that bin-Laden and his organization are still actively at war with the United States. How dare they think that this person has something to say to America worth listening to, let alone repeating over and over again?

While we continue to bury our beloved countrymen, we must be subjected to this criminal trying to convince us that we had it coming and then offering a veiled threat against us unless we repent? I think not.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The {court-appointed} President - NOT!

Hi. My name is Michael, and I am an op-ed, “letters to the editor” junkie. There is little I love more than to read actual news articles and then read someone else’s assessment. I know full well that many writers play loose with facts in order to make their point and, though certainly unintentional, I may well be guilty myself from time to time. However, my name means a little more to me than my opinion so in matters of being right or being fair, I choose fair.

It is also easy to see, at least for the informed reader, that many “letters to the editor” are based more on headlines and sound bites than on the whole story. It is part of the reason why I sometimes cringe knowing that even those who don’t bother getting the whole story are allowed the same vote as I and others who do bother to read the whole story. Still it must be acknowledged that being informed does not necessarily equate with being right.

Having said all this, I must say that if I read one more “letter to the editor” from another sour-grapes munchin’ Democrat about how President Bush was “appointed” to his position by the US Supreme Court, I am going to choke! These letters that convey an attitude of partisan spin, misinformation and downright ignorance only serve as yet another reminder that the majority of Americans are lacking in the basic tenets of American civics. The lack of civility in these letters is equally appalling.

The decision by the US Supreme Court came as a result of Florida’s carelessness and Al Gore’s blind ambition. Upon learning that the vote count might be close enough to trigger an automatic recount, Mr. Gore retracted the concession he had already made to Mr. Bush only an hour before. The vote was 2,909,135 to Bush, 2,907,351 to Gore, but the first lawsuit filed was in a challenge to Florida’s “butterfly ballots”. This all happened on November 8.

On November 9 Mr. Gore’s campaign requested a manual recount in four Florida counties where the votes were actually too close to call especially in light of some seeming inconsistencies in reporting as well as allegations of fraud in addition to some voters claiming to have been duped by the so-called “butterfly ballots”. Remember the charges from some voters who claimed that what they actually selected was not what they meant to select? Even by now it’s beginning to get a little ridiculous if somewhat entertaining, but it is important business to see to it that all ballots are counted and counted properly.

On November 11, Siegel vs. LePore is filed in federal court on behalf of Mr. Bush and a collection of voters to halt the manual recounts, alleging constitutional violations of equal protection among other violations. On November 12 Palm Beach County begins its manual recount.

On November 13 a US District judge rejects the Siegel plea to halt manual recounts, but on November 14 a circuit court judge rules that Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris may enforce a statutory 5pm deadline for county reporting of returns but also held that she may not arbitrarily refuse to include late filed returns. On November 15 Secretary Harris indicated that she will not consider further returns from counties that had already made their submissions.

November 17 was the deadline for receiving overseas absentee ballots, and circuit judge Terry Lewis refused to compel Secretary Harris to consider late returns. One must infer from this that the judge simply upheld Florida law in that anything received after the state-mandated deadlines are void. From there the Florida Supreme Court had intervened at the behest of the Gore campaign, and Secretary Harris was prohibited from certifying election results without further word from that Court.

In the big middle of this confusion, Miami-Dade County had begun its recount on November 19 and by November 21 the Florida Supreme Court refused to halt the manual recounts but required that results be completed by November 26-27. It is at this point, actually on the 22nd, that the Bush campaign filed a petition to the US Supreme Court asking that the Florida Supreme Court ruling be reviewed. On the 23rd the Florida Supreme Court rejected the Gore campaign request that Miami-Dade be compelled to complete a now-suspended recount of all ballots.

On the 24th the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the Bush campaign’s petition that challenged the legality of the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to allow recounts and extend state-mandated deadlines.

The final ruling from the US Supreme Court on December 12 held that any recounts at this point could not be properly recounted “in a constitutional manner” in the time remaining. On the 13th the Gore campaign finally conceded the election when it determined that there were no other legal options available.

Bear in mind that this count/recount/court petition/court ruling is being split between circuit courts, state courts, and federal courts up to and including the US Supreme Court. During this time the Gore campaign challenged almost every facet of the Florida election process in nearly every imaginable venue. In the end, however, the Secretary of State certified the election results and the Florida legislature assigned its electors.

If it can even come close to being construed that President Bush was “appointed” by the US Supreme Court it is only because Mr. Gore and/or his supporters got the courts involved in the first place, but that’s the beauty of our system. It was obvious that no one was willing to concede anything. Under our system of government, these kinds of disputes are precisely what the US and state court systems were designed to settle. It is either this or pistols at 20 paces.

Is the matter completely settled? Not in the minds of Gore supporters who are still evidently licking their wounds nearly seven years later and applying “Republican Secretary of State/Republican & Brother Governor” salve on these still-open wounds. To be fair, however, there are still “I hate Clinton” letters floating around here and there. Now I would love to believe that they are only trying to “remind” voters that Clinton and White House together is not a good thing but here’s the thing: name recognition goes a long way because voters don’t pay enough attention to details which brings me to my point and my conclusion.

President Bush is the legal and duly elected president of the United States. If you have a point to make against a lame-duck president who cannot run for office again, please make it and then move back down to the shallow end of the kiddie pool where the water is a little warmer.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Yes, but ....

Before General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker even made it to the halls of Congress to give a progress report on the troop surge in Iraq, before one word has even been spoken aloud, the general’s remarks had already been dismissed. Senator Joe Biden, D-DE, made headlines by declaring – before the general had officially submitted his required report to the Congress or answered any questions, mind you – that “General Petraeus is dead, flat wrong …”

Bear in mind that the general and the ambassador have both been on the ground in Iraq on a steady basis and have been constantly in the mix, both politically and militarily, as opposed to Sen. Biden and many other members of Congress who make an appearance, smile for the cameras, press a little flesh, and determine by such brief interludes that they have the whole picture, the only point being that there will be no serious discussions beyond what it will take to make headlines. Rather than even pretend to be serious about such an astounding commitment the US has made to the people of Iraq, the focus will be directed more toward what will be required to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate. Just as a side note, this is part of the reason why I have such serious misgivings about current office holders seeking higher office. To a cynic like me, everything said and done is highly suspect. Everything is about political posturing.

It makes one wonder what alternatives really are available if there is nothing but finger-pointing and name-calling with Harry Reid leading the way. Seriously, what is the alternative? What do Democrats hope to achieve by demanding withdrawal of all troops? Is there a master plan in the offing? Because if there is, it is time to show. It is not enough to point fingers, call names, and find fault. Any one single person among all Americans, regardless of experience or knowledge, can find fault to one degree or another. It takes no real insight to see something and just know that something does not add up. Then again, we’re not talking about Joe-on-the-street. We’re talking about senators who want to be the next president, senators who want their respective parties in control of the Congress and the White House, and senators and members of the House who have been in government and – presumably – in the know for years. Why is it that now in the advent of an election year, the best we are offered is what’s wrong? And we’re supposed to take these candidates seriously for what reason?

It is almost as if Democrats would wish for the return of Saddam Hussein if it were possible. At least during his time of terror, the Democrats could (and did) strut around making empty gestures (and headlines) directed at Saddam and his designs on regional domination. “If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program.” William Jefferson Clinton

Now that Saddam is out of the picture and the imminent threat which apparently existed during the reign of a Democratic president but somehow disappeared with no evidence of disposal prior to President Bush taking office, the Democrats have forgotten. Eight years, after all, is a long time. I freely admit that it is often I don’t remember at noon what I had for breakfast that day, but while Mr. Clinton was in office the threat seemed so obvious, so clear, so “imminent”. Now we’ve attacked and dismantled an “innocent” dictator/butcher and have done nothing but make the world a more dangerous place. Even more, all we have to do – according to the Democratic “plan”, if there is one – is withdraw our troops immediately, and this will all go away and there will be peace and prosperity for all.

The time has come for serious legislators to come forward and put aside the political nonsense that has come to be known among right-thinking Americans as the electoral process. It is time for the Congress to come to terms with its lower-than-George-Bush approval rating and get busy doing the job they begged for the chance to do. It is time to recognize that it is perfectly ok to express concerns without rejecting experience out of hand before having heard the first word or asked the first question. It is time to move forward. As it is now, Osama bin-Laden is currently getting as much press time in the US as the Congress. Who is being taken more seriously?

Monday, September 10, 2007

We Must Never Forget

“Do not wait for leaders. Do it alone: person to person.” Mother Teresa

Since 2001 there have been remembrances and ceremonies by which we strive to honor those who lost their lives on that dreadful day in September. Writers will write, speakers will speak, and the faithful will pray; and while there are those who certainly have a talent for waxing eloquent about the events of 9/11/01 and the needless loss of life, there is still the harsh reality that we cannot turn back the clock. There are no words that can adequately convey our anger, our anguish, or even perhaps our fears.

This date is worthy of our time and reflection. The families whose loved ones lost their lives deserve every consideration, thought, and prayer we can offer them. The men and women of our armed forces and their families who keep the home fires burning also deserve no less than our profound respect, admiration, and support. We must also remember the first-responders here at home – police, firefighters, and other emergency personnel and the families who offer these brave men and women to us – who are always at the ready to serve and protect our communities.

For those who have gone before us, it is too late to offer them our admiration and respect; we can only mourn with the loved ones who are left behind. For those who are still with us, however, now is the time to remind them of how important their service is to us and how important they themselves are to us but not with empty words or meaningless gestures. Instead, let us perform random acts of community service to benefit not only those (and their families) who stand ready to protect us but to also serve as witness to our sense of duty and service to one another regardless of economic status, race, or creed. Let us be witness to the reality that the United States of America is not only a place but an ideal. Let us be, not only on this date but for all time, united in principle, purpose, and justice. The Lord has already blessed the USA. Let us now choose to bless Him by blessing one another.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Evil among us

Last night (9/5/07) during the Republican presidential debate, the dominating theme seemed to be directed toward the war on terror and, more specifically, the US presence in Iraq. During the debate, there were questions posed to the candidates not only from the three moderators but also from patrons in a nearby restaurant who were watching the debate on TV. A gentleman who was identified as a sheriff’s deputy directed his question toward Mitt Romney and was focused on a comment Gov. Romney had made several weeks ago somehow comparing his sons’ service to his campaign to the service of military personnel on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. The deputy acknowledged that Mr. Romney had already apologized but still continued to berate the candidate for ever having said it at all.

Mr. Romney apologized again by reminding everyone that service to this country in the armed forces cannot be fairly compared to much else and he did a good job of paying tribute to our military members, but he missed a greater opportunity that would have brought the entire war on terror into sharper focus and, I believe, proper perspective.

Perhaps more than anyone, a police officer can certainly understand that crime is a perpetual problem that will never go away. I believe it was President Bush who said something early on to the effect that as long as there are men willing to commit evil acts against innocent people, we must be prepared and willing to confront them. Terror activity is a series of criminal acts against innocent civilians designed to weaken the resolve of governments by holding mothers and children hostage to threats of future attacks. These are murderers, not uniformed soldiers, and they serve a perverted ideology and not a nation with borders. As long as nations such as Iran and Syria are willing to finance their activities, these criminals will not go away. Mr. Romney missed his chance to remind the deputy that no matter how many criminals die, or are killed, or are incarcerated, there will always be others waiting and willing to take their place.

It serves no useful purpose to continue to berate the president or the Congress about whether the US should ever have gone into Iraq, as Congressman Ron Paul seems intent on doing. Gov. Mike Huckabee said it best: we broke it. Now it’s up to us to fix it as a nation united in the fight against these mindless criminals. That the battle seems to be centered in Iraq only serves to remind us that, even while Sunnis and Shias fight amongst themselves, there are still substantial foreign fighters in Iraq doing battle against the coalition and the popularly elected Iraqi government. It is no more their fight than, as Democrats or Ron Paul would suggest, our own.

It has often been said that the US and her allies were successful in WWII partly because there were strict controls (yes, censors) on what was to be allowed published in US newspapers. The nation at war did not see the war in all its horrifying splendor. We see all too well what the conflict in Iraq looks like, and we mournfully read the names, ages, and biographies of young men who have given their all in this battle. These are our sons, our fathers whether we are directly related or not. We share the pain of those families who are forced to bury their beloved all too soon. In the face of all this, of course we might be inclined to isolate ourselves as some would and pretend that such ugliness does not exist.

Unfortunately it does exist, has always existed in one form or fashion, and will always exist to one degree or another. These criminals will not go away as long as they honestly and earnestly believe in their cause, and religious fanatics are the worst of worse. The nature of their religion is irrelevant.

This is not a crusade in which we are trying to reclaim the holy land, and it is not a battle for control of oil fields. This conflict also cannot be reduced to a border skirmish with defined goals or an obscure “exit strategy” not because one does not exist but because one cannot exist as long as evil resides among us. This war is international in its scope and is therefore without borders. It is a sobering recognition of the sad fact that this fight will exist with us or without us, and President Bush and the Congress that once supported him has made a sound choice to wage this war on someone else’s soil rather than our own. Our future president, whoever it may be, must be willing to embrace this reality or be willing to apologize for failing to act appropriately.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Exploring the Candidates: John Edwards

Is it just me, or does every Democratic presidential wanna-be come with an inherent savior complex? During the 2000 campaign and debates between George W. and Al Gore, Mr. Bush acknowledged that the differences in opinion between himself and Mr. Gore were not a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong but were, rather, a difference in opinion based on a sense of philosophy regarding government responsibilities. They each shared a passion for America and they each believed in what they were standing for but my recollection of that campaign is that Mr. Gore expressed an intense desire to “fight for” us (not sure exactly whom he meant), diligently working to convince presumably middle or poor America of their “victim” status at the hands of rich, mean ol’ Republicans and promising virtually millions in give-away programs to whomever desired to belly up to the government trough in order to make it right. In a nut shell, Mr. Gore promised to be all things to all people, to be our nurturer, our provider.

While I do not intend to unfairly or inaccurately pigeon-hole Democrats in general, I might because it seems to me that this Robin Hood mentality of government’s role has become quite expensive over the years and continues to be a major theme in American politics now, essentially attempting to literally buy votes. It also seems as though each time the government “helps” the working families, these families wind up taking it in the shorts in the long run because members of Congress will invariably protect their own interests first.

During this presidential race, there is another wanna-be messiah on the campaign trail offering, heck, promising to save us from big oil, big pharmacy, big auto, big health care …. well, I think you get the idea. Former US Senator John Edwards is promising to save our poor souls from everything “big” except, of course, “big” government. Even more strange, Mr. Edwards is somehow going to take on “big” government by doing battle with the “inside-the-beltway” folks and straightening out the entire establishment. A man who is worth about a bazillion dollars and lives in a bazillion-square-foot home somehow feels our pain (oddly familiar ring to that one, I think), “understands” us, and is coming to our rescue.

The conflict I have with such “transactional” campaigns (to borrow a term from Time) is that, like most Americans, those who are lacking or are disenfranchised are easily seen or at least reported on, yet it is difficult to know for sure if a political candidate is sincere in seeking to help those who earnestly need it or if they are only attempting to buy votes.

Paul Krugman of the New York Times recently wrote an excellent piece with compelling arguments in favor of government’s obligation to see to it that young children have access to adequate health care beyond the ER. It is abundantly clear that corporate America will shut down an operation and move it overseas or south of the border where labor is substantially cheaper, so there are obviously a lot of Americans being forced to look elsewhere for work. Social Security problems are still looming that will have to be addressed sooner or later, and there is an incredibly expensive war going on with no end in sight. In short, there are problems that government can and must address. Whether government itself can – or should – actually attempt to solve all these problems is perhaps the “philosophical” difference which exists between Democrats and Republicans. Yet it is abundantly clear that genuine problems exist.

The late American industrialist Henry Ford seemed to have the best grasp on social duties and responsibilities when he was quoted as having said, “There are two fools in this world. One is the millionaire who thinks that by hoarding money he can somehow accumulate real power, and the other is the penniless reformer who thinks that if only he can take the money from one class and give it to another, all the world's ills will be cured.”

Money may not be able to buy happiness, but it can come in pretty handy for the down payment and social problems are going to be expensive one way or the other, but is money itself the only issue at stake? To hear Mr. Edwards talk, increasing tax rates on “the rich” while giving tax breaks to middle America will still enable him to provide universal health care for “everyone” (everyone who needs it, or everyone period?), college for “everyone” (who wants it, or whether they want it or not?), and anything else with a price tag that working Americans have to pay for if they want it but will apparently be provided for others who are somehow disadvantaged.

Such statements seem almost inflammatory and degrading toward those who have found themselves at the lower end of the economic scale, but the reality is that there will always be a gap between rich and poor. Trying to define an acceptable level of “gap”, however, is ambiguous at best and will ultimately require that someone’s liberty will be restricted in favor of someone else in any awkward attempt to narrow such a gap to a more acceptable level. Who will be the final authority to determine such?

There is also nothing proven except through failed communist and socialist societies that providing everything for everyone has ever worked or will ever work, but somehow vote-seekers such as Mr. Edwards try to convince Americans that they can somehow make it work. It must also be pointed out that leaders of such nations of communism or socialism have tended to live pretty high off the hog while citizens work their fingers to the bone and live in squalor in other countries like North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela to name only a few.

“The real destroyer of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations and benefits.” The first century Greek historian Plutarch also recognized that not only will increased taxes levied against the rich not solve any social problems or create economic opportunity for the poor, but the long sought-after “freedom” that vote-seekers claim to offer is actually chains and shackles. One way or the other, to one extent or another, there is no such thing as a free ride. Everything has a price, and everything comes with conditions. Being truly free means to take on such burdens by choice and not by compulsion. The problem with vote-seekers such as Mr. Edwards is that they are adept at convincing the masses that they have a problem and that someone, most likely a rich person or a Republican, is to be blamed and deserves to be punished.

Mr. Edwards might actually believe that he has the remedy for what ails the poor and he may honestly believe in everything he is offering. In my humble opinion, however, should this be the case it should remove any doubt that Mr. Edwards is ignorant of history and economic realities and therefore unfit to serve as chief executive of this nation. Anything the government seeks to prop up financially is artificial at best and will ultimately fail because the US economy is not driven by government spending, at least not primarily; it will be doomed to fail from the start. Ours is a consumer-driven economy based on goods and services bought and sold. Goods and services are provided by employed persons who are offered jobs based on the provider’s ability to sell which in turn is based on the consumer’s ability and willingness to purchase. It is commonly referred to as a “business” cycle and not a government one for a reason: it is completely dependent on business and commerce, most of which is privately held.

Still, the fact that ours is arguably the most powerful and affluent nation on the face of this earth and the fact that farmers go under in this country while human beings go hungry flies in the face of the very essence of economic justice. We also have a serious health care problem in this country in which it seems undetermined whether adequate health care is a right to be enjoyed by all human beings or is a privilege to be reserved only for those who can afford it. Providing universal health insurance, especially for the poor, will provide them with much-needed care but will do little for the spiraling rise in care and medicines except to put a greater burden on the US government.

What can be done to address such serious issues that stand before us? Obviously the solutions will depend on many factors, the party in the majority being at the top of the list. Another factor will be whether we elect a salesman or a chief executive with a proven track record of successfully managing affairs on such a grand scale. I am just not convinced that a single term in the US Senate and a successful career as a personal injury attorney are such qualifications that identify a person suited for such a monumental task, never minding a political ideology.

Mr. Edwards’ potential administration will come with a pretty hefty price tag from a grab bag in which there seems to be something for everyone. Voters have to look very carefully at what is being offered but when reviewing presidential candidates, voters must also be mindful that these candidates can only actually do so much because of constitutional restrictions to the duties and privileges of the office. Talking a good show will go a long way with apathetic and complacent voters who fail to dig too deep, but there is only so much that any president can – or should – do. We would all do well to pay closer attention.