The Answer Guy Online

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Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Close To The Edge

[Yikes. 1100 words of stuff guaranteed to piss most people off. I must have a death wish or something.]

No, I don’t hate America. Why do you ask?

Ever had that female friend or relative that always ends up in the most dysfunctional relationships with the worst boyfriends, mooching, abusive, possessive, compulsively womanizing, psychotic or whatever? Or the male friend or relative who always went for deranged and obsessive or insanely clingy or two-timing girlfriends? And they won’t dump the guy/girl, giving him or her chance after chance after chance, and you’re getting tired of trying to get them to do so? Or, heck, maybe you’ve been that person. (Props to you for recognizing that, if you are. It’s the first step to recovery.)

Anyway, that’s kind of how I feel about my country right now.

It takes considerable imagination to conceptualize a worse leadership than what we have right now, short of a fascist dictator or a dissolute king or a fanatical mullah. (A real cynic would see at least some elements of all three in this administration.)

Every economic idea they put forth seems designed to bring back the good ol’ Victorian plutocracy. Every proposed (large or small) tax change, every shift in budgetary priorities, every last domestic policy initiative – even the ones inspired by Democratic pressure, like the prescription drug benefits - coming from this White House seems specifically designed to create two Americas, one growing ever richer, the other growing ever poorer. The rationale for this set of policies is in constant flux. (When the economy looked good, we needed tax cuts because “America deserves a reward”; now, with the economy gone south, we need them to stimulate the economy.) Now I suppose one naturally wants to reward one’s campaign contributors with favors, but some of the changes they have proposed go well beyond mere payback into the realm of kleptocracy.

Every social policy idea is geared towards a small but influential cadre of people trying to inject radical religious views into public life. And not just on the “hot button” issues that clutter the airwaves and newspaper editorial pages, either. Or the federal largesse this administration is so eager to shower upon the religious right. Scientific boards are being stacked with people chosen primarily for their religious views. Our position as leader of the scientific world will be severely jeopardized if we continue down this path.

Every foreign policy initiative this administration undertakes further isolates America from the rest of the world. And as much fun as it is to make fun of the French, well, it’s not just them. Even if one comes to the quite reasonable conclusion that the regime of Saddam Hussein needs to be dealt with, this bunch running the show is almost uniquely unqualified to improve the situation there. Not only are we the ones that created this monster in the first place, but, of all the times to start a war in the Middle East, why would you pick this time? Our international “Q rating” is at an all-time low, we’re already trying to stabilize Afghanistan, it’s still clear Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida have no love (for the clueless, “infidel” is about the nastiest thing a Muslim fanatic can another person) for each other, and it’s painfully obvious to everyone not getting their information from Fox News or far-right talk radio that a war with Iraq will lead to more terrorists and terrorism. Our leaders would have us risk this much to prevent a far-fetched scenario of Saddam sacrificing the power he craves above all else just to spite the United States or Israel in some sort of suicidal attack? (Or for that matter, Kuwait or Saudi Arabia or Iran?) The only person that wants this war more than George W. Bush is Osama bin Laden.

It’s not that I think it’s necessarily about oil. I have no idea what this Iraq thing is supposed to be all about, even after reading a lot of news for the last two weeks. Is it about disarming Saddam of his “weapons of mass destruction?” Is it about bringing “democracy” to Iraq? Is it about the son avenging the father’s old grudges? I know there’s thousands of troops there now. I have every confidence in their ability to do exactly what their commanders want done. I have every confidence that Saddam Hussein can be removed from power if that ends up being an American goal. I have no confidence, however, that anything good can ultimately come of this war. I have no confidence that Iraq won’t degenerate into the anarcho-state Afghanistan became and may become again. I have no confidence in this regime currently in power in Washington to rebuild any nation, anywhere on earth.

And as bad as this administration’s policy choices are for this country, their approach to power is arguably worse. Everything is an excuse for more power, more secrecy, fewer liberties, fewer checks and balances. This was the most secretive administration the nation has seen in quite some time, and that began well before September 11, 2001. Their modus operandi seems to be to instill panic, fear, paranoia, and more panic in the population. (What makes this even worse is that there actually things out be quite concerned about, but these vague “alerts” to an already on-edge public serve no real purpose and might be seen as crying “wolf” some day.) That way dissenters or would-be dissenters are afraid to say anything, lest they be branded as unpatriotic or worse. (They’ve never actually bothered with specifying their criteria for “enemy combatants.”)

I guess it will help them get re-elected.

Though there is something inherently foolish about all this, it is not the work of fools. Though at one level it’s one blunder after another, it can’t be called incompetence. It is the work of a self-contained cell of badly misguided and reckless people hell bent on grabbing ever more power for themselves.

If you’re in a mood to be generous to the public, you can call a lot of this a bait-and-switch snow job, or maybe a stolen election. (No, I have not “gotten over it,” or forgotten about it.) If you’re not, and there’d be no reason to be if this bunch is still in the driver’s seat come January 20, 2005, well…

“Anyway, America, honey, dump this guy and his entourage, before you really get hurt. I think maybe there’s a better future for you somewhere.”

I get the sinking feeling she won’t leave him anytime soon. But I love her, damnit.

And as much as I might enjoy the fleeting self-satisfaction of an “I told you so” or two, I’d rather she not be put through what she’s about to go through.

Close to the edge, round by the corner.
Close to the end, down by a river.
Seasons will pass you by.
I get up, I get down.

(OK, now I’m quoting Yes lyrics. I think they mean something profound, but I'm not sure what. Time for me to go to sleep.)


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