Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Recklessness--Or Discipline: Our Choice

It's important to say this right. I understand that John McCain and his supporters take great pride in the maverick qualities by which he seeks to define himself, and to be defined. And there's something extraordinarily attractive about the maverick--the guy who bucks the system, holds feet to the fire, speaks truth to power, all those old cliches. It's a part of the American myth, the archetype that catapulted Ronald Reagan to power--and assures him seemingly everlasting sainthood in the memory of vast numbers of Americans, despite the evidence that suggests, to rational minds, that his true legacy is far from the unmitigated triumph it is made out to be. It also played an important part in the George W. Bush ascent to power--and its catastrophic outcome.

Now comes shoot-from-the-hip McCain, proclaiming his gunslinger credentials, and it's important for us to understand that the dark side of the maverick's willing--perhaps even romantic--embrace of risk is recklessness. The dark side of the fighter pilot's courage is the flyboy's arrogant impulsiveness and fatal attraction for danger. Am I "unpatriotic" in wondering if we yet need to hear the full story of the events that led to the downing of that aircraft in Vietnam, before McCain's much-touted stay at the Hanoi Hilton? Is it irreverent to ask for an accounting of those events, now that this same fighter pilot seeks to be entrusted with the controls in this country's cockpit and make life-or-death decisions for us all, for the next four, perhaps eight years?

These thoughts arise from my observation of McCain and his vaunted willingness to take a risk and, when all else fails, to throw the hail-Mary pass. (Apologies for the mix of metaphors, friends!) Clearly, the latest example of this quality is the choice of Sarah Palin for McCain's vice-presidential running-mate. And this is not, please, about Sarah Palin. I have no reason to disrespect her, although I suspect I would disagree with her on virtually every issue, from birth control and abortion and a woman's right to control her destiny to her disbelief in the human contribution to climate change. It is particularly not about a seventeen-year-old being pregnant and unmarried. No, this is about a man who spends months building political capital on his urgent promotion of the war in Iraq and on his opponent's supposed unpreparedness to handle the dangers that face us in that part of the world; and who then turns around and picks, as his immediate successor in the event of his incapacity, a person who is clearly, indeed dangerously under-qualified in this very area. And this for no other apparent reason than to appease those social and religious conservatives who have mistrusted him, and to poach democratic votes from the angry, disappointed Hillary support group. Oh, and to have a fellow "maverick" on the ticket.

I don't know about you, but I don't want another risk-taker in that office. I admire the quality in less high-stakes situations, but this is not a game of football. We're talking, now, about the task of steering this country back to calmer seas (ouch, those metaphors!) and re-establishing our position in the world, as Teddy Kennedy eloquently put it, by "the power of our example, not the example of our power."

In contrast to the jumpy maverick qualities of John McCain, I see the quiet, forceful approach of Barack Obama. There are those who like to characterize Obama as aloof, unapproachable--not the kind of guy, they say, you'd want to sit down and have a beer with, unlike the current occupant of the White House. They are fooled, I say, into overlooking the one quality we desperately need in our next president: a true, unflappable mental discipline, a clarity and determination that see past the contingencies of the moment and hold fast to the big picture, the need for sanity, mutual respect and justice in the world, if we are to survive the baser aspects of our human nature.

Drawing, as I often do, on my admiration for the teachings of the Buddha, I honor not only Obama's quite extraordinary equanimity, but also the natural ease and clarity with which he embraces "Right Speech"--his steadfast refusal to advance his interests by slandering others, even those who gladly slander him. Who could fail to admire his immediate, forthright and unambiguous response to the current flap over what is, after all, no more than a family matter? I honor the dignity with which he had consistently refused to succumb to those who demand that he descend into the political mire, or risk appearing weak. His acceptance speech, last week, was ample evidence of strength combined with dignity.

Dignity, it's true, is not the most fuzzily "approachable" of qualities. It risks making its wearer seem a bit remote. But we have had ample time to contemplate the results of electing a folksy, scrappy pugilist and undisciplined thinker to hold our highest office and represent us to the world. Isn't it time for the corrective of some quiet balance, some serious forethought in judgment, some intellectual rigor and, yes, some dignity? Do we really need another reckless jolt into a future filled with known and unknown dangers? For myself, in the matter of global politics, I favor predictability over excitement, the dignity of dialogue over the bloody legacy of the sword.


John Torcello said...

Let's play a game of political strategy for a moment...

What can we expect in the coming few days?

Hope and Change
The 'race' is definitely 'on' and the finish line only some 60 days away...

I think the Republican Party 'race' this year boils down to:
1) creating/using distraction whenever/wherever possible to take away news cycles from focusing on the election itself.
2) trying to connect/frame tried-and-true (for the faithful) right-wing social/political so-called 'American' values to these distractions; and drawing them, as a form of interference/noise, into the political process
3) privately 'quelling' and discouraging the overall numbers who might turn out to vote by trying to make the election's perception as relatively 'low key' and not a mandate for a call for change.
4) (As a matter of pride), inverting the meaning of the Democratic mantra of 'more of the same' into a positive badge to wear; and extending this feeling/perception, for as long as possible, so as to keep the ideas/sentiments of Republican and hopefully Independent voters, focused on a fading sense of false 'comfort' in the past ideology of neo-conservatism/Bush-Cheney; relying on common human nature in the fear of the new and change itself.
5) supporting, by not working to discourage, extreme corners of the Republican party, by placing doubt about Obama's race, background and experience...
6) packaging and marketing this approach with relentless repetition.

I think the Democratic Party needs to:
1) keep working and getting the word out for registering new voters and encouraging all voters to exercise their right on election day; particularly in the defined 'Battleground' states.
2) keep respecting, applauding and thanking John McCain for his many, many (too many?) years of service to country,
3) express happiness for McCain's courage to buck male tradition and make his decision to name a woman as his VP nominee
4) let McCain's VP choice, Palin, speak for herself...and, consequently, be vetted by the news media who just can't seem to resist...on the substance of her ideas and the legitimacy of her ideas/arguments.
5) encouraging all young voters to become even more engaged in the process, to register and turnout on election day to vote.
6) repeatedly, remind citizens that things have and ARE indeed changing...
in ways as have been described/defined by Obama and the 2008 party platform; stressing these ideas are in the majority's best interest;
7) encouraging everyone, in everyday conversation, to participate and, to go back and watch Obama's historic acceptance speech online...
8) keep using 'real world' examples of this wave of change; e.g. the 'schism' which exists now between two conglomerates that once had a seemingly rock solid connection; the American auto industry and the oil/energy companies. That schism is irreversible and can be leveraged as an example for 'change' that makes a vote cast for the old Republican ideas of the past (as represented by the Republican Party platform and McCain/Palin) felt/viewed as a wasted vote cast.
9) keep demonstrating how this approach to 'unity' welcomes everyone and can work for the benefit of all Americans; not just those who subscribe to a particular political (and now, historically proven narrow and divisive) ideology.

The Voter and the Result in November?
As I see it, the 'race' to the finish is not about whether the proverbial train (Change) has 'left the station'; it has!

But rather, the 'race' is about whether the train will 'arrive in time' (Hope) at the next station before November 4, 2008.

PeterAtLarge said...

Nice analysis, John. There's a lot of work to be done, and I'm damned if I know how to do it, other than keep writing as honestly as I can.

They call him James Ure said...

This is a train wreck for John McCain. They always say that the pick of the V.P. is the biggest choice of a presidential candidate before possibly being the president.

And that it shows how he/she will run their administration. Well, it shows that he's a risk taker as the media is saying but we don't need another risk taker as you said.

And it shows HORRIBLE judgment on McCain's part. I heard that he only met with Palin once and there are all kinds of scandals and such surrounding Palin. Terrible choice and a terrible vetting process.

I'll take Joe Biden any day over a Palin that's for sure!!

ErnestO said...

Obama is a man of manners and good will. His ability to communicate is the capstone of his requisite talents. He brings out the pride of a father in me.

Anonymous said...

what you said about breaking down the realities of what happened to mccain in that crash landing and before is fertile ground that very much needs raking over. i read that he had crashed four planes prior to the one over vietnam and injured many (in some cases killed some) of his own men when crashing on an aircraft carrier during training(?) i can't verify any of this, but would love to know more if anyone can for the benefit of voters. his rash behavior is not presidential in my view and needs to be contexualized.

thailandchani said...

I agree with you about not electing another risk-taker. The world can't afford it!

As for Sarah Palin, it was a rather transparent attempt to replace Hillary Clinton. Even though I do agree with some of her positions (not many, mind you), she is not a good choice, simply because she has boobs.

It was a bad choice on McCain's part. Women see it for what it is and he hasn't won any points.

As for the personal attacks, I posted about that today, too. Obama was right - and he is practicing "right speech". That in itself should be an example for everyone, candidate or not.