I feel a bit pressed for time regarding this post, so I beg your indulgence. I want to say this before the election comes on Tuesday, and so I am going to plead that my thoughts are not as well expressed as they would be if I had more time. That is, I want to transfer some of my responsibility as a writer to you the reader -- I am going to ask you to help me make my case, where you find that it is weak, and where you find that I could have better expressed myself.
Before you agree to this task, I am going to warn you that I am going to be challenging -- very sharply challenging -- some of my very good friends. Quite possibly you, if you are a person who considers himself, or herself, a conservative; and this is especially likely if you hold your conservative views with a sincerity that comes either from high political idealism, or devout religious conviction.
If you are not in this category of conservative, then what I have to say may be of very little worth, and you may wish to save yourself the time it will take to wade through this business. On the other hand, you may have a little curiosity about what a family quarrel looks like. If so, welcome aboard.
The reason I feel pressed for time goes back a long way -- as do most things in my mind these days, all things considered.
Back in the 70s, I read an interesting book by the famous (and very effective) lawyer Louis Nizer, called Reflections Without Mirrors. (Before we go any further, don't you have to admire a man who can write a book that can carry such a title as that? I think he was a born teacher, at least in the sense that he was a very good explainer of things to laymen such as myself -- and juries.) The book contained the entire text of his speech before the Senate, defending the sitting president and urging them to reject the articles of impeachment: to acquit and not to convict. The speech was lengthy, eloquent, well-reasoned, and to me pretty persuasive. Especially persuasive because it came from a man more associated with liberal jurisprudence than with conservative.
Well, if you lived through the days of the Nixon presidency, you probably remember that he was not impeached: he resigned before the articles of impeachment could be approved by the full House of Representatives, as they certainly would have been. There was therefore no Senate trial, and there was therefore no speech. Nizer never gave that speech; he was never able to. He couldn't have; the circumstances never arose in which it could have been given.
So what was Nizer doing? I don't know for sure, but I think he was simply applying his distinguished mind, retrospectively, to what might very well have been. Perhaps in his mind, what ought to have been. Suppose the situation had come to that; suppose a defense of the President needed to be mounted? Of course, actual circumstances made the "speech" only an academic exercise; but its publication gave readers a chance to reflect, even if without mirrors.
Perhaps Nixon should have been impeached. But if so, should it not have been for the right reasons? Exceeding his constitutional war powers, perhaps? Ordering wiretaps against political enemies in violation of Fourth Amendment protections, maybe? In other words, should he not have been accused and convicted purely on the basis of constitutional principles and issues? and if by those lights he was justified, should he not have been exonerated?
But that is not what happened. And Nizer knew it, and apparently regretted it, as he seems to have had a real respect for the law and a devotion to its integrity. In reality, Nixon was accused and tried in the popular media, and found guilty in the minds of the people who followed the media. Not only legality, but truth and high standards of justice suffered great and permanent damage; as we were to prove twenty-five years later in the Bill Clinton Affair. Again, a president was accused over matters that did not rise above common hypocrisy. Surely, all but the most naive among us realize that in Washington, DC, the matter of a nationally-known politician receiving sexual services from a non-spouse government employee is a nightly affair. Is it not?
The reason I bring up the Nizer story is because of a question it raised in my mind when I read it that long time ago. In my mind, I put it to Nizer, perhaps unfairly: If you really thought this, if you believed this, if it was important: why did you not speak out when you saw an impending miscarriage of -- if not justice, exactly, then a miscarriage of truth? When a serious unnecessary evil could have been avoided? When something different and better might have happened?
But the time is now, not then. The question is for me, not Nizer. If you see a miscarriage of truth with regard to the president, will you say what needs to be said while there is still time for something good to happen? And this is why I suddenly feel pressed for time. I want to say something that needs to be said before next Tuesday's election. I don't think I can say it half so well as Nizer might, but I think it needs to be attempted anyway.
I hope that I shall not sound angry. I hope that I shall not sound overly accusative. I hope that I shall not sound cynical. I hope that I shall not sound hopeless. Little is accomplished in those states of mind.
I am very deeply disturbed, but I hope to retain my inward balance and my outward composure. I have been perplexed at the behavior of my American "conservative" friends for several years; as time passes, this perplexity is slowly elevating into horror.
I hope to make a good case in a hard matter, and I am not sure I am up to it. With this, I end my introductory remarks.
* * * *
I am not a member of, nor am I sympathetic to, either of our major political parties. I once was; but as Joseph Sobran once quoted St. Paul, I have put away childish things. The best I can say is that each of them contains a few, a very few, leaders who love their country as much as they love their money.
I carry no brief for the leadership of the Democratic Party. Their performance since reasserting their Congressional ascendancy four years ago has been utterly disastrous. I cannot, at the moment, think of any good that they have done. I do not wish to defend the indefensible, nor do I wish to be a devil's advocate -- I have noticed that the devil already has plenty of legal expertise on permanent retainer.
But I also carry no antagonism whatsoever for fellow citizens who are Democrats, vote Democratic, or are a part of local Democratic leadership. I find them to be civic-minded, community-minded people who are often interested in the aspirations of the working class and the needs of the poor -- issues that should engage us all, but for which they demonstrate a special affinity.
And I also carry no brief for the Republican Party: and I fear that many of my lifelong conservative friends see the current election as an opportunity to vindicate their past Republican activism. And anything that diminishes the opposition, as they see it, will redound to the benefit of their cause, which is to them unquestionably noble. Enter the current bashing of President Obama and the justification of it. He is a useful whipping-boy. Get out the vote.
But personally, I think that President Obama is being treated in a dangerously untruthful manner, and I think there is plenty of evidence that this is going on. So I wish to defend him by offering two strong cheers, and a strong criticism of my friends who I think should know better.
Here comes the first strong cheer for President Obama:
As a junior Senator from Illinois, he had the courage to oppose the Congressional resolution that authorized the utterly misbegotten and misguided invasion and destruction of Iraq. Hurrah!
The War In Afghanistan was utterly wrong-headed, too. (I'll save the explanation -- if you really need it -- for later, when I've got more time; I'm racing the calendar here.) But at least the Afghan War could sport one or two flimsy fig-leaves to cover its naked ugliness -- Osama bin Laden Once Lived There, and really, what more reason could you need?
But the Iraq War had no such excuse. Any justification for war in that country required an intentional ignorance of British and American relations with that country for the past century. An intentional, arrogant, stupid ignorance. You can quote me.
Admit it; Obama got this absolutely right. And he got this right as early as 2002, when the country was still in the grip of establishment-induced fear-and-war fever over the events of September 11. And this single, crucial decision places him forever above the following persons and groups in both moral clarity and political courage:
1. The Democratic leadership. This includes their think tanks, their Wall Street, and most of their congressional leadership, specifically including Harry Reid, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, and Hillary Clinton. They got it wrong, and still do.
2. The Republican leadership. This includes their think tanks, their Wall Street, the Pentagon, and most of their congressional leadership, specifically including John McCain. And Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin. They got it wrong, and still do.
3. The Bush administration. This includes George W. Bush and his entire foreign policy team including Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, and that pack of neo-conservatives that infested the Pentagon, the State Department, and the airwaves. They got it wrong, and still do. For too long, that included the braver and wiser Colin Powell.
4. The Israel lobby. They got it wrong. As it is written, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Enough said.
5. The Religious Right. This includes evangelical and "pro-life" leadership, pastors, and many Christian broadcasting and publishing outfits. It also includes an astonishingly large percentage of regular church-goers. They got it wrong, and still do. They should know better. They do know better.
6. Me. I knew what was wrong in 2002 also. I said a few meek things. I expressed a few serious doubts. But it was go-along-and-get-along; mealy-mouthed, I now think. I am ashamed. I didn't put anything on the line.
It's high time for some clarity:
War is almost always wrong. Everyone knows this, because the statement is very easy to demonstrate. It is because war is almost always about either power, or money, or both. Rarely freedom; very rarely justice. History makes this very clear; the Holy Scriptures also make this very clear. The Iraq war was no exception. It was about money and power from long before its beginning. The evidence is available, abundant, and unequivocal. If you doubt this, you have been listening to the wrong voices. Wise up; don't be the last person on your block to figure out something so blindingly obvious. If you have been justifying the war, please stop. Please.
Now here comes the second cheer for President Obama.
As President, he reached out to establish more peaceable relations with the Muslim world, and urged efforts at understanding and amelioration of grievances between Jews and Arabs in Palestine/Israel. Hurrah!
Of course it has gone nowhere. Very few people in America want it to: not the Democratic leadership; not the Republican leadership; not the Israel lobby; not the Religious Right. Quite likely, not you. Conservatives in America have joined forces with their counterparts in Israel to create the most formidable war-party in the world today.
And the continuing justification of war, and hatred of peace, that characterize most of voting America today, are two very good reasons why I do not even begin to trust the tea parties or the conservatives or the big landslide that is supposedly going to happen.
Hey, I'm for voting the bums out. Pick your favorite bum and give him or her the old heave-ho. I plan to, too.
But don't blame President Obama for someone else's sins. That's just plain wrong. Especially don't blame him for yours. That would truly be wicked.
Because in at least two crucially important areas, President Obama has hewed to humane and constitutional principles -- in the same two crucial areas where his conservative (and all other) critics have absolutely abandoned them. If these principles mean anything, he stands exonerated, and his critics stand condemned.
Speaking for myself, I've been praying for that man in the White House who is increasingly alone and marginalized. And I mean praying for him, not praying or working against him. I urge you to join me.
Going back to the first part of my post, I'm thinking of the lesson Louis Nizer's ungiven speech taught me. Think about things carefully. Stand up. Say something for truth and rightness before something sad and irrevocable happens. Don't wait till afterward and say, I thought so, I was afraid so. Though if you do wait till afterward, go ahead and record your thoughts: they may give courage to someone else.
Two cheers for President Obama.
Speaking like a teacher, I'll just say this:
Better do your homework. A major test is coming soon. You've already flunked the last several. If you think this shoe doesn't fit, don't wear it. But I didn't write the curriculum any more than you did. And I'm not the one giving the final, and I'm not the one grading it. Best wishes for your success.
* * * *
Well, I've been re-reading this post, and I think I could have said it better. Especially about the second cheer. But I'm going to post now.
Comments welcome. Disagreement welcome. Agreement, of course, even more welcome. In any and all cases, please keep it civil.