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Not Reassured Yet

By Andrew Bard Schmookler  Posted by Rob Kall (about the submitter)     Permalink
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Sure, if one believes, as I do, that this is the worst presidency in American history, one is glad to see its public support -and therefore its power-drain away.

And sure, if what one found most disturbing was the fact that last November --after all we'd seen enacted, right in front of the cameras-- half our countrymen chose to reinstate this leadership, it's good news that some of these folks are having buyer's remorse.

But these dropping poll numbers don't reassure me all that much. For the root of this disapproval seems to be the mounting evidence of the failure of this president's reckless adventure in Iraq, now compounded by the federal bungling that contributed to the catastrophe from hurricane Katrina.

And there's nothing new -or reassuring-about the American people not liking failure.

True, this group's moral shortcomings are not wholly irrelevant to either of these failures.

The Katrina debacle seems to show not just incompetence but also warped priorities and perhaps a chilling indifference. But if Katrina had happened in an election year and in a swing-state -like the series of hurricanes in Florida in 2004, which this administration handled well-this administration might have preserved its image of the "can-do" presidency. The real values of this administration, however, would be no different.

With the gambit in Iraq, they might have succeeded if they were not so colossally arrogant in their false certainties. And if they had succeeded, how high do you suppose the approval ratings of this "war-time president" would be? But most of what's reprehensible about this president's way of playing the 500-pound gorilla in that part of the world would still be wrong.

So it's not failure that I want the American people to repudiate. Not even, ultimately, this particular set of players. Rather, what I wish for the American people to repudiate are those dark aspects of the American spirit that these rulers have embodied and have so skillfully exploited in their drive to power.

I want the American people to reject the kind of patriotism that makes a virtue out of lawless ambition-so long as it is pursued in the name of the nation; the patriotism that assumes that God is on our side rather than worrying whether we are on God's.

I want the American people to repudiate the pervasion of our political process by the spirit of insatiable greed-a spirit our economy is so good at harnessing for economic dynamism but that, in politics, fosters so much corruption and injustice.

I want the American people to reject that religious impulse that, lacking respect for mystery, holds its beliefs with such certainty its counts it as righteous to jam them down other people's throats.

I want the American people to reject utterly that posture of hypocrisy that is so willing to judge others but that does not hold itself accountable by the same standards.

I want the American people to repudiate that divisive spirit that looks at all who are not with us as being against us, that regards those who are not like-minded as enemies to be vanquished rather than as fellow humans with whom to seek common ground.

The ancient Greek philosophers taught that the essence of good character is that the better elements of the soul rule the worse. Our present tragedy and peril is that in America today, the reverse is true. The Bushites do reflect an authentic version of America, but it is a defective form, one where the elements that should be suppressed are instead suppressing the elements that should rule.

I remember that time more than thirty years ago when an American president was forced to resign. Such was his disgrace that he was compelled to hide himself away for a few years before he was allowed to re-emerge -gradually-- having transformed himself into a more benign form.

That's what I hope will happen here-in this case not with individuals, but with the aspects of the American character that those individuals embody and foster. I want the American people, recognizing the dark and destructive effects of these elements of America's spirit, to send them scurrying off in disgrace back into the obscure corners of our culture, to re-emerge only later and, like Nixon, in a weakened and chastened form.

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