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Climate / Whether Changes

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Message Jayne Stahl

"It don't take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows," Bob Dylan

Clinton is in Iowa this weekend and, once again, climate change is on the menu. While global warming is clearly uppermost on everyone's agenda, the kind of toxicity most folks in Washington are concerned about these days isn't the kind that comes with greenhouse gases.

After watching the president's glee in signing the new Iraq funding bill, it's easy to see that the midterm election wasn't an election, after all, but a narcotic which is finally starting to wear off. That the mood of the nation crashed, after seeing the promise of a new Congress diminish so quickly, is evident from Mr. Bush's rumored U-turn on Iraq, and recent hints at troop withdrawal as early as 2008. Judging from the growing body count, bringing the troops home in July would be too late. But, most importantly, for those who felt passionately about the prospects for progressive social change, that passion is starting to fade as quicky as it does for a seasoned call girl, and indeed it may be said that only politics can make old whores of us all.

So, those who awoke from the narcosis that was the past six months only to find the playing field littered by candidates who, like Hillary, voted for the original appropriation bill that sent our troops to Iraq, letting it be known that they voted "No" this time, are duly cynical, and outraged. Many who expected revolutionary transformation to occur following November's Democratic victory experienced a letdown of crisis proportions, but either they didn't do the math, or don't remember that there are 233 House Democrats to 201 Republicans, and 50 Democrats in the Senate to 49 Republicans, hardly a mandate for a change in direction in Iraq, or anywhere else, for that matter.

After the election in November, the media spoke about the lame duck presidency, and how it would be all uphill for this administration. True, but given the numbers, and the presence of leadership that belongs at the Christian Embassy, not at the White House, Congress is guaranteed to have an uphill battle, too. So much for instant revolution; even Karl Marx suggested revolution is really, at its core, evolution in drag.

That said, principally, the problem is more one of leadership than legislation. When, as one often hears, people say that all the Democratic presidential candidates are good that means that no one candidate has gained their support. Some say they like Obama, others say Clinton, others say Edwards, and others are waiting for Al Gore to declare which may prove to be rather like Waiting for Godot.

Picking a presidential party nominee is not like choosing which flavor frozen yogurt to order, especially for an election as substantive as the one in 2008. Odds are, whoever we choose, given that we get to choose (unlike in 2000) will stick around for eight more years, and may have the chance to make another lifelong appointment to the Supreme Court with far reaching consequences.

Whether it's Hillary and big business, or McCain and big war bucks, it must remembered that a president's first four years are often spent appealing to the special interests that got them there, so who are those special interests? What policy, or practices will a president most likely endorse to get re-elected, and at whose expense? How much are they willing to compromise to get to where they want to go? Will it be Roe v. Wade for Hillary, and/or the invasion of Iran for McCain?

Most of all, we must be mindful of political posturing. Everyone is totally focused, during a debate, when the gloves come off, yet few even notice when the masks come off, and yet invariably they do. While, to a greater or lesser degree, every candidate, on both sides of the aisle, does their share of posturing, it's the politicians who buy into the charade that do the most damage. If you think Richard Nixon knew when he was posturing, and when he wasn't, forget about it. Our present president hasn't a clue, either, but it's easier for him, he's posturing almost all the time.

Every president, including Kennedy, had some kind of ideology, or demon, but it's the ones who don't question, and aren't willing to think, and re-think that we have to be wary of. Remember that, only days before his assassination, President Kennedy was questioning whether to lift the trade embargo against Cuba; he was rethinking his commitment of 15,000 troops in Vietnam, too, and didn't do his analysis behind closed doors, but shared his views with the country he governed. Alas, the spirit of collaboration, in government, appears to have died with him.

So, why not think about a president who would be the first to admit that he did his share of posturing, and one who was smart enough to see it for what it was, honest enough to admit that he was barking up the wrong tree, and truthful enough with the American people to say that maybe, just maybe, he needed to rethink his decision to send young American service men and women into combat without sound justification for doing so. This is the kind of intelligence that keeps us safe, not the pork that purports to be in the interest of "homeland security."

One wonders why anyone evolved enough to recognize, and own up to their own limitations would even consider being president of the United States in a climate that is user-friendly for trigger happy blind faith.

Vision never comes with a mandate. When the sedative wears off, there is always pain. What emerges from the rubble is not a green light for apathy, but a road map for radical change, the kind envisoned by the civil rights movement nearly fifty years ago The challenge now is to find leadership that is wide awake, vigorous, honest, and that doesn't confuse pre-emptive with proactive. Anything less is an insult to those who brought us to the brink of progress only to be destroyed by those corporate interests which continue to pollute, and corrupt to this day.

Now that the novacaine has worn off, it's time to focus less on the presidency, and more on transformng the political climate from one that promotes secrecy, and privilege to one that engenders intellectual probity, humanity, and grace.

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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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