Wednesday, January 23, 2008

False Pretenses

A couple of impressions on the campaigns: first, Hillary is a force to be reckoned with in a debate. She is quick, thorough, and relentless. She also seems to love scoring points much more than she does illuminating them. She seems unable or unwilling (for my money it makes no difference which is the case) to resist telling a lie if it suits her needs at that moment. Whether it be the assertion that Obama was beholden to a "slum lord" or that he thought Reagan's notion of privatizing Social Security was a good idea, Clinton will say it if it she thinks it will play to the house she's in. Obama by contrast comes across as restrained, defensive and maybe even awkward in a debate setting. He doesn't do well presenting himself as a policy wonk nor does he seem to relish the low blow. The worst thing he could think of to say about Hillary in the debate was that she used to work on the board of directors for Walmart, which happens to be true.
In short, Hillary (and her campaign) is all about defeating whoever is in front of her; Obama seems reflexively attuned to truth telling and nation-building. Historically, the former strategy wins elections, the latter wins only admiration.
Here's where I think the electorate has a chance to align itself with a fresh perspective on governance and political discourse in this country. Obama is not a perfect candidate. I wish he had more executive experience for one thing. But he is a good candidate in a way that Hillary can never be. He is unafraid of ideas, nor is he overly concerned about where ideas come from. Having taught law in the nation's most elite conservative university, the University of Chicago, he seems to have become comfortable with an intellectual discourse that ranges across the full political spectrum. Most important, he gets the American theme of calling people to service and of calling them to become their best selves.
I think this is vital today.
We are a nation at risk, not from terrorism, not from recession, nor from climate change...we are at risk from our own complacence, our own comfort and accommodation with the practice and habit of lying.
No one was more cynical with the American people on this subject than Bill "it depends on what is is" Clinton. His dissembling was sad and pathetic, mixed as it was with a certain charisma that was even more insulting because it implied that being cute trumped being truthful. But the last seven years under Bush have been a frontal attack of an Orwellian nature on the very foundations of truth telling in politics. The Center for Public Integrity, a non-partisan and non-profit organization, recently published this painstakingly researched catalog of intentional public lies made by Bush and his officials on two subjects: WMDs and Saddam's relationship with Al Quaida. Read the one page summary here. To issues treated there I would add that of torture, or should I say "enhanced interrogation techniques"?
The bottom line is crystal clear - Bush lied. He lied repeatedly; he lied intentionally; he lied purposefully. And we slept through it.
Our ability to speak truthfully about things in the public sphere has been seriously undermined if not crippled by the way we have allowed our language to be corrupted and co-opted by cynical people. To the extent that we wink or shrug our shoulders and say that it was ever thus, we collaborate in the steady erosion of the only thing we really matters, our integrity.
If I'm right about integrity, then the key question is, "Who best to help us restore our integrity?"
Hillary? Huckabee? Rudy? Romney?...don't think so.


Anonymous erin said...

I'd vote for you! Dad in 2008!

6:46 AM  

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