A Voice of Reason: Sane Views for a Crazy World

November 11, 2008

Thank you Veterans

Another Veteran’s Day.

As a public employee I am off today.  This is one Federal Holiday I feel I have earned.  I am a veteran and am proud of my service to my country.  However, I realize that that sentiment should be replaced by another.  I am a veteran, and I am lucky to be one. 

I learned that sentiment from my son. 

My son is said something along these lines shorly before he left to serve you, his fellow citizens in the United States Army.  More on that later.

I am not a great family historian, but I do know that my family has served its fellow citizens by serving in our nation’s armed forces.  I could become at this moment altruistic, but I won’t.  They served for their own reasons.  I could also wax utopian and have the attitude that service in the military is not a good thing because war is evil.  Of course war is evil, and so service in the military is not a redeeming panacea that frames human character.   Serving in the military has as a goal ending the life of an enemy, so any military service is a necessity of evil.  The word necessity should be the word which catches our eyes.  In case any have unrealistic fantasies out there, it’s a rough world out there, filled with people who don’t like us – and I write this knowing that the “thems” in their own context are an “us”.

I will not at this time go too far afield and talk about patriotism.  Let me just give the short version and say that one of the most maddening phrases, songs, and attitudes I hear is the one “Proud to be an American”.  It’s not because I disagree with the policies of our country, overly lament the national errors our forebears have made, nor disagree with the concept that America on the whole has been a force of good.  I just think the statement is stupid.  One has no basis to be “proud” of something they had no control over.  I’m happy or lucky or even blessed to be an American would be a much more accurate and intellectually honest statement.  My son’s statement back this summer reminded me of that.

My relatives have served our nation from their arrival in the 1840’s.  From the Civil War, World War One and Two, Vietnam and today my family members have worn the uniform.  I am lucky that I have such people in my family who sacrificed so that our nation was torn in two was sustained.  I am lucky that today when there are many who still do not wish our nation well, my son in his words, “gets to stand up for his country”.

I also was lucky to serve, but my service pales when I consider that my Uncle Peter Smith served as a Doughboy in France in World War One.  I am shamed of my “pride” in my own service when I consider that my grandparents had four sons – my Uncles Jim, John, Frank and James – all serving in World War Two.  I can’t imagine the daily prayers, hopes put on hold, and fears that they experienced, until recently when I have begun to have maybe a concept of what they faced.  My Uncle Jim’s vessel was torpedoed three times in World War Two, my Uncle Frank was 17 years old when he was a casualty at Omaha Beach spending much of the rest of his life in pain reliving that horrible day from his adolescense, my Uncle James spent much of his 20’s island hopping while in the USMC, including involvment in Bloody Tarawa.  When faced with this level of service to their country, my “pride” is indeed pathetic, and I indeed was lucky to have served as a Paratrooper. 

My son enlisted this past summer.  In his words, he is lucky.  My son had many stumbles as an adolescent, and like many parents today, I was impotent to stop him on his own path to ruin.  Luckily for me when he was spiraling downward, he and my wife caught him.  God was also most kind to my son, and my son much to my joy recongizes the mercy that was given to him.  However, my son did not have a clear direction and needed one.  He had also done many things that while forgiven, only time could heal the wounds and the breaches of trust done to them.  This was a real family crisis.  There were little places he could turn.  At 19 he knew he didn’t want to go to college.  He also knew that he didn’t want a job working at a deli, Walmart, 7-11 etc.  He considered moving to the Midwest with his mother, but didn’t wish to do that either.  In the past he would have run from his responsibility.  I also knew I had to help him. 

I picked him up one morning and laid out the thin options he had before him.  I added one, that I don’t regret, but knew that doing so, was not without risk, and mentioned service in the armed forces.  I told him I would go with him to the recruiter and asked him to respectfully listen to what they said.  He shocked me when he said he would do so.   Even though I had been in the Army I mentioned the Coast Guard, Air Force and Navy.  I am sure that you all know why I would mention these first.  He said, No, but he would visit the Marines and Army recruiter.  I said that the Guard or Reserves would be a good option.  He was silent.

We went to one recruiter.  My son, despite his lack of belief in himself qualified for every MOS offered by the Army.  Many of these had lucrative bonuses and sounded as if they were made for my boy.  My boy who would drive me wild with his shouts of joy and anger as he played Gears of War and Ghost Recon – becoming one of the best in the gaming world at them.  He listened, respectfully and said “No”.  I broached the Reserves and the Guard, he was faster than the recruiter when he said, “No”.  In six months I’ll be in the same boat as I am today.  Even the recruiter was silent for a moment at that one.

When he asked what he wanted to do he looked at the recruiter and me and said, I want to do what m dad did.  I want to jump out of planes and be a real soldier.  I have never felt such pride and fear in my life at a statement.  You see, although I belatedly realized that I am lucky to have served in the Army, and yes as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne, I believe that my son was proud of me.  I asked him if he was sure.  I mentioned all the things that he could do with his ability scores.  My son who is as stubborn as I am replied, “If doing that was good enough for you, it’s good enough for me”.  I will admit that tears filled my eyes upon hearing that.  Tears of fears and of gratitude, that my son was indeed proud of me.

One day shortly before he departed for basic training, AIT and Jump School we spoke.  I told my son how proud I was of him for his decision to serve his country in a tough time.  He didn’t say much and then looked at me.  “Dad”, he said, “I’m lucky”.  I’ve screwed up my life a lot, but now I get to serve my country.”.  Even as I reflect upon this months later I am moved by his thoughts. 

I will echo them.

I am lucky that I was given the opportunity to serve my country in some small way.  I have been repaid richly for the minor investment I made.

I am lucky that I was born into a family who like thousands of other families in our nation demonstrated courage and a willingness to serve their country.

I am lucky that I have a son who also serves his country.  I will also be proud of him and his choices. 

Those who may come upon this post, please also reflect upon how lucky you are. 

I also ask you to join me in a daily ritual that I have as I ride to work, I pray for my son, and for thousands of other sons and daughters.  I pray that those who have wives and children will be kept emotionally close to them as they serve me.  I pray that God will be merciful to my son and the other sons and daughters who are indeed volunteering to be in harm’s way – for my safety.  I pray for my wife and my son’s mother (that one is not always an easy prayer) that they will be at peace with their child’s choice.  Then  I offer a prayer of gratitude that I amso lucky to have such people as our fellow citizens, our neighbors, our parents and grandparents, and our sons and daughters that watch over me.

Proud – not really.  Lucky – most definitely.

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November 9, 2008

Opinion: Why President Elect Obama Won

Here is my analysis of a few key factors that elected our new President.  First just a few points.  This was not a landslide, not even close.  While Mr. Obama has in my view a clear mandate, he still has 46% plus who remain unsold.  However, gathering 52% is a good sign for his administration.  Secondly, statistically speaking he did NOT inspire people to vote more than in past elections.  The percentage of the voters relevant to total population was statistically insignificant in 2008 than 2004 and 2000. 

1) Ability to stay on message.  This is called by Jim Collins “The Hedgehog Principle”.  Hedgehogs in the business and political world have the ability to stay focused and on message.  They know what they do well and they make that their selling point.  The Obama campaign was highly disciplined.  Other than the occassional gaffe that he made against certain radio show commentators, which hurt him in all probability, the campaign, also helped by media which did not press the stories, would not allow themselves to be taken off their message, which was simple.  The message was, things are bad, we can bring about change.  The changes sought were tied to the current dissatisfaction the country has with the Bush Administration, but was generally short on details.  This was picked up by many as being vapid.  However, give credit to the Obama Campaign handlers.  They made a choice to keep him away from town hall venues and press interviews where he could be hurt.  I believe his relatively poor performance at Saddleback showed their wisdom in this and solidified their resolve not to let events they couldn’t control, such as the economy alter their message of change.  If anything they took the events handed to them and used the events to be an echo of a broad theme.

2) The financial debacle.  One of the things that in contrast to Sen. McCain’s reaction of “I must do something” was that the Obama handlers used the event to broadcast their theme.  This was in disregard to many of the inconvenient facts – the much of the problems of the banking mess were caused by policies created under President Carter and greatly expanded under President Clinton.  The correlation picked up by some in the media – mostly print – of ties to Fannie and Freddie and high ranking Democrats never was picked up.  Obama stayed out of the fray but framed the fray to buoy his premise that “change is needed”.  It worked.  While the crisis was not cooked by campaign, the decision to stay outside the mess initially showed him being detached, and that is not always a bad thing as it is more objective.  Many polls showed that McCain was gaining traction and had a slight lead up to this point.  This was caused in part by some slips by the Obama campaign, the momentum of the GOP Convention – which was effective, and the initial excitement of Sarah Palin into the foray. 

3) Ability to appear credible.  Sen. Obama’s largest hurdle was to keep the excitement of his base, youth and left to left of center Americans and expand his credibility to John and Mary Q. Public who are Center to Center Right.  America was seen, and most identified themselves as “Conservative”.  There is one bit of news that shows this to be true, at least socially.  California’s repudiation by the voters of same sex marriage – in a year where the left and center left continued to show their appeal over right and center right candidates by a 15% point margin – indicates that even among “blue states” there is a cultural position of maintaining the status quo.  Although he fared badly at Saddleback, and any objective reporting of the event along with the shift of pubilc sentiment alludes to that, the fact that Sen. Obama was visibly comfortable with the Evangelical community is important.  There is a reason.  Although politically many ” ‘Black’ Evangelicals” are left and left of center, culturally many of them are right of center – to include school reform (vouchers, NCLB) and most notably views on homosexuality  This allowed those Evangelicals who are more Centrist and whose interpretation of their Christitanity leads them to value social activism and bread and butter issues highly – such as The Soujourners – to ally with Mr. Obama.  Obama also showed a shift – and it was a major one – during the debates.  Stating that “conditions on the ground” would dictate American policy in Iraq was startling and far more hawkish than anything he or any other Democrat had said during the primary season.  This combined with his statements of expanding the war in Afghanistan and putting pressure on Pakistan took away the “wimp factor” in many.  Mr. Obama’s shifting to the center from the hard left of the Democratic base is as old as politics.  Run to your base in the primary, tack to the mainstream in general election.  It will be interesting to see how he governs.

4.  Weariness of the Bush Administration.  This is the real reason why Sen. Obama won the election.  I will not offer conjecture if Sen. Clinton would have fared better, but I think it would have been about the same.  By all counts this was the nation speaking with their ballots of their dissatisfaction with Iraq policies and the numerous failures of the Bush Administration – and there are many to bring to light.  The Bush Administration started losing this election with their victory in 2000.  Fifty percent of the nation was not happy with that result.  President Bush did enjoy many political and policy victories.  NCLB will remain with the nation in some form for many years.  Efforts to change the political and social framework in Africa will also remain.  Also, it is likely that US policies in the Middle East will remain in some form and that the “War on Terror” will be funded with many of the policies once opposed by the Dem base suddenly accepted.  The NYT reported about GITMO on Wednesday and it was amazing how suddenly GITMO was no longer the first level of Dante’s Hell.  
However, the many debacles of the Bush Administration including the handling of the Iraq War after the initial objectives had been achieved, the perception and reality of the “out of touchness” that the President had whether it was by not listening to then NSA Rice message to “Get back to DC NOW” or the realities and perceptions of the sluggishness of federal response to Katrina.  Throw in the perceptions of ABU and you get the picture.  Most reasonable people understand that the POTUS does not have a big say in economic trends.  They either benefit or take blame from the markets, but what Presidents can do is frame perspective.  Whether or not the latter is Mr. Bush’s fault – although many have viewed him as a “lame duck” since ’06, the people’s loss of confidence in the outgoing administration was in many ways deserved.  Sen. McCain had to fight against a skilled opponent and his own Party’s brand label.  Even Sen. Obama wouldn’t have been able to overcome those factors.

Summary:  All of this is prologue.  The interesting part to watch will be to see how Mr. Obama governs as President Obama.  If a President Obama is able to do as well as he did with the first three points in his administration it will likely enjoy success and populrity.  However, he won’t have George Bush to kick around after the first few months.  The onus will be on him and Congress to truly bring about policies that unite America.

I also believe he will shift back towards the left from the smaller moves he had made to the Center.  In many ways he should if you believe as I do he had a mandate.  The media and the Dems were correctly criticial of the Bush Administration – particularly from ’00 to 06 in not being inclusive.  I have a feeling the same will happen, and in some ways that troubles me as I am more Centrist than either the Bush or forthcoming Administration will be.

While I don’t believe he will make the US a “Socialist” country, I would be shocked if policies that favor Big Government a la New Deal and Great Society are not reintroduced.  There are other concerns that are shared.  Mr. Obama’s declaration of a “Civilian Defense and Security Force” equal in footing and funding to the US military is as vague as it is troubling.   I also think that this administration will be as partisan as President Bush’s was partisan, as President Clinton’s was partisan.  

Some things won’t change.  That is something you truly can believe in.

May 23, 2007

Edwards: “War on Terror a Bumper Sticker”

From ABC News:

Democrat John Edwards Wednesday repudiated the notion that there is a “global war on terror,” calling it an ideological doctrine advanced by the Bush administration that has strained American military resources and emboldened terrorists.

“We need a post-Bush, post-9/11, post-Iraq military that is mission focused on protecting Americans from 21st-century threats, not misused for discredited ideological purposes,” Edwards said. “By framing this as a war, we have walked right into the trap the terrorists have set that we are engaged in some kind of clash of civilizations and a war on Islam.”

Man, I guess I’m sorry I missed the memo that the WOT was over. Now, while I don’t always feel that there has been wise and consisent handling about this issue, I think Sen. Edwards is either very naive or simply pandering to the left part of the Democratic Party. Since, he was a successful litagator, and no, that doesn’t eliminate the former, I’ll have to opt for the latter.

Sen. Edwards may have the left in his pocket, but that leaves about 80% of the population, HOPEFULLY, scratching their heads in amazement at his rhetoric.

GOP Frontrunner, Rudy Giuliani, was quick to comment on Edwards’ comments.

“One of the democratic Presidential candidates today gave a speech in New York and the speech that he gave suggested that the global war on terror was no more than a slogan of George Bush’s,” Mr. Giuliani told a gathering of employees of an insurance company in Keene. “I understand the zeal and the overzealousness that some of these people have to attack George Bush. It comes out a of a political process,” he said. “I think it is wrong. I think it doesn’t put George Bush’s presidency in proper perspective.”

Talk about hitting the nail on the head. Later on Giuliani did mention Mr. Edwards by name. The reason that Mr. Edwards will not even validate the US’ efforts in this area are driven by the mindframe of the demagogues. Purely and simply that is what the base of the Democratic Party has become. Then again, what can one expect from pigs but grunts. The mindlessness of the Dems is having them live up to their mascot, jackasses.

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