Musings on Politics & Policy

An attempt to take an open minded view of current topics,
strip away excess detail and arguments,
and get at underlying issues —

Monday, November 29, 2004

Confronting Militarism

One of the principle issues that the Democratic party has to resolve is how to address the authoritarian, militaristic approach that the Bush administration has chosen in the aftermath of 9/11. Kerry had the credentials, but was unable to define the issues in any way that didn't implicitly support Bush's policies. Doing a better, more careful job of authoritarian militarism somehow doesn't carry much moral weight. Kerry allowed Bush to define the problem, the issues and the solution and then tried to argue with how the policies were carried out. If the Democrats are to recapture the leadership of America, they have to learn how to redefine the terms of the public debate.

It is true that the Bush administration has taken a particularly intolerant authoritarian and militaristic approach in their war on terrorism. Not only have they not listened to the views of other people around the world who disagree with them, they have not listened to the opposition in this country or even to those in their own party who disagree. They have chosen an insular "us versus them" posture that caricatures and pigeonholes other people. They have taken the view that because they are morally right (by their own determination), whatever means they choose are justified, even if legal and constitutional rights are abridged in the process. Those who disagree with them are painted as "un-American."

The failure of Bush's war on terrorism is a failure to lead. He fell in behind the mob hysteria and basically said, "yeah, let's go get 'em!" The execution of the war has been particularly egregious, and this has made the outcome worse than it might otherwise have been. However, even if the execution of the war had been flawless, the defining principles of the war have been flawed from the beginning. Bush placed political expediency above true moral courage.

To shift the balance, the Democrats must learn how to express true moral courage and how to lead. As a framework for debate, it is insufficient to simply argue with the implementation of Bush's policies. The Democrats must disassemble those polices, show that the principles they are based on are wrong, and develop a new set of principles and polices. Define the terms of the debate, and make them clear.

Here is a start — Why do people become terrorists? Why has terrorism become focused on America? How have Bush's policies affected these processes? It's not too difficult to answer these questions on a superficial level. Answering them in depth and resolving the problems at their root requires listening to, understanding, and caring about people from other cultures, religions, and social strata, and with other perspectives on the world. If one were to put this in religious terms, it would be truly following the teachings of Jesus. It may be worth elaborating this point, and connecting the teachings of other great prophets and civil rights leaders from around the world, but the moral courage and integrity must stand on its own and is best presented in pure nondenominational form so that all people can relate to it. Others can make the connections from the perspective of their own religious convictions, and that is as it should be in a country where religion is supposed to be a free choice.

Answering these questions in depth may require some soul searching and will lead to a far wider range of consequences than might be expected. But this is the process that is required to refute Bush's policies in a convincing fashion.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your main points. However, I wonder if Bush's blunders really represent a failure to lead as you say in paragraph three. Isn't it possible that his idea of leadership is totally different than yours. It certainly seems to be different than mine.

Here's a piece by Howard Zinn where he critiques how the current war on terrorism is being conducted and proposes an alternative. It focuses on the same problem you have identified: Militarism and authoritarian rule. arguments are all too easy for conservatives to brush aside as "un-American". Democrats, and differently affiliated liberals alike (e.g., green party), need to find simple ways of portraying their positions that pre-empt that type of knee-jerk response. We can't accuse Bush of "going it alone" when clearly he didn't. That's simplifying the argument to the point that it's simply false.

John Edwards did a great job debating Dick Cheney on this point when he argued that we were shouldering 90% of the cost and 90% of the casualties in Iraq due to failures in Bush's diplomatic efforts leading up to the war. Simple, honest, clear messages can get through to the American public and, once people are interested in the argument, then they can read up on the details.

November 30, 2004 at 9:56 AM  

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