Saturday, January 19, 2008

Republicans are Chickens

Dear Barack,

Your letters are becoming a nuisance.

At some point you will have to learn to formulate your own message. I cannot always be there to whisper in your ear from offstage and to vet your speeches. I have responsibilities of my own. A family to feed and a demanding job in waste management. The waste will not manage itself. Believe me, I have given it every opportunity.

Must I do everything?

Very well then. But listen carefully--I will only say this once.

I can see that you and your democratic co-candidates are showing signs of shaking off the enervating spell cast upon you by the Republicans. The spell that compels you to respond in kind to their message of fear. For too long you've let them frame the debate. All they have to do is say the word "terror" and, like Skinnerian rats eager for a pellet of food, you respond with mechanical bombast and bravado, promising to begin each of your Presidential days by feasting on the still-beating heart of suspected terrorists, relishing the warm infidel blood that runs rich and red down your neck.

It will never work. If the Presidency is to be awarded to the candidate most eager to flay heathens, can any Democrat possibly defeat the holy warrior Huckabee? The bloodthirsty cannibal Giuliani? Romney the Guantanamo doubler? Or that veteran of Vietnamese tiger-cages, Rambo McCain?

You know this. And you are beginning to see that the Republicans are bluffing when they play the fear card, and that each time you respond in kind, you strengthen their hand, validating not only the perceived reality of the danger but also their ham handed, rusty-knife approach to confronting it. You have begun to experiment with a different formulation, nervously watching the polls to see whether the public is open to something other than a vengeance-based policy.

But half measures won't suffice. You can't just say their bluffing. You will have to actually call their bluff.

Edwards can't do it. He's too busy rousing the rabble, invoking the ghosts of the Grange and William Jennings Bryan. Has he been asleep for the last sixty years? Is there anyone left in this country that even knows what a mill is?

Hillary can't do it either. She is a machine. She may, in fact, be the perfect machine for running the country, an unstoppable policy-making leviathan who will vaporize all resistance like some terminator of the French enlightenment. But she has not oratory beyond that suited to automated corporate telephone systems.

For English, press 1.

This message has to be delivered with the clarion call of trumpets, with fatherly assurance, with the easy courage that dispels doubt.

I know Hillary says you get elected with poetry, but must govern with prose. But note that you haven't been elected yet.

Do you have a pencil ready? This is the message:

The lying is going to stop. Now.

Starting today, we are going to live up to our most noble aspirations rather than be slaves to our basest fears.

For seven long years we have been told that if want to remain powerful, we cannot allow our fate to be bound up with the rest of the world's community of nations, but must instead think and act only in our own interests.

For seven long years we have been told that the preservation of liberty in our own land could be assured by achieving military domination in others.

For seven long years we have been told that if we wanted to preserve our system of justice and our freedom from physical threats, we would have to torture people, we would have to wiretap people, we would have to shoot first and ask questions later, we would have to consider people guilty until proven innocent.

In short, we were told that we had to make a choice. If we wanted to have self-determination, safety, and freedom for ourselves, we must deny it to others.

And so, despite the nagging sensation that we were abandoning our commitment to fair play, our compassion and our humanity, we chose the path of safety.

But these policies have failed. In seeking to preserve our power we have been weakened. In seeking to preserve our liberty we have been constrained. In seeking to be safer, we have inflamed and emboldened those who would do us harm.

Today America is in anguish, more fearful than ever, pessimistic about the future, and convinced that our country is headed in the wrong direction. Not because we have failed to achieve the security we sought, but because we forfeited so much of that of which we were justly proud in the process.

I have some good news. The good news is that we don't have to choose between safety on one hand and honor and humanity on the other. There is only one path to a better future, and it will take us to the safety we seek in a manner consistent with our highest ideals.

We can be the first in an international family of nations again, leading by the power of our example rather than the threat of compulsion.

We can be a true advocate of liberty around the globe, and in so doing, pacify the animosity that put us at risk.

We can be guided by law and justice, and we will once again be a beacon to the world, a country that even those from other lands feel is their own.

When I think about what has transpired in the last seven years, I think we have been like survivors in a lifeboat, abandoning a damaged ship, still trembling with the terror of our brush with death. Of course, we didn't tell themselves that it was fear that denied us the will to go back and save others. We told ourselves that it would be hopeless to try, that there was no more room in the lifeboat, that those still on the ship should have gotten off faster, and had only themselves to blame.

That is not cause to be ashamed. I believe with all my heart that we are good people, striving to be the best we can. We are human, and so sometimes we are weak.

But the measure of our mettle comes after the flush of fear subsides and we see ourselves with clear eyes. There are still some in our life boat who are spreading fear, who seek to cultivate all that is mean and cowardly in us. But in most I see a new courage, a new resolve, and new clarity of purpose.

Yes, it is true that we cannot escape the challenges we face. There is nowhere for our little lifeboat to sail where our safety and ease are assured. So perhaps returning to cast our lot with those we left to try to save themselves is our only choice. But we are going back not because we have to, but because we want to. Because this is an act that will be frozen in time, and we will relive it every day for the rest of our lives. And we will not have it be to our shame, but to our renown.

This new course we are on will not be an easy one. Change is never easy, and there are, of necessity, profound changes lying ahead. But this change is coming, whether we will or no. To survive in a storm, a ship must put its prow to the gale. We will go forward, confident that our course is both wise and right, and at peace in the knowledge that our triumph will be all the greater for the trials that lie ahead.

Thank you, and gesundheit.