by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
December 18, 2003
A LEADER TO LEAD US ALL
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- This is what I want for Christmas: a country united, and a leader who leads us all. That's all.
Saddam Hussein may be in a cage in Baghdad, but Iraq is now an al-Qaeda Disneyland, with American soldiers serving as the rides and the prizes.
Our charming and mealy-mouthed President smirks as he says he has made the world a safer place, but hundreds of dead and wounded Americans and thousands of dead and wounded Iraqis beg to differ.
Saddam as King Lear - was the photo op worth $166 billion? In an odd way, you could look at him as a Wal-Mart employee writ large: another disposable foreign employee of America. In that sense, he has a lot in common with Manuel Noriega and Osama bin Laden.
America is now a divided place. Many people believe that Saddam was at fault in 9/11. They believe that capturing him has made us safer, and was worth any cost.
They also believe the President's constantly shifting story about the weapons of mass destruction. First they were mounted on rockets aimed at our shores. Saddam's finger was on the trigger. We had to strike, and we had to strike now. Now he says they were an obsession in Saddam's mind and he would have found a way to build them. We had to strike, and we had to strike now.
Many others - myself included - believe that the President lied going in and that he's lying now. With evil dictators in North Korea, Burma and half of Africa, why bother with Saddam? And why now?
We believe that his obsession with Saddam is tied to his father's failure to capture Saddam after the first gulf war, greed for the Iraqi oil reserves, and his neo-conservative advisors' determination to protect Israel at all costs. We believe that the war in Iraq has allowed al-Qaeda to regroup and become even stronger, putting Americans in more danger, not less.
What causes this great divide?
I've always thought of government as a way to improve people's lives, to bring justice as well as economic stability to the widest number. I see nature as something that must be protected. I see art as an emotional necessity. I see America as a great nation and a leader in the world, but also working in accord with other nations; how can we deny that we're not all on this big blue beautiful spinning ball together? I believe in the improvability of government, if not mankind.
George Lakoff, in his book "Moral Politics," offers a useful way to look at conflicting political philosophies. He argues that like old-fashioned families, they offer opposing models of strictness and nurturing. People like me want a government based in empathy and responsibility for one's self and others, i.e.: we're nurturing and maternal.
Others view government as a strict father whose job is to maximize strength and protect wealth. These people believe the world is an evil place. Enormous military strength is required for our protection. People or corporations with wealth are valuable and good. The poor are morally weak. Nature is a resource to be exploited for the creation of more wealth. America is more moral than other nations, which makes it more deserving of economic and military power. It has the right to use this power whenever and wherever it desires.
This paternalistic world view has no place for art, so it is ironic that Tony Kushner's play "Angels in America," (a filmed version of which is now showing on HBO), shows us a third way to look at politics - in the character of Roy Cohn, a cynical, rule-breaking, powerful and homophobic right-wing lawyer who sat at Sen. Joe McCarthy's side during the Communist witch hunts in the 1950s, and died, much later, of AIDS. "This is gastric juices churning, this is enzymes and acids, this is intestinal is what this is, bowel movement and blood red meat - this stinks, this is politics," Cohn says.
Politics, in other words, is a great power game played just for the joy of playing. Clout - having the president's private phone number, for example - is what really counts.
Is government a way to make the world a better place? A way of imposing a hierarchical, paternalistic order and authority? An ego massage? All three? How close to despair do you get when you realize that America is being torn apart by these competing philosophies? We're like raging red and blue rivers racing in parallel to oblivion.
We need bridge-builders and we need them now.
Common sense alone dictates that, like families, we don't need wimps any more than we need dictators. Life is hard. Like a family, in order to survive America needs leaders who have the intellect to incorporate nurturing with discipline, caring with power; who can protect us from our enemies, respect the environment, be compassionate towards the sick and poor, keep our economy strong and growing, and work with other nations for the general good of us all.
That's why, Santa, for Christmas I want a country united and a leader who leads us all. That's all.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.