America's Capacity for Change

Peggy Noonan wrote a lovely few paragraphs celebrating America, in the middle of an otherwise somewhat nasty editorial about Hillary Clinton.

A friend sent, by instant message, the AP flash that ran at 16:56 ET on 06-03-2008. There it was suddenly on my screen:

“*** WASHINGTON (AP)—Obama clinches Democratic nomination, making him first black candidate to lead his party.”

A great old-school bulletin, and of course it carried a huge and moving message. It is good when barriers fall; it’s good when possibilities seem to open up to more people, especially the young, who are always watching….

But what I thought of when the friend sent the flash was something another friend told me months ago. It was the night Mr. Obama won Alabama. My friend was watching on TV, in his suburban den. His 10-year-old daughter walked in, looked, saw “Obama Wins” and “Alabama.” She said, “Daddy, we saw a documentary on Martin Luther King Day in school.” She said, “That’s where they used the hoses.” Suddenly my friend saw it new. That’s the place they used the water hoses on the civil rights marchers crossing the bridge. And now look. The black man thanking Alabama for his victory.

What kind of place makes a change like this? Only a great nation. We should love it tenderly every day of our lives.

I was having a similar thought the other day, but not about the evolution of our consciousness of race in America, wonderful though that is. I was delighting that, however far we swing from the center, the fact that our presidents can only serve two terms gives us a fresh start. In the dark days of the past seven years, when the possibility of stolen elections as well as misguided policies and even lies leading us into an unnecessary war might lead anyone to think that democracy was on its last legs in America, one might never have thought to be where we are today, with the real possibility of change in Washington. Even on the Republican side, the party outsider, the voice of criticism (at least initially) has become the candidate. How great is it that we allow ourselves to change direction like this?

The momentousness of change in leadership every eight years has been on my mind recently as a result of reading Jay Winik’s book, The Great Upheaval, about the simultaneous change of political consciousness that wracked the world in the US, France, and Russia (though there it didn’t prevail) in the late eighteenth century. One of the most stirring moments was the story about how George III reacted when he heard that George Washington was stepping down after leading the Continental Army to victory: “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”

If those words don’t help you to “see it new,” I don’t know what will. That a conquering general didn’t seize power was once remarkable. That, when called once again to serve, he stepped down after eight years as president, setting a precedent that was eventually signed into law, was an amazing breakthrough. It’s hard to remember that it wasn’t always this way, anywhere in the world, (and still isn’t, as events in Zimbabwe and Burma remind us so painfully right now.)

There’s a lot wrong with our country. But there’s a lot right, and looming large on the list is our capacity to change, to reinvent ourselves, to rise to great challenges and surmount them. The words of the Constitution (which were echoed by Barack Obama in his speech on race), “to form a more perfect union,” remind us that perfection is a journey, the act of improvement, not an end-state. It gives me hope that we’ll be willing to rediscover our idealism and tackle hard problems like global warming, global poverty and income inequality, rather than focusing on the banalities of consumer culture.

I’m reminded of a wonderful poem by Rilke, as translated by Robert Bly, The Archaic Torso of Apollo, that touches on how all greatness, all beauty calls forth from us our own aspiration:

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We have no idea what his fantastic head
was like, where the eyeballs were slowly swelling. But
his body now is glowing like a lamp
whose inner eyes, only turned down a little,

hold their flame, shine. If there weren’t light, the curve
of the breast wouldn’t blind you, and in the swerve
of the thighs a smile wouldn’t keep on going
toward the place where the seeds are.

If there weren’t light, this stone would look cut off
where it drops so clearly from the shoulders,
its skin wouldn’t gleam like the fur of a wild animal,

and the body wouldn’t send out light from every edge
as a star does… for there is no place at all
that isn’t looking at you. You must change your life.

I remember hearing Bly read that when my daughter Arwen was a tiny baby nearly thirty years ago. The power of the unexpected turn at the end – “You must change your life.” – has stayed with me ever since.

The change we seek in America starts with us. (That’s why I was moved to end my talk at ETech, Why I love Hackers with another Rilke poem, about the Old Testament story of Jacob wrestling with an angel. I intended it as a kind of introduction to my son-in-law Saul Griffith’s talk about the engineering challenges involved in climate change. Saul made clear just what a big job we’re in for, but also grounded the scale of the required change in very personal terms, showing for example, that the amount of aluminum required to produce enough solar thermal plants is similar in scale to our current industrial production of soda cans. He did an amazing job of showing the deep relationship between global scale and personal impact.)

Bringing it back around to politics, next up on my political reading list is Susan Griffin’s Wrestling with the Angel of Democracy. I was delighted to see that wonderful image of Jacob wrestling with the angel that I used in my ETech talk, the struggle with hard problems that may defeat us yet strengthen us nonetheless, applied in a political context.

I guess this Sunday ramble is a bit of an appeal to all of you, whatever your political persuasion, to wrestle with the angel of democracy in the coming election, to learn about the issues and the candidates, to make your voice heard, and to play your appointed role in the future of our government.

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  • http://www.arkansawyer.com/wordpress John A Arkansawyer

    I’ll ramble in a slightly different direction: This is the second time this year you have blown me away with a Rilke poem. Somehow I never got Rilke before. Do you have a recommended translation?

  • http://www.nexes.org/ Robert Eckstein

    Tim,

    I whole-heartedly agree with everything you say here. I keep thinking of Robert Bly, but that’s probably because deep down, I’m still Minnesotan.

    And bringing back to politics, I agree with Noonan that Hillary shouldn’t be VP, but for more pragmatic reasons. She’s by no means “beat,” despite the current onslaught of 20/20 hindsight analysis from the press, and I don’t think it’s in her party’s best interest to fade away. If I were Obama, I’d be more willing to take the chance that the melting economy will erode America’s support of the Republican Party in the next five months and instead look for a running mate with more international experience. Then, I’d try to get Hillary somewhere she can shout the agenda further than any VP or cabinet position: Senate majority leader.

  • http://grandcanyonhiker.com Ken McNamara

    “How great is it that we allow ourselves to change direction like this?

    Oddly enough the Constitution has roots in Copernican heliocentrism a discovery brought to us by astronomers.

    You can only wonder what impact the eventual results of SETI will have on the world. If advancing our knowledge of the solar system resulted in a more perfect union – what will advancing our knowledge of the universe do?

    “Unnecessary war…’ I guess if you are comfortable living with all the benefits of our Constitution while people a world away live under a regime that promoted rape as sport (just for starters).

    Or I suppose that someone could claim that sanctions were going to do that job (they sure worked after WWI).

    Frankly – I shudder to imagine the state of the world today if Saddam had been left in power.

  • http://jeremiahsjamison.wordpress.com Jeremiah Jamison

    Dear Tim,

    An enjoyable and useful Sunday night discussion. You are hitting on a key message–I’ll call American Exceptionalism for this comment–that is appropriate and useful.

    For all Americans, there’s certainly a lot to look at as dire.

    At the same time, there’s a ton for which Americans should be proud and grateful. Specifically, the business we’re all in love with and working on — technology — is hard to imagine flourishing in the same way were it not for the freedom of capital, the rule of law, and (with a little squinting of eyes) the Bill of Rights. The development of this amazing industry where it’s developed is no accident–whether you look at anything from Al Gore’s legislation that created the internet or the young men who stormed Normandy and assured the fate of the West, a lot of elements fit into place to make this a reality.

    Regardless of party affiliation, gaining comfort with the notion of American greatness is, I think, an important responsiblity and reality, particularly as we look forward. Whether we’re going to be waging ideological battles with Islamo-fascism or Chinese communism, opponents to our approach will exist.

    Ideological commitment to the notion that freedom, rule of law, and representative democracy in which all voices can be heard is and will remain an important commitment. As we think of a global world, where larger populations of young people worldwide will be growing up in developing states without firm traditions of governance, the example we set will be important and impactful.

    Our own failings at reaching perfection should never let any of us, despite whatever differences we may have as Americans, shirk away from the responsibilities we will share, at home and abroad to push toward the ideal of a ‘more perfect union.’

    Thanks and enjoyed the post!

    JSJ

  • http://www.planetpeschel.com Bill Peschel

    “In the dark days of the past seven years, when the possibility of stolen elections as well as misguided policies and even lies leading us into an unnecessary war …”

    Pity you don’t follow your own advice to learn about the issues. I expect you’ll remain equally as ignorant about Mr. Obama.

  • http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

    @ John Arkansawyer — I love Bly’s translation, with the German on the facing page: http://www.amazon.com/Selected-Poems-Rainer-Maria-Rilke/dp/0060907274

    Some people complain because Bly’s translations are too loose, but I love the way he just tries to re-tell the poem rather than just translating the words.

  • http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

    @ Ken McNamara -

    If foreign governments doing bad things to their people were the guiding principle on our foreign intervention, I’d agree with you. But then we’d have been in Sudan for the past few years, and in Burma after the cyclone.

    Why is it that people who like to defend Bush’s deception claim that somehow we had to go after Saddam, when we’ve turned a blind eye to so many other evil dictators, even had them on our payroll? The issue is that Bush:

    a) claimed that Iraq was involved in the attack on the World Trade Center, and that Iraq was a supporter of Al Quaida

    b) claimed that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction

    and that these were the reasons for going to war. Neither was true, and a congressional investigation has now come out and said so.

    Meanwhile, what would be worse about the state of the world if Saddam had been left in power? Can you be specific about what makes you shudder? As far as I can tell, America is far less safe today than it was in 2001, as a result of Bush’s failure to pursue Al Quaida and instead look for easier targets that seemed to promise collateral benefits.

    But I should have realized what I said would be flame bait to some large number of my readers. Sorry. I was trying to point out something positive. @Jeremiah Jamieson, you got it just right.

  • http://www.stapleton-gray.com Ross Stapleton-Gray

    What I’m personally waiting to hear from the next president is, “All of America is a ‘free speech zone,’ not just little reservations far from the ears of her leaders, and I’ll work hard to make that philosophy one of our most popular exports, too.”

  • http://dotneil.com Neil Cauldwell

    Tim, sorry to go off-topic – the permalink to Robert Passarella’s ‘Equity Research’ post is broken;

    http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2008/06/equity-research-in-the-age-of.html

    It’s a good post and I wanted to leave a comment. Hopefully it’s fixed soon.

  • http://seoptimization.blog.com/ SearcH◆◇ EngineS WEB

    It really did not matter who won the nomination.

    Both candidates would have achieved the unprecedented

    Of course, if McCain wins by an extreme landslide – it will still show that America is still in the ‘dark ages’ – reality will have surfaced.

    It is one thing to lead a party – but another to be allowed to lead a nation

    (BTW:
    Obama is biracial – not Black)

  • http://www.mymeemz.com Alex Tolley

    “One of the most stirring moments was the story about how George III reacted when he heard that George Washington was stepping down after leading the Continental Army to victory:”

    Let’s not forget that that was the original Roman tradition. It was only later that this was dropped and resulted in the line of emperors. let’s hope that America doesn’t follow this historical path.

  • http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

    Alex Tolley –

    Yeah, I worry a lot about the “imperial presidency.” It’s been looking bad, which is why the sense that we may get some kind of serious change is a big relief.

    For a popular account of Rome’s slide into empire, read Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic, by Tom Holland. The parallels are scary, complete with “terrorist” threats (the docks at Ostia burned by “pirates”) used to raise the first standing army within Roman territory (Roman generals had to give up their imperium when they returned to Rome.)

  • Bill

    “In the dark days of the past seven years, when the possibility of stolen elections …”

    The Dems lost, get over it. Numerous recounts support it.

    Maybe if you could accept unpalatable facts you might find you could see beyond Bush and Republicans as bad daddys and Hitlers and find a bigger, scarier world and join the adults trying to manage big, scary problems. You know, soldiers, and serious Daddy figures.

    I wish it were like you believe, so we get rid of Bush/Chimpy/Hitler, join hands with our former, misunderstood enemies (N. Korea, Iran, etc.), sing Kumbaya together, and buy the world a Coke. Who needs Jesus? We have Obama!

    I look at your weblog for stuff about programming, not your political views. Go with your strengths.

  • http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

    Bill — I’m not going to respond to your flame bait. I have no problem with people responding with thoughtful disagreement, but straw men and patronizing dismissals don’t qualify.

    FWIW, I recognize that there are lots of bad actors in the world. I am also sympathetic to many Republican positions. I like most Republican rhetoric (self reliance, less government spending) much better than I like most Democratic rhetoric (class divide, paternalistic). But I find the Dems seem to do a better job of delivering on the Republican rhetoric.

    E.g size of govt shrank under Clinton/Gore, rose under Bush. Balanced budget under Clinton/Gore. Not a prayer under Bush.

    And I don’t think that Clinton/Gore coddled any of our overseas enemies. Nor do I think that an Obama administration would do so either. I know that balancing priorities and making choices is a hard job. (JFK said that govt was choosing between bad and worse.)

    But I find the level of deception and self-dealing under the current Bush administration to be a modern low. Many of my republican friends and acquaintances feel the same way — even Rupert Murdoch! (See the comment stream on my entry about Gates at D.)

    Anyway, enough politics. I did try to encourage people to “wrestle with the angel of democracy.” That doesn’t mean mud wrestling, though. So I suggest you get out of the muck and find ways to support your views without insulting people who don’t agree.

    We might debate specifics of policy without name-calling (though as you correctly note, this is not a political blog, and I for one don’t have time for it here.)

  • An O'Reilly Radar Reader

    Readers may want to take a look at this recent Washington Post Column: ‘Bush Lied’? If Only It Were That Simple. regarding the report from Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence that addresses the questions of whether the President “lied” in making the case for going to war, or if in fact he made assertions based on evidence available at the time, some of which later turned out to be incorrect. Being proven wrong after the fact is not the same thing as lying.

  • Charles

    I came to this site to look up technology books to buy. What is this political opinion piece doing here? Does O’Reilly Media officially support the democratic party? Very odd.

  • crowsnestster

    Dear Tim,
    Using poetry to convey philosophy and soften politics. You sly dog. And still, I mourn the loss of Hilary as a potential leader. I wanted the old war horse to kick ass and take names. Just a wee fantasy. Charles (above blogger) finds a political opinion piece an odd fit for your site here. Capacity for change, changing ones life, is above all very business-like. Is philosophy dead?!
    Crowsnestster

  • http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

    @ O’Reilly Radar reader: the link you pointed to was thought-provoking reading. But it definitely cherry-picked from the report. If that was all there was to it, why did even two of the Republicans sign on to the conclusion of the report?

    Also highlights one of the drawbacks of old media. If there were links to the quoted text, we could see the surrounding context. I suspect the author of the piece was very selective in those quotes.

    Kind of like the movie poster that quotes “Amazing” when the actual quote was “It’s amazing how a movie this bad gets released.” But you’re right: I haven’t read the actual text of the report.

    As to “amazing”, it is “amazing how much heat can be felt about subjects that the disputants only know about second hand.”

    I tried to be somewhat nuanced in my expression of my perspective, allowing for other points of view. Obviously, people on the other side of the debate don’t necessarily feel that restraint.

    My main point was: engage. Wrestle with the angel of democracy.

    And perhaps your point is: don’t form opinions just based on the headlines. I’ve done enough research on this topic that I don’t think that’s true of me, but it is true that none of us was there.

  • http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

    @Charles -

    This is a blog, a place where I and a few other people associated with O’Reilly, express our opinions about technology and other subjects we think may be of interest or importance to our readers. Do you really think that “wrestling with the angel of democracy” should not matter to technologists? In fact, technology policy is one of the key areas where this election will have an impact. (Fortunately, either McCain or Obama would be a big improvement over the current administration.)

    If you want technology books, visit http://www.oreilly.com, not radar.oreilly.com. (Although I concede that you might have found the blog via a widget on our main site.)

    @crowsnester — I agree that philosophy and poetry have a very important place in the world of technology. And the response to my keynotes at ETech and Web 2.0 Expo, in which I focused on philosophy, poetry and aspirational ideas rather than just technology, suggests to me that a lot of other people feel the same way. Thanks for the support.

  • Jim S.

    With regards to the Rubicon related comments, in Roman days crossing it was a binary decision while today it is probably more a matter of degree.

    During Katrina the 82nd airborne was deployed to New Orleans with the minor ruse of leaving their rifles un-loaded to comply with the Posse Comitatus Act while armed contractors were also deployed there and rapidly deputized.

    After Katrina the law maintaining National Guard troops under governor control was weakened ( http://www.stateline.org/live/details/story?contentId=170453 ) with little comment.

    Democracy’s are a decent way to provide governance, but their greatest strength is probably their well established cycle of bloodless revolutions. After so many years of Bush and Clinton (and the concentration of power that comes with it), it will be wonderful to have this revolution complete no matter what the results.

  • http://www.muscle-beach.de kre-alkalyn

    A lot of people in many countries in the world expected already 4 years ago that America have a change in their politics – better late than never!

  • http://www.stapleton-gray.com Ross Stapleton-Gray

    An anonymous reader says, “Being proven wrong after the fact is not the same thing as lying.” But this is largely a non sequitur. It is (and was) painfully clear that the Bush Administration had a plan, to engage in a war it expected would quickly topple a dictator (granted, one it had previously supported) and transform the politics of the region. Both missions were accomplished, but the latter disastrously so. As a former intelligence officer, it’s insulting to hear the “but you can’t say Bush lied” defenders; the man and his administration did lie, did commit sins of both commission and omission, and now fight a rearguard action to sow confusion and doubt.

    Recall where we stood, in the months before the war: the U.S. had unprecedented access to Iraq, including billions of dollars of technical collection systems, and lots and lots of feet on the ground (before we, and not Iraq, pulled inspectors out)… how could Iraq possibly have been secreting a “weapons of mass destruction”* program posing any sort of near-term threat? And yet that was the marketing line… “…don’t want to wait until the smoking gun is a mushroom cloud…”

    * “WMD” is also practiced marketing: there’s a vast difference between chemical weapons, say, developed hundreds of years ago and at their worst dangerous to a comparatively few people in a comparatively small area, and any sort of nuclear weapon. But by painting it all as “WMD” you can hang anyone you like on a fairly modest achievement. Heck, a boyscout troop can whip up WMD with some bleach and some drain cleaner…

    But to tie this back to Radar and all that, I have a huge problem in trusting people, such as our Anonymous contributor, who’ll so readily discard science and logic for marketing and, well, let’s call them as they are, lies.

    If Bush had wanted to prove to his and our satisfaction that Iraq did or didn’t have a weapons program worth our caring, wouldn’t the billions of dollars we spend on intelligence have allowed him to do so? Absolutely. We had unprecedented access, with inspectors roaming the place, poking at palaces. And coming up with nothing. But a scientific approach to the problem would have reinforced the theory that there was nothing to see; that wasn’t what was wanted, and that wasn’t what we got.

  • http://grandcanyonhiker.com Ken McNamara

    No flame here. Yes, I think we should have gone into Sudan – and Burma – but we won’t. It’s not in our national interest – but the middle east is – and as long as the world needs their oil it will be. It’s sad that wholesale murder and tyranny are not important to us. But someday we may wish we had stopped the thugs in Sudan and supported the little lady in Burma. Still, we can barely fight a war that is in our national interest – let alone two that aren’t.

    I’m always amazed that the ‘Bush Lied’ theme has gotten any traction – it’s just a political sound byte.

    Quoting from the Senate report:

    “Statements that Iraq provided safe haven for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other al Qaeda-related terrorist members were substantiated by the intelligence assessments.”

    Safe-haven is support.

    As to WMD – Saddam claimed he had them and he had used them. Give him a little time, a few chemical engineers, a trillion dollars – and poof.

    Two out of three isn’t bad – intelligence isn’t testable fact – someone has to make the call – they’ll be wrong more often than they are right.

    Last week the price of oil made a $10 jump on rumors about an attack on Iran. If Saddam was sitting on the Saudi border – he might decide to ‘go for the gold’. Could we stop him this time? We came very close to losing the whole thing the last time.

    Less safe? Track back into the ’90s – list the number of attacks on America and our interests around the world. Bombing WTC, USS Cole, – I’ve seen the whole list somewhere – it’s not pretty. Then FF to after 2001 — we’re safer (and so is the world).

    As to fixing the world’s problems – we just passed a Farm Bill that promotes world hunger by subsiding rice farmers (we dump rice, put their farmers out of business http://www.bread.org ). And how about that energy bill – every time Congress engineers ‘solutions’ I shudder (like the water saving toilets).

    Thanks again for an interesting blog.

    PS – I could wax positive about the Constitution and how I believe we should spread it around the world – but that would really be flame bait.

  • http://www.stapleton-gray.com Ross Stapleton-Gray

    Ken, that’s largely a load of crap. “Safe-haven is support” is as bad as that Clintonian, “what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” What was alleged, by the Bush White House, is that there was some significant, some vital-to-the-concerns-of-our-Republic association between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 bombers. That’s clearly untrue. Did Hussein’s Iraq admit some people who later carried out an attack on us? Absolutely, but with no more grand plan of collusion than we’ve provided “safe haven” to Germans who later joined the Bader-Meinhof.

    “Give him a little time, a few chemical engineers, a trillion dollars – and poof.” Iraq’s entire GDP was a tiny fraction of that. And again, the worst chemical weapons are pretty insignificant in the scheme of things that ought to worry us.

    But to again move beyond Iraq, and to world views, I greatly fear, and have little respect for, those who would so distort the truth and dance in the fog of obfuscation… they’re screwing up my government, at all levels, school districts, and my community. To quote Robert Redford’s character in “Three Days of the Condor,” “What is it with you people? You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?

    [aside to the O'Reilly crew, this Captcha is darn annoying.]

  • http://blog.decompiler.us/ decompiler

    i knew there was a reason — aside from all the awesome technology-related stuff you do — that i liked you, tim.

    you know, as a proud father, geek, and american (in that order) i’m stunned whenever i hear a fellow geek repeat obviously false or slanted conservative marketing.

    my problem is that i always seem to assume — given our education level, access to information, and the strong geek culture — that most geeks would come to the same or similar conclusions that i do. obviously, looking at the above, all geeks do *not* think like me; but at least i now know that you do.

    thanks for the post, tim. i, for one, totally give a crap about what you think.

    p34c3.

  • Sam Penrose

    Thanks for a great post, and for the pointer to wattzon.

  • http://grandcanyonhiker.com Ken McNamara

    @ Tim

    “And I don’t think that Clinton/Gore coddled any of our overseas enemies.”

    Their weakness in dealing with our enemies left us 911 — they didn’t coddle them, they just pretended they could ignore them. We’re still not done paying for their poor decisions.

    911 may have occurred during the Bush Administration but it was planned (and encouraged by our weak response) during the Clinton administration.

    President Bush had to deal with the ultimate mess – that was left for him.

  • http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

    @Ken –

    I’d love some evidence that 9/11 was caused by any Clinton/Gore policies. That seems completely unsubstantiated to me. Nor was there any change in policies when Bush took office, which would suggest that even if your thesis is correct, he is equally culpable.

    The key questions to me are these:

    1. Was Saddam implicated in 9/11? (No. In fact, there is significant evidence that he was a foe of Al Quaida, and as a secular arab, he was no friend to religious extremists.)

    2. Did Bush and co pick on Iraq for reasons other than 9/11, while wrapping themselves in the flag to get support for a war they already wanted before 9/11? (You yourself have intimated that you believe it was about oil and America’s strategic interests. Which is it? If that’s what it was, yes,
    Bush lied.)

    3. Did the Bush decision to go after Iraq rather than Al Quaida (which was NOT in Iraq) make us safer, or less safe? It’s pretty clear that Iraq is a much greater haven for terrorism today than it was under Saddam, despite whatever other things were wrong in Iraq. Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan, where Al Quaida was given safe haven and where the 9/11 mastermind was actually in hiding, was pushed to the back burner.) In short, even if Bush didn’t lie, but merely shaded the truth, his strategy was a complete cockup.

    Regardless, what happened happened. We don’t get a do over. We can just choose someone better going forward. And it’s pretty clear to me that whoever wins in November will be a huge improvement over Bush. Although I’m increasingly concerned that both candidates, who appeared to be voices of change, are being sucked into their respective establishments by the press of politics.

    So the biggest question is likely to be who is most resistant to business as usual. So far, Obama’s been holding up better than McCain on that front, though there are troubling signs of pandering to the base.

  • http://grandcanyonhiker.com Ken McNamara

    @Tim -

    Thank you for taking the time to put together such a complete reply. I hope that both of us realize you can never really learn something from people who agree with you, so I value your disagreement. I also realize that this has been debated on the national scene by people much smarter than I am – still, here’s my point of view.

    The roots of 9/11 can be traced to 2/15/1989 when the Soviets left Afghanistan. The US walked away too – after billions in arms aid we wouldn’t even fund a school. The nuts flooded in – we knew it and we ignored it. And in so doing we handed them a nation state to operate from.

    Planning for 911 didn’t start in earnest until late 1998 – but our ineffectual response to Al Qaeda’s threats in the 1990’s encouraged them. We treated the WTC bombing as a criminal act, when it was an act of war (planned by the man who engineered 911). We ignored Bin Laden’s declaration of war in August 1996. Our response to the August 1998 bombings of our embassies drew a pathetic cruise missile response (Clinton was busy with Lewinsky). (And the Republican’s were fiddling with impeaching Clinton.) (Above 911 Commission report) The attack on the USS Cole in Oct 2000 went unanswered.

    Clinton was the commander in chief – national security was his responsibility. Time and again during his 96 months in office he did not answer real and present dangers. Intelligence was ignored and the military was treated like a foster child – their reception at the White House during the Clinton administration was chilly at best (American Soldier – Tommy Franks).

    Okay, so Bush in 8 months was supposed to make up for 10 years of pretending we couldn’t be touched. That’s 8% culpable – not anything close to equal.

    ——— Your questions —
    >>>> 1. Was Saddam implicated in 9/11? (No. In fact, there is significant evidence that he was a foe of Al Quaida, and as a secular arab, he was no friend to religious extremists.)

    Quoting Chicago Tribune – ‘Judging the Case for War’ ———-

    Iraq and Al Qaeda
    WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID
    President Bush: “… Iraq and the Al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy–the United States of America. We know that Iraq and Al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade…. Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bombmaking and poisons and deadly gases.”
    WHAT WE KNOW TODAY
    Two government investigative reports indicate that Al Qaeda and Iraq had long-running if sporadic contacts. Several of the prewar intel conclusions likely are true. But the high-ranking Al Qaeda detainee who said Iraq trained Al Qaeda in bombmaking, poisons and gases later recanted.
    THE VERDICT
    No compelling evidence ties Iraq to Sept. 11, 2001, as the White House implied. Nor is there proof linking Al Qaeda in a significant way to the final years of Hussein’s regime. By stripping its rhetoric of the ambiguity present in the intel data, the White House exaggerated this argument for war.
    ———- end quote

    That last sentence is baffling to me. Intelligence is always ambiguous – intelligence is a multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle with missing parts and parts that are downright lies. But someone has to make the decision about what picture that jigsaw presents. If not the President – who? And note – “Several of the prewar intel conclusions are likely true.”

    Saddam is the guy paying parents of Palestinian kids $25,000 for their kids to strap on bombs. He’s the guy who gassed the Kurds and the Iranians. He did give Al Qaeda safe haven. He would use anyone as long as he could – especially to attack us.

    >>> 2. Did Bush and co pick on Iraq for reasons other than 9/11, while wrapping themselves in the flag to get support for a war they already wanted before 9/11? (You yourself have intimated that you believe it was about oil and America’s strategic interests. Which is it? If that’s what it was, yes, 
Bush lied.)

    Of course it’s about oil. That’s the elephant in the room. Every time some fool says ‘No Blood for Oil’ — I want to reply — ‘No Oil and there will be Blood – lots of Blood’. Look at the hazard to our economy with the price rising – what would be the outcome of a real supply disruption? As you noted earlier – we don’t set national policy based on right or wrong.

    Saddam represented a real threat to the stability of the middle east – and was the weakest player. Taking him out was a solid strategic move. If we succeed in creating a stable Iraq – something that looks very likely – all the better.
    I’m not certain how failure to state the obvious is lying.

    >>>>>3. Did the Bush decision to go after Iraq rather than Al Quaida (which was NOT in Iraq) make us safer, or less safe? It’s pretty clear that Iraq is a much greater haven for terrorism today than it was under Saddam, despite whatever other things were wrong in Iraq. Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan, where Al Quaida was given safe haven and where the 9/11 mastermind was actually in hiding, was pushed to the back burner.) In short, even if Bush didn’t lie, but merely shaded the truth, his strategy was a complete cockup.

    Sorry – the MSM may be ignoring it – but the boots on the ground will tell you that Al Qaeda has been driven out of most of it’s safe havens in Iraq. We are on the verge of defeating them — because the Iraqi people support us. Iraq is no longer a haven for Al Qaeda.

    Al Qaeda and the Taliban were driven out of Afghanistan. The 9/11 mastermind was captured in Pakistan. Yes, in recent days the Taliban is reconstituting – but that’s the nature of war.

    Given the current situation on the ground in Iraq – I’d say that his strategy is doing pretty well. If Mr. Obama is elected – watch him backpedal when it comes to leaving there.

    Sorry – I don’t agree that either candidate is better the Bush. I support McCain because he has established his integrity time and again – first in a POW camp and next in his day-to-day refusal to pander to his party’s base. Both Obama and Hillary showed me how much damage two inexperienced, self-centered individuals can do to a political party – especially when that party has no real leadership.

    Finally – I think the genius of the US Constitution is that it offers change – but it constructs the government in such a way that the various powers are kept in balance (thank Copernicus). Drastic change is almost impossible. Which is why people of completely opposite persuasions can agree to accept the change it allows.

    Thank you again for this excellent blog. Sorry for the long post – but I felt your reply deserved some effort on my part.

  • Robert Lewis

    Wall Street Journal Columnist Peggy Noonan and her bad accountant?

    http://webofdeception.com/#PeggyNoonan