Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tim Russert's dead. It's awful, world-historic, so much so that yesterday NBC Nightly News actually showed a clip of Brian Williams mourning the death of his colleague while footage of the Iowa floods played in the background. If you need further examples of the depravity of our punditocracy, watch this video of Wesley Clark being interviewed by a pair of nobodies on MSNBC. Note how the anchors splutter when Clark makes a terribly obvious point about John McCain's purported national security "experience" ("He's never been responsible for policy formation. He's never had leadership in a crisis or in anything larger than his own element on an aircraft carrier or in managing his own congressional staff"). In their quest for easy digestion, pundits will chew on anything malleable, such as Andrea Mitchell, among others, characterizing Barack Obama's appeal back in the antediluvian days of November and December 2007 as "rock star," as if that said everything you needed to know about him. In this case it's John McCain the War Hero, as if being a prisoner of war qualified one to be an effective Chief Executive, which is like saying that I'm qualified to serve as editor in chief of a newspaper because I was once a reporter. Obama, of course, has even less experience, but that's the point: both candidates, all things being equal, are equally qualified to be president, despite the bleatings of our local Republican bloggers, most of whom can't make a point without their carotid arteries throbbing in public.

National security is indeed the most salient "issue" facing us this election, but we should worry as much about how fighting a perpetual war corrodes an executive branch that's itself barely survived the abuses of the Cold War. As Immanuel Wallerstein notes:
The biggest unknown is how far he will go to dismantle the quasi-police state structures that the Bush regime has instituted under the umbrella of a war against terrorism. This involves far more than appointing better judges. It means a radical revising of both legislation and executive policies and exposing the ultra-secret rules and practices to the light of day. Much can be done, as we know from what was accomplished in the 1970s, reining in the CIA and the FBI. But the situation is worse now and requires more. History may well judge Obama most of all on what he does in this domain. Up to now, he has been quite silent about this arena.
Make no mistake: Obama's rhetoric at its most affirmative and swollen makes me tremble. In context, I'm relieved that the paleoconservative rag American Conservative has also realized, in tones more paranoid than I'd adopt myself, that an Obama administration might (they say "would") "parrot precisely the Bush regime’s panic-packed arguments about the horrendous threats facing America," especially when he remarks, as he did last year, that "this century’s threats are at least as dangerous and in some ways more complex than those we have confronted in the past. They come from weapons that can kill on a mass scale and from global terrorists who respond to alienation or perceived injustice with murderous nihilism. They come from rogue states allied to terrorists and from rising powers that could challenge both America and the international foundation of liberal democracy.”

You can spin this as Obama's way of countering the "perception" that he's "weak on national security," but he said those words, and he must account for them. American history is strewn with the bodies of presidents who appealed to our better natures by leading us into unsolicited wars of choice. The real audacity of hope would be if a President Obama shirks the call to higher duty.

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