Thursday, March 25, 2004

Moral and political principles vs. “Hooray for our side”

So I’m watching the Richard Clarke drama unfold. The guy is a great speaker, and he really has the goods on the administration. Liberals everywhere are delighted, even gleeful. Conservatives are in some serious pain, as they watch their guys get skewered. Liberals attack the Bush Administration, and their attacks (in my judgment) land on target. Ouch! Conservatives defend the president and his team, but their defenses are so pathetic it’s hard to imagine they are even convincing themselves.

In brief, Richard Clarke is correct. The administration really did screw up, very badly. They were not interested in terrorism before September 11th, as they were still fighting the cold war. After September 11th, as is their wont, they shoehorned all of their previous goals into the new situation. Yadda yadda yadda. Liberals right, conservatives wrong.

I have to admit, I find the whole situation terribly amusing and enjoyable. I love that the liberals are right and the conservatives are wrong. My liberal soul is enjoying a really new set of sensations here. It’s not so much that I’m used to being wrong: no, not that at all. What I am used to is thinking that, yes, my point of view has a lot to say for itself, but I can also see the other point of view, and I can understand how rational, reasonable, good people can hold that other point of view.

For instance, take the minimum wage. I am in favor of raising the minimum wage. Conservatives will argue, of course, that raising the minimum wage always costs jobs, so that raising the minimum wage would actually hurt the people I want to help. I have what I think are pretty good reasons to doubt that simple equation (which I don’t want to get into here), so I continue to favor minimum-wage increases, at least from their present very low level. But I can see the point that conservatives make on this argument, and I am willing to admit that they may be right.

On the Bush thing, though, and 9/11, there is just no reason whatever for me to think, even for a second, that the administration has done much of anything right. They really are a bunch of incompetent fools, still fighting the wars of a previous generation, unable to deal with the new realities. They think fighting terrorism has to equal attacking nations. They really do think that it’s a military problem. You know the saying: when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

So again, I’m having a damn good time. It’s painful to watch how badly our country was screwed by these people, but it’s wonderful to have just about everyone come to realize what a pack of losers has been running this country.

I spent some time with my parents tonight. They are lifelong liberals, and very strong Christians. (I’m the one with the Ph.D. in religion with a focus on Christian ethics and theology, but they’re the ones who actually believe it, and go to church, and so on.) Tonight, my parents are as one with me in their joy at the recent turn of events, the smoking that the Bush people are taking. I’m enjoying their joy. A good time is being had by all.

And yet, I step back, and think. Wait a minute. All three of us have, or had, some pretty basic principles. Things that we believe in.

We believe, among other things, that every human life matters. In Christian terms, God loves us, every one. We abhor the destruction of human life through terrorism, war, the death penalty, or assassinations. We also know (in Christian terms, again) that people are sinful and prone to evil, so we try not to be hopelessly naïve. We’re not quite pacifists, any of us. But we certainly find it difficult to support direct government policies of killing people.

And yet we (my parents and I) rush to embrace the charges of Clarke, that Bush wasn’t serious enough about going after Bin Laden and al Qaeda. We certainly believe that Bush failed. But if the current administration had pursued assassinations or other paramilitary or military action against members of Al Qaeda before 9/11, we would hardly have supported them!

So I step back and think again about Richard Clarke. Now, people like my parents and me are sort of glad, in the back of our minds, that there are hardcore people out there like Clarke, fighting terrorism by whatever means necessary. He makes us safer, and he does the borderline immoral deeds to get us there. He would order an assassination without thinking twice, if he had what he thought were good reasons to do so. So he’s hardly the kind of guy we would embrace, or support wholeheartedly, without misgivings.

But now that he’s going after the Bush administration, we are delighted. Go Clarke Go! Kick Bush’s Butt! (Do we really like Clarke? As a person, no, not really. But never mind that.) Go Clarke Go!

We love that this president is failing, not just by our very liberal, borderline pacifist standards, but even by the standards of reasonable, intelligent Republicans like Clarke. We detest the current administration, and we are delighted that there are so many good reasons, even beyond our reasons, to do so. We are delighted and hopeful that someone less awful than Bush will be elected, and that the Democrats may even take back the House and Senate.

These are good reasons, yes. But when it comes down to it, all of these reasons are still about our side winning. Go Clarke. Go Democrats. Beat up on Bush, using whatever weapons you have. Elect more Democrats. Yay, team.

In a minor but real way, “Hooray for our side!” is winning out over my moral principles. I’m finding myself delighted by things that I don’t really believe in. I’m finding myself hitting Republicans over the head for not doing things that, had they done them, I would have been horrified by (or at least ambivalent about).

I think the same thing can be said from the other side -- and much more so! -- about conservative defenders of the president. These poor people have felt compelled to attack Clarke with every smear they can come up with. (Not very well, by the way: it’s been pretty pathetic.) These people really ought to be asking themselves some hard questions, too. Let me put the question to you guys. Is this really the way you want to treat Richard Clarke? He’s a life-long public servant, a hard-core, smart, tough man who dedicated his entire life, obsessively, to something you wholeheartedly support! (You guys are political realists, right? You don’t have the moral qualms about assassinations and covert military actions and all that.) Do you really want to attack the guy just because he says something that damages your “side” in a political argument? Doesn’t the world need more people like Clarke, and fewer people who are so concerned with political gain that they will sacrifice what is really true, good, and right?

Which is more important, guys? Your principles, or winning the “Go Team Go” battle? Justice, truth, hard-headed realism and good government, or the Bush administration? Because (as Clarke, Paul O’Neill, and many others have shown us) you can’t have both.

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