Friday, February 03, 2006

My two cents' worth: Redefining "national security"

First of all, an announcement: my friend Nancy, host of the fine lefty political blog Sine.qua.non, recently invited me to post on her blog on occasion. I was and am honored to do so.

What follows here is my inaugural post over there. UPDATE: Nancy was kind enough to re-post this as a diary over on Daily Kos. You're welcome to go here if you wish to comment and participate in one of those (un)scientific survey thingies.

My two cents' worth: Redefining "national security"

I should offer a few disclaimers by way of beginning here. I have no official background in politics, and I’m not especially wonk-y. So, you won’t find much detail in what follows. What I hope to provide is a starting point for thinking differently about the election(s) ahead.

All but the most partisan Republican would agree with this statement, I think: the Bush administration and those Republicans who control Congress, by focusing on the short-term goals of winning and retaining power (politics) and not on the decades-long responsibilities of actual, principled governance (policy), have squandered enormous opportunities at home and abroad to improve, politically and materially, the lives of our citizens and those of many, many millions in the world. With initiative after initiative—the Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind, tax reform, Medicare Part D, Social Secuurity reform, homeland security—those in power have turned needed and worthy ends into laughingstocks or objects of fear and anger via the means used to implement them, not to mention the fact that those who offer even constructive criticism of these programs, even within the administration itself, are accused of being divisive or, slanderously, unpatriotic. As for how we are regarded in the world, does anyone now recall the days immediately after 9/11 when all but the most bitter of our enemies declared along with the French (!), "We are all Americans"? The fact that that time now seems more like an embellished myth than a historical reality speaks volumes about both how utterly our nation’s foreign policy representatives have wrecked the potential of that moment and how difficult it will be to recoup something from that wreckage.

A couple of weeks ago, Karl Rove announced that, as with the previous two elections, in 2006 the Republican Party’s chief issue will be "national security." Even some Democrats feel they are vulnerable on that issue. But no candidate should have reason to fear that issue if they—and here I include those Republicans who cannot abide the way the current administration has conducted itself—redefine "national security" so as to distinguish between Rove’s politicized, narrow focus on defense and terrorism issues and broader policy issues that require a vision that extends years, even decades, beyond the next election cycle. Doing so, I believe, would win a few seats—maybe even majorities—for Democrats and moderate Republicans this year. That matters, of course. But what I hope should matter more to all of us is that candidates and their supporters insist on reorienting discourse away from politics and partisanship and toward restoring public and world confidence and trust in our nation and its government. Thanks to those who have run things for the past five years, that reorienting will take far more than winning one election. But I sense that we’ve reached the time where this is our best moment to begin that reorienting.

So. Here are a few questions I hope to hear voters and candidates asking incumbents in the coming months:

*Is our nation more secure when, even in these past five years of economic expansion, worker wages have remained flat or actually dropped when inflation is accounted for, while the salaries of owners have never before risen faster? Are those workers’ futures more secure when they are asked to pay more and more for health insurance and when companies are beginning not to honor their commitments to fund worker pensions?

*Are we more secure as a nation when we not only have acquired (again) a massive federal deficit as the result of war and natural disasters but no one, aside from soldiers and government workers, has been asked for any sort of sacrifice—that is, to invest in the welfare of the nation—to alleviate that deficit? Paying taxes, I think one can argue, is a form of public service, too.

*Is our nation more secure when the poverty rate in this country has increased every year—this in spite of an expanding economy—that President Bush has been in office?

*Is our nation more secure when programs and money benefiting public schools, the poor, low-income working families, single-parent families, and the elderly are either scrapped or imperiled because they have been cut at the federal level and states cannot afford to make up the difference to fund them properly?

*Are our people more secure when the very government agencies mandated to create and implement contingency plans in case of natural or man-made catastrophes clearly have failed to do so (see: Katrina)?

*Is our nation—or, indeed, the world—more secure when our government denies hard scientific evidence of the gathering threat that is climate change and refuses, as the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gases, to set an example for the world by signing international environmental accords and mandating clean-energy regulations here?

*In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Bush was clearly right to argue that the United States not become "isolationist" in its foreign policy. But in my view, this administration’s tendency not to work for consensus even among our own allies and its new policy of preemption for dealing with perceived threats from abroad have had precisely the effect of isolating us from the rest of the world. Has that tendency in fact made us, or the rest of the world, safer these past five years?

*Are we safer as a nation when our government argues that, in a time of war, safeguarding our national security trumps even the most basic moral and legal considerations, not to mention Congress’s constitutional duty to advise and consent to such policies—as regard the treatment of prisoners abroad and protection of our civil liberties here? How can we truly persuade others that we seek to spread liberty and freedom in the world when our government engages in the very actions that we have condemned other nations for having engaged in in the past?

Etc., etc.

"Do as I say, not as I do" has won elections for Republicans in the past, but we have ample evidence now that such a philosophy has been a disastrous way to run this nation and is no way to regain our once-proud status as the world’s best example of a free, open society. I can see in a thousand progressive bloggers’ eyes a hope-filled gleam as they contemplate this November’s elections, and I have that gleam as well. But those who wish for real change, be they the electorate or those they vote for, do none of us any favors if they can see no farther than November. I hope this little post encourages some who read it to have for themselves and insist that others have the bigger, nobler goal of insisting that government serve and protect all of us without shaming any of us. It is that hope and insistence that will beginto make us more secure as a nation.

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