September 17

Remind Me Again What We’re Fighting For

To eliminate weapons of mass destruction. To depose Saddam Hussein. To create a peaceful democracy that will serve as an example to the rest of the Middle East. To destroy terrorist cells. To protect our freedoms and way of life. I’ve heard many reasons for why we’re fighting the war in Iraq. Every time those reasons are proven wrong or the public starts to question them, the Bush administration comes up with a new one.

When we originally went to Iraq, we were told that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction.” Now for most Americans, that meant nuclear warheads. Of course we didn’t find any nuclear warheads or much of anything else that most people would consider a WMD. Apologists for the president will tell you that plans, research, test results for such weapons have been found, and the liberal media just is not reporting these stories. They accuse liberals of having too narrow a definition of “weapon of mass destruction.” But we weren’t the ones who used the phrase to justify military action. In a speech in Cincinnati on October 7, 2002, George W. Bush said, “(Iraq) possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons.” (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/10/20021007-8.html) The president told the American people exactly what he was looking for. He didn’t find it. So then the Republicans tried to redefine WMDs. Most Americans didn’t buy that, so G.W.B. and company switched tactics and began justifying the war as a means of deposing a murderous tyrant.

Now that’s an effort I can get behind. Saddam Hussein murdered thousands of his own people. He was evil, and I am glad he is gone. But his regime was toppled in April of 2003. Saddam himself was captured in December of the same year. Three years ago. With Saddam gone, we needed a new justification for our continued presence in Iraq.

President Bush’s reasoning shifted to the establishment of a peaceful democracy that can become an example “for free and decent governments throughout the Middle East.” (President’s Radio Address, October 29, 2005) The Iraqis held elections; they established their constitution. American forces have been “training” Iraqi police and military forces for years now. Where is the peace? Turns out that things were just a little more complicated than anticipated. It seems that not everyone in Iraq was all that keen on the United States’ plan for their country. Plus, we’re dealing with the problem that every time our troops accidentally kill an innocent Iraqi, they create enemies in the family and friends of that person. It’s rather like cutting the head off a hydra.

With things spiraling out of control, Republican justification of the war had to be re-focused yet again. We are fighting terrorism in Iraq. And in Afghanistan. And in Iran shortly. If the war on terror is as successful in other locations as it has been in Iraq, we will be at war forever. Which seems to be where we’re headed anyway.

Of course, the Bush administration really can’t go to the American people with the message that the war on terror is a slippery slope, and we are looking at an endless fight. So they’ve begun talking to us about preserving our own freedoms and protecting our way of life. Ironic to hear this message coming from a president who also tells us that we have to surrender some of our precious freedoms to fight the war on terror. This afternoon, a U.S. District judge declared Bush’s surveillance wiretaps unconstitutional. The administration appealed the ruling, reminding us that we must “use every tool in our arsenal to respond to emerging threats” (Bush predicts courts will uphold security wiretaps, Reuters, 8/18/06). If we’re already giving up some of our freedoms to fight terror, then what freedoms are we fighting for?

So now I’m left wondering – when they run out of excuses for killing Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers, will they finally pull our troops out of Iraq?

August 21

Don’t Worry, It’ll Pass

As Iíve whined before, Iím a liberal in a red state. Most of the time, I keep my mouth shut during political discussions. Occasionally, however, Iíll hear something that blows my circuits, and Iíll make the mistake of letting my liberal viewpoint be known. I am then jumped from all sides. Since I am not adept at oral debate, I get tongue-tied and embarrassed, and my friends and family get the satisfaction of ďwinningĒ these disagreements.

Iím used to it.

What really honks me off, though, is when people blame my liberal views on my youth, my inexperience or my job. They tell me that Iíll get over it, as if Iím a six-year-old who just skinned her knee or got crushed by the boy next door. They tell me Iíll learn to be a conservative as I get older, see more of the world, and get away from university vacuum in which I work.

Thatís funny because when I was younger, I was conservative. I’ve actually gotten more liberal as I’ve gotten older. I grew up in the 70ís and 80ís, hating Jimmy Carter and loving Ronald Reagan. Carter was responsible for the high gas prices that so upset my father. Carterís ineptitude prolonged the hostage crisis in Iran that gave my mother nightmares. Reagan was the hero. When he was shot, I sent him a get-well card and framed the reply I received from the White House. I remained a Republican through my undergraduate years at a liberal college campus; in the first election in which I could vote, I voted for George Bush over Clinton.

It wasnít until I was older that I came to consider myself a liberal. I was working two jobs and fighting to make ends meet, watching gay friends struggle with AIDS, studying the Bible and thinking about starting a family. All of a sudden, the Republican Party seemed very out-of-touch with all the things I was going through, all the things I was really worried about.

As far as inexperience goes, I admit that I have fewer experiences than my parents, aunts, uncles, and 60-year-old friends and relatives. How could it be otherwise? They have 2 or 3 decades on me. But here are some experiences Iíve had that I donít think they have: Iíve cleaned the blood off a friendís face after he was ambushed and beaten up just for being gay. Iíve helped a friend struggle with the painful decision of abortion because the condom broke and she had no money or insurance, and she knew her parents would never consent to adoption. Iíve watched a hemophiliac friend die very slowly of AIDS because Ronald Reagan refused to act to protect the national blood supply. Iíve been told by security personnel in an overseas airport not to speak English or mention that I am American because our foreign policy has alienated just about every other nation on the planet.

Actually, when people say that I have less ďexperienceĒ than they do, I think they really mean ďmoney.Ē Many folks tell me that when they were young (and poor), they used to be Democrats, even campaigning for John or Bobby Kennedy. As they got older and gained more experience (and money), they switched sides. Iíve always said that conservatism is the philosophy of the haves trying to keep their stuff from the have-nots. Most of the time, you accumulate more stuff as you get older; when you have more stuff to protect, conservatism probably seems more appealing.

Finally, there is the issue of my job. I teach English at a large urban university. As colleges go, it is relatively conservative. It is a predominately commuter school in the middle of a very red state, so about 80% of my students are Republican, and the facultyís probably split about 50/50. The word ďuniversity,Ē however, is anathema to most conservatives. For many years now, the Republican Party has been painting college students, professors and intellectuals in general as the enemy, and it terrifies me. If you know history, current conservative rhetoric about universities and academics should worry you too.

Totalitarian regimes have a long history of coming down hard on colleges. Guess what Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, and Iranís current president all have in common? One of the first things they did in their rise to power was to purge their respective nations of all the intellectuals. They exiled or assassinated college professors, leaders of university think tanks, student activists, scientists, teachers, and writers. During Chinaís ďCultural Revolution,Ē Chairman Mao sent thousands of scholars to their deaths to keep them from criticizing his horrific campaign. So when well-meaning folks tell me not to be taken in by the “intellectual elite” I work with, I have to suppress a shudder.

People also seem to forget that Iíve been teaching for only five years. I worked for the Disney Company for 10 years, and I worked for a financial services company for 6 years. Talk about a vacuum! In that company, I was completely surrounded by far-right conservatives who “never roved beyond the narrow limits of (their) money-changing hole.” (Dickens, A Christmas Carol) At least in the university, we have the courtesy to look at both sides of an issue. In private industry, they never feel the need to look past the bottom line.

Anyway, as long as I live in a red state and most of my friends are Republican, I guess Iíll just have to keep nodding and smiling. Should I forget my place and speak my mind, Iím sure everyone will remind me that Iíll grow up eventually and get over my silly liberal ways. It could happen. Especially if I ever get rich and forget my values.

August 19

What Goes Around Comes Around

Israel apologized for killing 52 women and children the other day. Yeah, I’m sure the parents who survived appreciated that.

The “civilized” democracies, especially Great Britain and the United States, have made a bad habit out of creating dictators, despots and terrorists. After all, the U.S. supported the Weimar Republic in Germany, a government so weak and unpopular that the German people turned to the ravings of Adolf Hitler to save them. America supported the illegal regime of Cuba’s Fulgencio Batista who alienated his own people so completely that they ousted him in favor of Fidel Castro. The U.S. also supported Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. There was another good idea, huh? The United States assassinated the Congo’s first democratically elected president to install instead Joseph Desire Mobutu, a more America-friendly despot who extorted an estimated $4 billion from his people and sent the nation into chaos. Even Osama bin Laden was “a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies” (Robin Cook, The Guardian, 2005). Armed and trained by the CIA and British Secret Service, bin Laden then turned on us after the Soviets left Afghanistan.

Like Israel, which is sorry for the civilian casualties it is causing, the United States is apologizing constantly for the innocent Iraqis and Afghans we kill. And all the sympathetic rhetoric and political justifications are necessary and commendable; hell, terrorists certainly donít apologize for killing innocent people. But put yourself in the shoes of one of these poor bystanders, and donít just read these words trying to think of a quick reply to prove me wrong. Really imagine that you are living, through absolutely no fault of your own, under an oppressive regime. Life is hard, but it is the only life you know. Then a foreign country comes to “liberate” you and your family. Now imagine if the liberating country “accidentally” killed your wife or your child or your entire family, wouldn’t you pledge your life to do everything you could to avenge their deaths? We are creating new Osama bin Ladens daily with our “liberation.”

And putting some weak, West-friendly governments into power in the nations we’ve invaded is not the solution. They will, like all the others before them, implode under their own instability or be toppled by their own citizens who will see them as reminders of their humiliating and tragic subjugation by a foreign power, “liberating” or not.

So the U.S. and Israel kill a few women and kids? At least they weren’t our kids, right? And hey, we apologize. Yeah, if we’re still around to see the consequences our grandchildren will have to deal with, I think we’ll be really sorry then.

References: Wikipedia entries on Fulgencio Batista and Ferdinand Marcos; “King Leopold’s Ghost” by Adam Hochschild; The Guardian 2005; Associated Press article by Katherine Shrader and Kathy Gannon, July 2006

August 17

Jesus Was a Flaming Liberal

Okay, now I’ve ticked off a ton of people, right? And left? Hah. Sorry if I’ve upset you, but the title was an attention-getter. I learned the method from Ann Coulter.

As a Christian Democrat (yes, we really do exist!), I mean the title of this posting as a compliment. Jesus was a liberal. That phrase has become somewhat of a mantra to me in the past 6 years. It gives me hope. And it’s true. That’s not to say he was a Democrat. I really can’t imagine Jesus being involved in politics at all, but he was absolutely more left than right. Here’s my reasoning:

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, liberal means “not bound by authoritarianism or orthodoxy.” I can’t think of too many people who fit this criteria as well as Jesus does. He broke almost every rule of Jewish law, and he was executed by the Pharisees, one of the best examples of orthodox authority in history.

Jesus was no friend to big business. The only time in the Bible when we see Jesus get really angry is in the second chapter of John when he overturns the tables of the merchants and moneychangers. He told us to be on our “guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” [Luke 12.15.] He said, “You cannot serve both God and Money.” [Matthew 6:24.] But so many conservatives seem terrified of giving up any of their possessions. The Republican Party provides tax breaks to the rich and tries to protect the interests of big business. These actions directly contradict Christ’s teaching.

Jesus was not racist or homophobic or restrictive. He said, “Love thy neighbor.” [Matthew 19:19] Not “love thy straight neighbor” or “love thy neighbor as long as he’s not in the country illegally” or “love thy Christian neighbor.” Love everybody, no matter what God they worship or where they’re from, or whom they have sex with. He did condemn divorce, though. Isn’t it strange that so many Christians are up in arms about gay rights when Jesus never mentioned the word “homosexual” once? He talked about the evils of divorce a lot, though; most Christians prefer to overlook that because so many of them are divorced. (See Matthew, chapters 5 and 19; Mark, chapter 10; and Luke, chapter 16.)

Jesus did not condone war. He was a pacifist at a turbulent time in history. Israel was under Roman rule. It would have been easy to call for war. But Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” [Matthew 5:9] He also overturned the “eye for an eye” philosophy of the Old Testament, calling instead for his followers to “turn the other cheek” [Matthew 5:39].

Jesus supported separation of church and state. He told us to render “unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” [Matthew 22:21] Everywhere I go in Indiana, I see those “One Nation Under God” bumper stickers. They make me angry for two reasons. First, the “under God” phrase was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950’s. Second, these people who want to include God in all our governmental slogans, currency and architecture accuse anyone opposing them of being an atheist. I’m opposed to mixing church and state because I cannot be sure that my faith will always be the faith in power! If the United States becomes a mostly Hindu nation sometime in the future and our government is intermingled with religion, I guess I’d be out of luck. Kinda like all the poor Americans today who aren’t Christian.

Jesus believed in taking care of others. He didn’t tell us to give the rich tax breaks in the hope that they’d give more to charity. In chapter 14 of Luke, he told us to invite the poor and disabled to our feasts because they cannot repay us: “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” I wonder how often Pat Robertson invites homeless people to dinner at his house.

Finally, Jesus did not support the death penalty and reiterated the sixth commandment in Matthew 5:21: Thou shalt not kill. Personally, I have a tough time with this one. Emotionally, I feel that anyone who hurts a child should be wiped off the face of the earth. But that is not what Jesus said. His teachings are often hard to follow. Let’s face it: for such a sweet, compassionate man, Jesus was tough.

Over the past few years, I’ve been surprised and dismayed by the ease with which the Republican Party has monopolized Christianity in this nation. Most people just assume that, if you are a Christian, you are a conservative. I find this notion especially ironic since I am a Christian and a liberal while my husband is agnostic and usually votes Republican! Living according to true Christian principles is difficult, though, and most people would rather hear a diluted, dumbed-down version they can live with more easily; the Republican party has obligingly translated Christ’s teachings to allow for hate, violence, discrimination and greed. It is time for liberal Christians to stop letting the religious right drown out our voices. Pat Robertson does not speak for me. Ann Coulter does not speak for me. Jesus speaks for me, and it’s time to hand him the microphone.

August 10

Do as We Say Not as We Do

Okay, I’m a liberal in a red state. I admit it freely. If you’re already offended, don’t bother reading on because I’m not in the mood to try to change anyone’s mind. I just want to bitch about George W. Bush and his administration.

On NPR the other day, I heard the most amazing statistic. From George Washington to Bill Clinton, the U.S. presidents had signed a total of about 600 signing statements, which are basically the equivalent of “Get Out of Jail Free” cards in Monopoly. They’re little notes that a president can attach to a law when he signs it that explains how they expect the executive branch to interpret and enforce the new law. Quite convenient, really, especially if the president intends to not enforce the law, or better yet, break it.

Which brings us to George W. Bush, who, all by himself, has signed more than 800 signing statements. In other words, this president has signed new laws which the rest of the government and the citizens of this country must abide by, but he’s exempted himself from following them. It’s good to be the king.

As a mom, this tactic really bugs me even more than it bothers me as a Democrat. Throughout this entire administration, I’ve felt that George is a lousy president in the same way that many people are lousy parents – they set horrible examples. As a mother, I try to live the way I want my kids to live. I set down rules for them, and then I make sure that I abide by those rules too. If I break them, how can I expect my kids not to do the same?

Aside from the signing statements, Bush has set a poor example in the international community as well. He was determined to go to war with Iraq even without the assistance or input of any of our allies, and he trampled all over the United Nations to do it. Then he turns around and expects Iran and North Korea and all these other countries to adhere to United Nations resolutions. Who can blame them for telling the U.S. to kiss off? Especially when we’re preaching to them about human rights all the time and using holier-than-thou rhetoric to condemn the way they treat their citizens while our president is spying on his own people and refuses to adhere to a law he signed making it illegal to torture prisoners of war.

Last but certainly not least is a bewildering new “behavior” for the Republican party. When I was growing up, the Republicans were the ones who were always screaming about “deficit spending,” and rightly so. I mean, if I write checks without money in the bank, I go to jail. The government should have to operate in the black too, right? Obviously not. This particular issue really goes beyond party lines and into the realms of common sense: you simply cannot spend money you don’t have. And yet, Bush’s administration is cheering a $296 billion deficit because it’s lower than $423 billion they were expecting. $296 billion?!? If I were $296 overdrawn in my checking account, I would be freaking out. Multiply that by a billion, and the president calls it “good news?” Have I fallen down a rabbit hole and landed in a world where nonsense rules?

Somebody needs to be accountable. Somebody needs to set the example, be the leader, say and really mean: “THE BUCK STOPS HERE.” Where’s Harry S. Truman when you need him?