Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Triumph or Transylvania

Writer at large Gary Kamiya is one of the best (among many) reasons to read the Webzine Salon. And he proves his worth again today, with a piece that asks the simple question: “Will the real America please stand up?” A favorite excerpt:
Elections hold a mirror up to a society. And the reflection we’ve been looking at for the past six years is a scary, Elephant Man-like visage.

So for a lot of us, there’s more at stake in Tuesday’s elections than simply whether the Democrats will take control of the House or the Senate. It’s a question of national identity, of finding out who we are--and if we’re a “we” at all. For six years, we’ve been waiting for the America we thought we knew to come back. And now, as we wait for the spinning windows in the great democratic slot machine to stop, we’re torn between hope that it’ll display the country we thought we knew, and fear that it’ll show something else.

We thought America was conservative enough not to trash its most cherished traditions just because of one terrorist attack. We thought America was liberal enough to try to understand why others might hate us, not just to lash out self-righteously. We thought America was wise enough not to start an unprovoked, immoral and highly risky war. We thought America had enough self-respect not to let itself be ordered around by a shameless, lying bully.

We were proved wrong. But we haven’t given up. Now our hopes are more modest. Now we’re simply hoping that those of our fellow citizens who let us down so badly two years ago throw the bums out. That good old
American common sense will prevail. In short, that we haven’t completely lost it.

This is no time for false optimism. Even if the Democrats clean up, it won’t be clear how much the country has really learned about the Bush administration or its ruinous “war on terror.” The education of the American people has been more pragmatic than profound; more like a cat burned on a hot stove than a Socratic dialogue. People have not turned against the Iraq war because they have learned about how U.S. Mideast policies feed Arab and Muslim rage, or have come to question the morality of preventive war, or the limits of even America’s vast military power. They have turned against it because they know it’s not working, and they know they were lied into it.

That’s a start, but it’s a long way from wisdom. It leaves unexplored the assumptions, and the knee-jerk emotional reactions, that allowed the war to happen. So whether the Democratic Party wins Tuesday or not, its politicians need to begin educating the American people--and educating itself. America must never again find itself in a situation where a demagogic president, surrounded by ideological zealots, can use the emotional response to an attack on U.S. soil to push through an unplanned and unjustified war. The Democrats, so intimidated they have not even challenged the
very idea of a “war on terror,” bear as much blame as the American people do for allowing this to happen, and they have to understand why and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

This isn’t just about controlling Congress, or eventually winning back the White House. The stakes are much higher. It’s about what kind of country we want to be. A country of laws, not men. A country that doesn’t spy on its citizens, or create secret prisons, or torture people. A country whose media has the guts to stand up to a mendacious administration even in times of war hysteria. A country that will not allow powerful wrongdoers to hide behind a cloak of secrecy. A country that cares about its poor and its minorities. A country that wants to be a good neighbor to the world, not dominate it. A country that has a soul, not just a flag.

Are we still that country? Were we ever that country? And can we learn to become it? On Tuesday, we’ll get some answers.
You’ll find all of Kamiya’s story here.

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