I recall the time when my interest in politics was something akin to but less than my intense interest in the NBA, MLB and the NFL. The winners and losers in local, state and national elections were mostly a matter of "Did the person I like win or lose?" There was very little if any interest on my part in initiatives, law-making or the rising and falling fortunes of our political parties.
I'm an old veteran with no hair, high blood pressure and military memories going back to the early 1970's when Jane Fonda was a swear word and my cousin somehow got into the National Guard and I didn't. Had I waited another six months before enlisting, the new draft lottery which placed my birthday at the 350+ level would have meant that I, like Mr. Cheney, could have pursued my "other priorities."
Somewhere downstairs I've got an old hard-cardboard Schlitz beer-box with enough military records in it to prove I went and to prove I did. There's a bunch of ribbons down there in a glass jar where sometime I'll go down and look at them. There's an air-medal (and maybe a cluster) that are still in their containers. There's little sterling silver wings that my commander told me I could wear even when not on flying status after completing ten combat missions. They're all down there to prove I went and did.
When I was studying Russian at Syracuse University, Woodstock happened less than 100 miles away. I wasn't about to drive over and see that. I was too mad at Jane Fonda - mad about her movie Barbarella and its flaunting R-rated morals-challenged images which had offended my youthful moral view of the world. Oh and I was incensed by her Hanoi activities.
Funny how time changes perspectives. My yuppie kids are outraged that in 1968 I deliberately refused to go to Woodstock.
I agree with them.
What was I thinking?
Was my patriotism so shallow that rain, mud, outlandish music, naked women and pot smoke could rock my foundation as a true American?
I'm embarrassed about what I thought was important when I was 22 and what I did and didn't do about it.
Yet, here I am today, a retired and stay-at-home repository of all my experience which is the only source of wisdom I have to offer my kids and grandkids. I sure as heck am not going to teach my kids that military veterans are long on judgment and condemnation and short on forgiveness. Most veterans have seen enough in life to know that there's not much useful in taking an "I'll never forgive you for that!" attitude in most areas of life.
No, I'm not retired from the military. I got out after 6 years and served 2 more in the reserve. 29 years later, I'm still aware of a sense of difference between the civilian and military world where you have got to trust somebody before you follow them.
In 1968 I was so mad at LBJ, I voted for Nixon so I guess that made me a Republican.
In 1972 I thought McGovern was a peacenik and I was a war-nik so I gave Tricky Dick another vote.
In 1976 I was genuinely offended at Ford for pardoning Tricky Dick so I voted for Carter. Guess that's my first sentiment for the Democrats.
In 1980 when Reagan asked "Are you better off now...." he got my vote. Back to bein Republican.
In 1984 he looked tougher than Mondale so I voted for RR again.
By 1988 though, I didn't trust Bush the First so I went into my vote-for-the-outsider mode and voted for Dukakis. Democratic fool am I?
1992 and I'm mad at Bush Sr. who seemed to think looking like Patton would fix the economy and voted for Bill Clinton with the following little sentence in sotto voce: "Ok you SOB, you'd better not blow it." Back to thinking in a Democrat way.
By 1996 I began to suspect I was more of a liberal than a conservative and just couldn't bring myself to vote for Dole.
So there I am, trying to vote the man instead of the party, flip-flopping and waffling with the best of them.
By 2000 I realized that my veteran's instincts were alive and well and I saw only form without substance in George W. Bush. He's my age and I could never vote for anyone who at best was no smarter than me. Besides, an old NBA fan like me thought Bill Bradley was the smartest guy for president and I was disappointed that he didn't get nominated. I voted for Gore, the military veteran.
By the time George W. invaded and occupied Iraq and lied to me and you in order to get away with it I was having problems with the political behavior in this country that now seemed more important than the Red Sox beating the Yankees.
When my wife Lietta took off for Texas to help Cindy Sheehan beat up on George Bush, I also decided to get involved ... as a citizen ... rather than a party partisan. This despite the fact that my dissent and opposition to a sitting president almost demanded that I support the opposition party's candidates and issues - to the degree I could stomach them and could stomach their lack of stomach for a fight.
I soon learned that lock-step support of a sitting president and publicly patriotic loyalty grandstanding had very little to do with civic responsibility and holding the government responsible. I was in good company .. folks like Tommy Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight the Eisenhower.
Dissent is the highest form of patriotism. -President Thomas Jefferson
“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.” - President Theodore Roosevelt
Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President. - President Theodore Roosevelt
To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. -President Theodore Roosevelt
Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionist and rebel men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion. -President Dwight Eisenhower
Good enough for me. So I began public dissent and never regretted it. Didn't stop no wars, didn't get anyone indicted or impeached and didn't impact the outcome of any elections despite all that Lietta and I could do.
But ... I felt good about myself for trying, for taking a stand and for standing for something of merit.
Bush's 2004 re-election after all those manipulative antics and with the help of religious and social conservatives was a shock for me. It taught me things about American voters as a group and their diminished or absent attention spans that I've never forgotten. Predominantly republican congresspersons, television commentators and talk-show jocks all acting and speaking almost in lock step synchronicity, saying the same things and sticking almost sickeningly to the same talking points and slogans left me with a vulgar and foul taste in my mouth.
Democratic voices were mostly mealy-mouthed and seemed almost afraid to throw down any gauntlet against what I began calling the Kindergarten Konservative Klamor.
By 2008 there was no visible republican worthy of my vote and perhaps with one or two exceptions the democrat would get my vote. For me the eventuality was either Hilary or Obama and when McCain nominated the Konservative Kindergarten Kween my voting choice was going to be totally obvious.
I am not a democrat but I can say with total honesty that there appears to be no republican worthy of my vote so long as the party itself is beholden to the tea party crazies. Voting to re-elect Obama was a no brainer. And I am not happy with our sitting American president.
Again here I am, So there I am, trying to vote the man instead of the party, flip-flopping and waffling with the best of them.
So here I sit at my keyboard ... reminding myself why I got involved when one president and his administration lied their way to all those dead soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
I want to rephrase a few things I wrote about a president in 2005 and expand the subject to include the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary.
In 1968 when I enlisted I had a rough idea of what I was getting into.
That "rough idea" was based on trust ... trust in a system and, ultimately, trust in a specific leader and a specific governing political party. The specific leader of course was LBJ, the specific party was the Democratic Party and the specific system was and is the system that allows us to hang our political opinions on buttons and sanctimonious drapery of stars and stripes from which we belch our prejudices.
When you sign up you endorse a contract on the bottom line. It's a contract with specified written obligations on the part of both parties, but also with unspecified but powerful assumptions on the part of both parties.
In the case of joining the military knowing what you are getting into is based on very powerful unwritten but nationally accepted assumptions:
(1) The integrity and honor of the commander in chief of the military and that CIC's skill, wisdom and understanding of all reasons when and why military citizens are to be placed in harm's way.
As a volunteer you are at the mercy of that individual, his party and their combined priorities - with a strong expectation that those priorities extend beyond a desire to remain in the driver's seat.
(2) As a volunteer you are at the mercy of your own fellow citizens (including your own family) whom you trust to be willing and supportive in making sure the leadership does not waste your vital blood, devotion and patriotism in pipe dreams, self-interested agenda's and ideologies;
hat leaders are driven by a genuine desire to involve the country in on-going mutual participation and compromise regarding foreign policy before resorting to force as a last resort.
(3) Volunteering to become a soldier is volunteering to preserve and protect - with your own power and will - the country, its borders, its citizens and its institutions. It isn't volunteering to keep a political party in power.
The only way to avoid that circumstance is for the citizens to assume their rightful role in the triangular relationship with the troops and the CIC. The troops are expected to trust the CIC's wisdom as well as the patriotic participation of the Citizens who will keep the CIC honest.
The CIC is expected to trust the troops to follow orders and expects to sustain by honesty and integrity the support of the Citizens.
The Citizens expect the troops to do their duties and expect the CIC to sustain by honesty and integrity his political authority. The Citizens must be willing to hold the CIC accountable and willfully resist when the honesty and integrity of leadership is absent.
That is what is going on right now.
The politicians have demonstrated a lack of leadership at a time when leadership is needed.We have civic responsibilities that include critical thinking, striving for common sense and an ability to wade through or ignore bullshit so we can help do something about the bullshitters. If I could fire and replace them all I would ... but I can't. However, there's no requirement to sit quietly in the tavern while the blowhards waste everybody's time and money with political silliness. We ought to stand up to grandstanders, bullies and drugstore cowboys - no matter the color of the ice cream on their boots.
That's why I'm taking my mind off the shelf and going back to the scuffle. It seems to be what makes me feel good about myself for trying.