The United States of America has enjoyed the greatest luck of any nation since the Roman Empire. We’ve earned our precious liberties through the blood, sweat and tears of previous generations but we’ve also been fortunate to have the best leaders come forward when we needed them.
In 2000, our luck ran out.
In an undergraduate political science course, I argued that our success wasn’t due to mere luck. When a classmate took the opposite position, I asserted that dangerous circumstances had roused an innate excellence in the men who happened to be our leaders at the time of the crisis. I meant that had it not been for our new nation’s post-Revolutionary War floundering, the Civil War or the Great Depression and World War II, Washington, Lincoln and FDR would be as forgettable as President Rutherford B. Hayes. Because the three giants happened to preside over the most precarious moments in our history, they rose to the occasion and saved us from our enemies…and from ourselves.
I was wrong. (In my defense, so was the professor.)
America was lucky.
9/11 ranks with Fort Sumter and Pearl Harbor as a history-altering tragedy. 9/11’s aftermath called for a leader who possessed a lifetime’s understanding of world affairs, deliberated the merits of all possible responses and fostered open discussion among his lieutenants, welcoming dissent. Instead, we had George W. Bush. Rather than rise to meet an incredible challenge, Bush sank to the bottom. (Amazingly, Bush simultaneously disproved my college argument while proving its inverse.) Barring events, GWB, like Hayes, would have been remembered as a mediocre president. but 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the financial meltdown happened on his watch. This trio of tragedy showed the world what this man is: an incompetent, incurious and deficient leader incapable of proper reason-based responses to any situation. For someone who calls himself “The Decider,” his decisions have been uniformly bad.
Two of the worst presidents in history are Franklin Pierce (right) and Warren G. Harding, Pierce because of his apathy and absenteeism and Harding because of his corruption. Richard Nixon’s record is mixed, but his moral depravity is unmatched, at least before 2001. George W. Bush combines the worst of Pierce, Harding and Nixon. While he was president, New Orleans disappeared under water, drowning over a thousand souls. He took the nation to war under false pretenses and illegally detained people who turned out to be simple farmers and laborers, not enemy combatants as he told us. His vice president outed a covert CIA agent out of spite and his attorney general fired US attorneys for political reasons.
The United States of America did the unthinkable.
It’s pointless to ask ourselves what might have happened if the surreal 2000 election had turned out differently…but I can’t resist.
- A confusing butterfly ballot in Palm Beach county caused elderly voters to vote for “Buchanan” instead of “Gore.”
- Candidate Bush’s brother, Jeb, was governor of the state where the problems occurred.
- Inexplicably, Candidate Gore was slow to respond to the Florida debacle.
- The Supreme Court decided to go against its federalist bent and intervened in a state matter.
- One of the 5 Supreme Court justices who put Bush in the White House had been appointed by Bush’s father.
- A quixotic third-party Candidate Nader diverted enough votes from Gore to throw the election to Bush.
- A delusional Florida secretary of state arbitrarily stopped counting votes, imagining herself in the position of the Biblical Queen Esther, saving her people from destruction.
This combination of random simultaneous occurrences was a one-in-a-million chance, sufficiently random to prove the existence of some form of metaphysical intervening force.
It also proves that God must really hate Al Gore.
But had Gore become president, would 9/11 have happened? Or would a Gore administration have continued Clinton’s anti-terrorism project, possibly exposing the hijackers and thwarting their plans. Regardless, Gore would’ve read the August 2001 briefing that stated, “Bin Laden determined to strike in US.” But hypothesizing what could’ve been leads to a black hole of despair.
As some Christianist republicans declared, obviously God wanted George W. Bush to be president. I agree, but not for the reasons they proclaimed. The goddess, our divine mother, wanted to teach us a lesson, to humble us as she did Old Testament Israel. True, we haven’t been carted off into captivity in Babylon …or have we? Come to think of it, with 130,000 troops toiling away under gunfire in Mesopotamian sandstorms, maybe we are being held in bondage after all. What’s next? Persia ? Assyria ? The Hittites? Eerie.
The list of Bush’s malfeasance and crimes is long and the years ahead will reveal even more egregious scandals and cover-ups. I hope that before I die I’ll see the USA return to its position as a beacon on the hill, an example of morality and a land that gives hope to the hopeless.
Actually, all of that could happen sooner than anyone could have expected. Dare we hope?
Rush Limbaugh republicans mock Barack Obama as “The One.” Hyperbole aside, FDR and Lincoln were mocked just as mercilessly by their critics, or even moreso. Lincoln ‘s enemies hated him so much they started a war immediately after his inauguration and assassinated him afterward. Yet, with lesser people in leadership positions America would have ceased to be a great nation and our experiment in democracy would have failed.
When John McCain picked Sarah Palin to be his VP running mate, conservative bloggers dared democrats to say she isn’t qualified. In their minds, how could we claim that Palin, a potential VP, is inexperienced when our guy at the top of the ticket is also inexperienced? As Ms. Bette Davis said:
You have a point. An idiotic one, but a point.
Looking at Obama and Palin’s records as individuals, there’s no comparison. What Obama might lack in political experience, he makes up for in judgment, temperament, world knowledge, life experience and people skills. He deliberates, avoiding reckless impulsivity, standing in stark contrast to John McCain. He was editor-in-chief of the Harvard Law Review, marking him as one of the smartest individuals in the country.
Sarah Palin went to substandard colleges, graduating from the University of Idaho with a degree in sports journalism. Obama forsook a lucrative career at a law firm to work as a community organizer helping keep kids off the streets, snidely derided by Palin.
THE REAL McCAIN
Obama’s not running against Palin. He’s running against a self-referential “Maverick.” Rather than transcribe McCain’s real life story here, read “Make-believe Maverick” by Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone. It’s brutal, but well-sourced. For those of us who once voted for McCain (in the California primary against Bush in 2000), it’s sad to realize how misinformed we were about McCain’s past. Andrew Sullivan nails it by pointing out this quote by another former POW who’s known McCain for years:
McCain says his life changed while he was in Vietnam , and he is now a different man. But he’s still the undisciplined, spoiled brat that he was when he went in.
ACTION, NOT LUCK
This time we can’t rely on luck. We have to act. We have to put Barack Obama in the White House next January. Maybe Barack Obama is the one to lead us out of this wilderness, maybe he isn’t and we’re just doomed to suffer our fate.
For the sake of our future and generations to follow, let’s hope he is indeed “The One.”