13.1.08

In Review of Power

Eventually, so much of it comes back to power. We rush forward to take it up, but then at the last moment feign that—humble as we are—we only seek to serve, the betterment of our fellows. We gnash against those who disagree with us, paint them unfit for duty, then stand like the Morton Salt girl, eyelids aflutter with innocence.

The Power of Change (Some Things Change…)
When it happened that Hilary Clinton didn’t pull the top position in the Iowa Primary, she changed—her disposition, her posture—as in years past she has changed again and again to fit the situations at hand. In the hours leading up to the event, a Portsmouth woman asked how she did it. As one reporter put it, Hilary “nearly cried” with conviction that she should keep going, only “because it was the right thing to do.” “Mrs. Clinton for the first time showed a softer, more vulnerable side that voters responded to” (Shift to Softer Approach Seemed to Boost Clinton; WSJ, Jan, 10, 2008) And she pulled it off in New Hampshire—winning the votes of the younger women she had somehow disenfranchised in Iowa.

Some Things Never Do
Yet in the variety of faces, styles, and phraseologies, two things haven’t changed. First, none of Clinton’s extremist views on women’s rights, the value of life, and the role of government in the family haven’t changed at all. Ironically, with the recent release of Charlie Wilson’s War, we have a chance to look back at history—how in the post-Regan years, the (Bill) Clinton Administration reduced the CIA and it’s operational budget in Afghanistan and Iraq to nearly nothing. We lost clout with Pakastan, just years after helping create the ISI, resulting effectively in a change in Iranian relationships. It isn’t just Charlie’s War—it’s the recent assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the muscle flexing of Iranian Gunships this past week, and the link between the instability of Iraq (and the Insurgents involved) with Iran. And that’s the second thing that hasn’t changed—that how one talks, or cries for that matter, on the trail is not nearly as important as what is reality.

What is “Reality?”
In a Pilotian manner, we are forced to ask, “What is Reality?” (cf. John 18:28)—as candidates and reporters alike invite us to consider why—one year after the counterinsurgency “Surge” of US troops, while it worked, isn’t the reason for the growing stability in a very broken and troubled country. It is the power of question; while almost nobody will say that the Surge play no role in the change of course in the direction of more orderliness, many will simply question it. And therein lies the great human dilemma. Questions can be asked out of humility (to learn) and then can be asked out of pride (to challenge). It’s the quest for something over which we do not exhibit power, the quest for godhood, for a position in life that supersedes that of law, of right-wiseness, of truth. No answer—undermining the veracity of something, say the Surge—has to be given. The fact that one can ask a hypothetical question, posit the likelihood of other influences, even offer the possibility of doubt—is seen as itself something above truth, some quality unquestionable, above reproach, untouchable.

With Great Power…
It’s that untouchable right to challenge, to question, to raise suspicion which is just another feign in the great struggle for power—cast doubt and suspicion on all others. True or false, it doesn’t matter, so long as the immediate “I” is elevated. And it all seems harmless so long as the economy is strong(ish) and the dollar isn’t worthless (though it may be tolerably worth less than). Harmless, because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. A noble axiom no doubt—as the Courts debate this week whether voters ID cards can be required (constitutionally). No one bothers to mention that freedom and security move in opposite directions along the same spectrum—when that freedom is not of the self-governed kind. Jefferson said, “"The qualifications for self-government in society are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training"(...to Edward Everett, 1824). Yet, ours is a culture unfamiliar with long training and habit. We are, not surprising then, ill-equipped at self-government. We need not look back into the annuals of history to find the consequence of that—but look only to Nairobi and Naples. Nairobi is threatened by the possibility of anarchy, as opponents President Kibaki and Raila Odinga each stands resolute in his unwavering position. Over 700 have died—and how many more? Naples, meanwhile, lies under inconceivable tons of trash as the combination of a weakened political state and a powerhouse of organized crime makes some areas utterly ungovernable (Southern Italy’s Dirty Reality; WSJ, Jan 8, 2008).

Do we assume we are somehow above that, above the corruption of ballot stuffing and organized crime—somehow above robbing Peter to pay Paul, or outright suing him for his cloak along with his tunic? The candidates boast of themselves, but none seems well versed in the now famous words of Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

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