Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Princes and Paupers (Afghanistan)

"When I look past the crazy name, I just see another guy from Harvard," highwayscribery's dad said of Barack Obama on the eve of the 2008 presidential election.

In doing so the old man might have presaged the scribe's content with President Obama as a traditional Democratic, but his disillusionment as an orthodox hippie.

The president has turned out to be utterly conventional where Democratic policies are concerned.

That's hurting him with independents who took his pledge to bring change as meaning something different than government spending to improve our collective lot.

They don't like stimulus plans, don't care much for infrastructure schemes, and hardly give a hoot about reforms in labor relations or health care.

They just wish their credit cards worked again.

That's fine. Democrats must sink or swim according to the appeal and impact of their policies.

But the staffing of the administration with familiar party hacks and Obama's retention of the Bush crowd's Defense Secretary has put us wild-eyed dreamers in the position of defending so much realpolitik from "our" president.

We have to tell ourselves that Obama's pragmatism keeps us in power and permits a slow sea change in American politics and culture as witnessed, let's say, in the largely quiet movement toward a liberalization of marijuana laws.

At highwayscribery we consider it a good thing that people be freer to partake in their stimulant of choice and that our jails not be busting with those busted for doing so. And we think the administration's simple decision not to harass medical marijuana outlets in states where they go in for that kind of thing has had a cataclysmic impact.

Hurray for the hippies! If only the Obama crowd was so influential elsewhere.

For example, Afghanistan, where we don't much like what we see.

It is just too familiar, what with Dick Cheney accusing the president of "weakness" for merely deliberating so important a matter.

Obama seems more worried about such criticism than a traditional Democrat might. His efforts are always designed to assure those who are convinced he is a black radical, that he is not a black radical.

And giving in on the war will gain him no grace in the "weakness" department. In fact, giving in at all will win no converts from their camp.

For we have seen plenty of what passes for a Republican Party these days and it's no surprise debate and thought are confused with "weakness" since the GOP is short on both, and long on bluster or "strength" (as they see it).

Anticipating the President's non decision to keep W.'s Afghan adventure alive, "New York Times" columnist Bob Herbert deemed the new/old policy "A Tragic Mistake."

"New York Times" columnist David Brooks went softer, suggesting in "Clear, Hold, and Duct Tape," that Obama is merely splitting the difference between peace and war through a half-hearted military effort focused on withdrawal.

highwayscribery's positions are normally aligned with Mr. Herbert, who can probably withstand the damaging association, and not so harmonious with Mr. Brooks's, who probably can't.

Caviling about our boys dying overseas has never achieved much. After all, folks like Cheney are always willing to sacrifice other people's children while their own enjoy life on the D.C. cocktail and conference circuit.

And America is hardly a place where moral and ethical ideas hold the same currency as, well, currency.

So we're going to do what the administration did and sit the hippie over in a corner (with his weed, of course). In his stead we'll forward the rank-and-file Democrat's economic arguments before going to pick the kid up from his overcrowded and under-funded public school.

And rather than stain Brooks through our usual trick of electronically linking and commingling our prose with columnist stars such as himself and Herbert, we're going to spin things in a literary way.

We will do this by excerpting a timely exchange between King Henry VIII, and a lesser-know historical entity by the name of Thomas Cromwell, beautifully presented in Hilary Mantel's Man Booker Prize-winning novel, Wolf Hall: A Novel (Man Booker Prize)

Sincerest apologies Ms. Mantel.

In this exchange (page 150), Cromwell has come for a chat with the King whom he hopes will let up on his own patron, the Cardinal of York, a fellow falling out of favor "at court" as they say in these English dramas.

Cheney, er, um Henry, apparently blessed with a long memory, quickly takes Cromwell to task for a speech in Parliament, made seven years prior, challenging the king's right to wage war in France:

"Listen to me, master -- you said I should not fight because the taxes would break the country. What is the country for, but to support its prince in his enterprise?"

"I believe I said -- saving your Majesty -- we didn't have the gold to see you through a year's campaign. All the bullion in the country would be swallowed by the war. I have read there was a time when people exchanged leather tokens, for want of metal coins. I said we could be back to those days."

"You said I was not to lead my troops. You said if I was taken, the country couldn't put up the ransom. So what do you want? You want a king who doesn't fight? You want me to huddle indoors like a sick girl?"

"That would be ideal, for fiscal purposes."

Everybody wonders if the Internet has made newspapers obsolete. A more important question might by why we need public discourse at all if the issues never change and neither do our responses?

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