Saturday, November 8, 2008

Hoping for Republicans

I've seen a few pieces on the future of the Republican party in the last couple of days —we have a thread on this blog speculating about their current state of "nightmare." There are those of a certain school of political thinking that look to the broad, two toned electoral map for answers; and to the many many demographical slices of the country's populace that can dragged onto the microscope slides of their expertise. That might seem like a path forward from the wreckage, but it seems to me like so much stitching together of broken eggshells.

I'd like to relate the discussion of a Republican future back to a more basic question —about conduct. I commented on one of the other threads here that if John McCain had conducted himself —and his campaign— differently —something like the way he spoke when he was offering his concession— the result of the campaign might have been very different. The McCain who was speaking Tuesday night respected his opponent, and simply differed with his thinking. It seemed that night, as he spoke, that at last he was capable of conducting a constructive and candid debate.

Isn't that really all we were asking for? What we deserved?

In some of the campaign post mortem discussion I've heard talk of Sarah Palin being the future of the GOP. A chill runs down my spine. Not because I differ with her policies (I don't know what they are —and I'm not sure she does, either) —but the future for the party she would seem to indicate would be one of even lower expectations as to the discussion itself, of an even broader, coarser and louder shouting match.

I tell you where I would like to see the future of the Republican party go. I'd like to see them in the role of a truly loyal —loyal opposition. Where the Obama administration seems ready to advance policy and the Congress seems ready to pass it —let's hear cogent and coherent critique —not obstructionism and name calling. Let's have a Republican approach to the debate premised on refining policy from a different, even passionately different, but respectful perspective.

Frankly, I think being relieved of their concern for holding together their coalition and its hold on power might actually allow the Republicans to find a better —more candid voice, a more constructive place in the national discussion.

The darkest moment of the past eight years, for me, came when Alberto Gonzales came before the Senate for approval of his nomination to the position of U.S. Attorney General. I remember Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, speaking so passionately about what wrongs this prospective Attorney General had done to the rule of law, the reputation of our country, and even the safety of our troops with his amoral lawyering on the subject of detainee abuse. As the Republican Senator spoke out on the subject I was truly heartened that someone was apparently recognizing that the country and certain of its principles were more important than party allegiance.

The next day Graham voted to approve Gonzales for his post.

I'd like to think that the days ahead might actually offer an opportunity to GOP leaders like Graham and McCain —and exiles like Lincoln Chafee and Christine Whitman. Maybe the convolutions of the party line can be altogether dispensed with for a while. And voices of clarity and conscience can contribute to a constructive political process.

Obama spoke the other night —and it wasn't the first time— of the need we have to move beyond the politics of always the next electoral contest. He spoke of our need to attend to the tasks at hand in a spirit of cooperation, of moving towards a practical and effective consensus. He pledged a place for dissenting views and valid criticism in the policy making of his administration.

It won't be his responsibility alone to live up to that promise.

Here's hoping.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The eyes have it

Every now and then some news comes down the line to remind us that this election we're dealing with is about more than our own petty political culture rivalries. We're reminded that the decision we make will have some impact on the world around us —yes, even the world beyond our borders. News of a U.N. fact finding tour reporting on evidence of systematic violence and repression perpetrated by Columbian security forces is one such reminder.

Some might argue that the human rights abuses of some Central American regime are not our concern. I can hear the word 'sovereignty' being invoked already. But to pretend the violence in Columbia does not concern us is quite simply to deny reality —and culpability. The security forces involved operate with our training and our tax dollar support.

This isn't an issue for partisan finger pointing. American support for the Columbian regime traces back through several administrations and any responsible discussion of the issue should involve a balanced appraisal of our engagement. It should involve candid debate.

We haven't had the debate on human rights policy I would have liked us to have in the presidential campaign. Both candidates made occasional reference to the issue, but the media lens was always focused elsewhere.

I can only recall one particular exchange, that during the very last debate (shown here) —for me one roll of the eyes told a great deal. Barack Obama was explaining that his opposition to a bill advancing Columbian trade status was premised in his concern about the repressive record of the Columbian regime. McCain wasn't prepared to refute Obama's reservations about the Columbian regime, not as they discussed trade policy. He wasn't willing to connect that dot. Instead, he was ready roll his eyes as if to comment that concern for human rights had no place in a discussion of trade policy —that to suggest as much was deridably absurd.

That roll of the eyes said a mouthful.

If we want to talk about this country as a moral leader in the world, as any sort of beacon of freedom, we are going to do so by actually exerting that leadership. Examining our trade policy in terms of human rights isn't protectionist or isolationist, as Senator McCain and Obama's critics have charged. It's actually just the opposite. It sees the notion of free trade as related to the notion of freedom —and dignity. Obama's comment, to me, indicated that he understood that connection.

And John McCain just rolled his eyes.