Friday, November 05, 2004

Here goes nothing

"May you live in interesting times."

It's an old Chinese curse, the implication being that it's better to live in a peaceful world full of boredom and predictability than in a tumultuous world full of violence and intrigue and other things that enable journalists and historians to pay the bills.

We, my friends, live in interesting times. The United States, the world's sole remaining superpower, is deeply immersed in two wars in the Middle East as many other security threats -- Iran, North Korea, loose nuclear material in the former Soviet Union -- loom prominently. Given the aggressive and no-holds-barred nature of our country's recent foreign policy, many of our allies are questioning how actively they wish to show their fidelity to us, or indeed whether they even want to continue supporting our policies at all.

Millions of young Arabs, facing bleak economic prospects in their home countries, are filled with anger and looking for a release, a scapegoat, a way to feel important in the great scheme of things. Unfortunately, many of them are turning to terrorism, and it appears more of them are opting for that route every day. Millions of people are dying of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, leaving the continent facing the prospect of a whole generation of orphans. Half of the people in the world live on less than $2 a day.

On the home front, Americans, as the cliche goes, have divided themselves into two sides. The Civil War saw the Blue vs. the Gray; today, we have the Red States vs. the Blue States, the heartland vs. the coastlines. The stereotypes are well established by now: Red Staters, according to the Blues, want to drop a nuclear bomb on everything that moves, impose theocratic rule, and eliminate taxation of any kind so gated-community dwellers can have all of the money. Blue Staters, according to the Reds, want to surrender the country to the United Nations and the terrorists, redistribute 100 percent of taxpayers' hard-earned money to people who refuse to work, and imprison anyone who dares to express anything that resembles a religious sentiment.

More than they realize, the sides agree on a lot of core issues -- the country must be safe, the economy must be strong -- but many people's entrenchment in their respective camps leaves them blind to that fact and unwilling to negotiate or alter their myopic worldview in any way. Two consecutive bitterly contested presidential elections have only deepened the divisions and made the prospect of reconciliation seem more remote than ever.

We live in an unhealthy environment where honest political debate has been replaced by a mindless shouting match, where demagogues can win elections with promises to discriminate against an irrationally feared minority, where people are told they hate America if they deviate from the accepted party line. It's a wretched environment for democracy, for basic human decency, and for our future. It has to change.

As Benjamin Franklin was leaving Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention ended in 1787, someone asked him, "Well, Doctor, what have we got -- a republic or a monarchy?" Franklin, famously, responded, "A republic, if you can keep it."

Consider this blog, however sporadic the posts may end up being, my small contribution toward helping us keep our great republic. Welcome aboard. I hope you enjoy the ride.

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