Monday, May 4, 2009

Don't Be Such an Ass, Sam

Can it be that, in the midst of the fast-forward program to convert our economy, once and for all, to one that is collectivist and socialist, and maybe totalitarian as well... could it be that we are, nonetheless, seeing a few faint glimmerings of common sense coming out of this administration? I'm not talking about economic matters, of course – one can immediately write those off as having anything whatsoever to do with common sense. I'm talking about certain aspects of non-economic domestic, and foreign, policy. For example, it seems as though this administration is a bit more receptive than their predecessors to the notion of legalizing marijuana for medical use, and at least reducing the draconian penalties for drug possession in general. Proposals have already been put forth to eliminate the blatant disparity between sentencing for possession of crack vs. powder cocaine (a policy which had dramatic "adverse impact" on blacks, by the way, but about which the "black leadership" has remained silent for decades). And do we detect a slight abatement of the Puritan zeal of the “feds” when it comes to overriding certain states' legalization, or at least policies of tolerance, in the case of marijuana? In this, of course, any semi-enlightened members of the administration have to contend with the law enforcement agencies' long-embedded fanaticism about “drugs” -- but, on the plus side, those agencies are, first and foremost, authoritarian and willing to obey orders... so if the administration tells them to cool it on marijuana, for instance, they'll cool it, and no questions asked.

And as for foreign policy, the “conservatives” (read: Neocons) have been jumping all over Obama for supposedly “coddling” dictators like Venezuela's Chavez. “Coddling”, in their book, means “talking with in a civil manner”, as opposed to the typical approach under Bush, who resembled the barroom drunk who keeps staggering to his feet and hollering, “I c'n lick any man inna houshe!” -- before once again falling flat on his face. Is it possible that Obama is trying to attain, for the U.S., a bit more credibility in the international community than it has had in... well, let's see. It took Bush about five minutes to lose all the goodwill we had acquired on the morning of September 11, 2001. Before him there was Clinton, who basically took an 8-year vacation from foreign policy except for that little bombing exercise in Serbia. And before him... well, Bush the First held the fort fairly well during the Soviet meltdown, and knew enough not to follow the Iraqi troops home from Kuwait. So let's say, we might want, as at least an interim goal, to restore our international credibility to where it was in 1992. And with any luck, we could bring it back up to the Reagan level... or even the Eisenhower level! Wouldn't that be something? But let's not get too excited – one step at a time, and all that. Fortunately, none of Obama's foreign policy critics has the least moral leg to stand on, since they're the same crew that was 100% behind the invasion of Iraq – not that Obama is in any hurry to leave Iraq, mind, but even there there are signs of a bit more flexibility than we ever had under Bush/Cheney, or would have had under McCain (who, by now, would have nuked Iran and started a war with Russia over Georgia). And say what you want about those decadent dilettantes at the E.U., I imagine it's still better to be on speaking terms with them than not to be.

And take Cuba, which has been a thorn in our side for well-nigh 50 years... or is it the other way around? Depends who you talk to. Our policy toward Fidel & Co. makes absolutely no sense on any rational basis – but it has sure kept a bunch of fanatical Cuban expatriates in Florida happy all these years. Personally, I think it's time to tell those people to shut the hell up and let us quite making flaming asses of ourselves about Cuba. I think that the best way to seriously erode communism down there would be by use of the great big American commercial/pop culture bear hug. It worked with China, after all – and China is a whole lot bigger, and older, than Cuba. And sure enough, Obama & Co. seem to be loosening up just a little bit. We'll see how it turns out.

And when it comes to Israel – well, one can expect any American administration to have a blind spot concerning that troublesome place. But even so, Obama & Co. seem a bit more receptive to the idea of treating the Palestinians like something more than human garbage... and they have definitely expressed “preferences” as to what Israel's policies toward the West Bank and Gaza should be – not that we would ever attempt to _enforce_ those preferences, mind you – but it is interesting that we now have an administration that is actually less militant about the situation than the “right-wingers” in Israel itself. Closely related to this, of course, is our approach to Iran, which is ambivalent but far from the daily rantings and sword-rattling of Dick Cheney.

Mind you, I'm not cutting Obama any slack by saying this. I still think his administration is going to turn out to be an unmitigated disaster – but no more unmitigated than a McCain presidency would have been, and very possibly less so. And it is a bit curious to be crediting hard-core liberals with more common sense than so-called conservatives have displayed of late... but I'm only going by what I see and hear, not by what “theory” allows or forbids. It's always possible, of course, that these faint glimmerings of rationality are simply the result of random events – sheer probability. You know, “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day”, and all that. But I detect something a bit more systematic in it all. I detect, for one thing, a certain level of fatigue about the constant, year-after-year, empire-building mania that we have been subject to for decades. I also sense fatigue with endless Republican/"conservative" hypocrisy. It certainly can't possibly hurt for a generation that was not raised on the typical American diet of purse-lipped, tight-assed, Puritan killjoy-ism to try its hand at running things. I think this society has suffered at least as much from the wrong kinds of righteousness and dogmatism as it has from liberalism and “loose morals” -- and this is at least partly because our traditions of righteousness and dogmatism stem from the very beginnings of our history, whereas liberalism is a more recent phenomenon, especially in its overtly secular, materialistic manifestation. But it has also become apparent, in the Age of Neoconservatism, that most publicly-preached morality is simply a cover for raw ambition, power mania, religious fanaticism, greed, and outright cynicism. The moral facade that was tacked onto the invasion of Iraq took very little time to crumble, and behind it all was, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, all that is bad about America. Can things do anything but improve – at least a little – now that that gang is no longer in the driver's seat (albeit, they are still very much of a presence in Washington)?

Now, having said all this, are we likely to see any real, quantum changes in foreign policy or in non-economic domestic policy? Anything “transforming”, if you will? My bet, based on the Obama campaign plus the “first 100 days”, is no – he will only be able to work at the margins, because there are simply too many vested interests who don't want things to change, and those vested interests have him by a few delicate, tender organs. But sometimes things can get better even if they are only marginal in the overall scheme of things. And there is much to be said for overall impressions, respect, and “face” when it comes to dealing with other countries. The American Empire may take generations to be dissolved – but if we could only stop adding to it for once! The "War on Drugs" isn't going to be called off, and drug legalization may still be a... pipe dream, if you will... but we could start putting a bit more humanity into our laws and regulations. On the other hand, the anti-abortion cause really does seem to be lost at this point... and there are major battles on the horizon, like the one with Catholic hospitals about whether they will comply with government requirements that they make abortion available. Let's hope they have the moral strength to simply shut down! That would make for a true “profile in courage”. And the intractable ailment on the foreign policy side is surely our continued, unconditional support of Israel, and all of the endless troubles and disasters that has gotten us into. Relief from that will have to come from an as-yet-unknown quarter... unless the question is rendered moot by sheer demographics, but even that will take a few more generations to be fully manifested.

And yeah, I know, I'm always the first to criticize “feel-good” politics as opposed to getting down to brass tacks. But it really does make a difference when the people running things look good and sound good, and don't spend all their time mangling the English language and acting like homicidal maniacs and damned fools. Substance is the main thing – but, doggone it, why does it have to be the only thing? What's wrong with acting more sane, for once?

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