Commentary: If the Republicans won't play, ignore 'em
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 19, 2009 - DEAR BARACK:
I've been meaning to write to congratulate on your recent election. It was truly a momentous occasion. For the first time in the history of the republic, someone younger than me has ascended to the Oval Office.
Had McCain won, I could have continued to luxuriate in the illusion of my youth for at least four more years. How could I be old if the "new" president had almost two decades on me? Since I now find myself older than the leader of the Free World, allow me to offer some free advice from an elder (worth every penny you paid for it):
Instead of reading to second-graders, the next time you and Michelle feel like getting away from it all tune into Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. As you watch the film, pay particular attention to the following passage:
President Merkin Muffley (rejecting a proposal that he launch a full-scale, pre-emptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union): "I will not go down in history as the greatest mass murderer since Adolph Hitler."
General "Buck" Turgidson (arguing in favor of the plan): "Perhaps it would be better, Mr. President, if you were more concerned with the American people than with your image in the history books."
Presidential advisers, you see, often exploit crises to advance their own agendas. Note how deftly the rabid anti-communist, Turgidson, turns the president's humanitarian dismay at the prospect of initiating an unprovoked nuclear attack into a critique of his character.
For the true believer, there is always only one course of action. Those who disagree are not voicing principled dissent but, rather, displaying their own moral failings.
On the eve of the Iraq War, I suggested that invading Babylon might not be a good idea. It sounded like the beginning of a biblical tale that would end with an outbreak of pestilence. Besides, Saddam Hussein appeared to be a two-bit dictator well contained by hostile neighbors and the U.S. Air Force. For my efforts, I was accused of being -- so help me -- "soft on terrorism."
The right wing in America views political opponents not as fellow citizens with differing opinions, but as traitors. That said, for god-sakes, STOP TRYING TO PLEASE YOUR ADVERSARIES!
These people don't like you, and they never will. You could cure cancer, bring peace to the Middle East and raise the median household income to $200,000 and they'll still find something to complain about. You should ignore your own advice and tune into Rush Limbaugh occasionally -- not because the fathead has anything of value to add to sensible political discourse, but to get an idea of the mentality you're up against.
You reached across the aisle to include House Republicans in deliberations on the stimulus bill. Not one of them voted for the version they helped craft. You nominated Judd Gregg, R-N.H., to head the Commerce Department. He waited until you'd publicly proclaimed him the "ideal pick for the post," then declined the honor because of "irresolvable conflicts" with your economic program. If he really was the ideal pick, what does this say about your grasp of economics?
You may also want to keep an eye on your friends. Three of your nominees for key Cabinet positions were delinquent on their federal taxes. Doesn't anyone on your staff know somebody at the IRS?
And speaking of exploiting crises to advance agendas, who the hell wrote the final draft of this stimulus bill you just signed? It looks like a hodge-podge of pet projects and political pork guaranteed only to increase the already-crushing burden of public debt.
How will climate change research promote sales in the automobile and housing markets? It'll be 20 years before the kids who benefit from an expanded Head Start program get their MBAs. At the rate we're going, we'll be out of business by then.
When you try to please everybody, you usually wind up pleasing no one. Plus, the effort makes you look tentative and unsure. I know you want to change the status quo of DC gridlock by appealing to Lincoln's "better angels of our nature," but if you're going to swim with sharks you might want to bring a knife.
You won the election decisively and inherited quite a mess by doing so. On the day after your victory at the polls, the headline in The Onion read, "Black Man Given Worst Job in the United States." Your administration is barely one month old. Listen to the advisers you trust, then spend your mandate as you see fit and let history evaluate your success.
For his legacy, Harry Truman asked only that his tombstone read, "The man tried his damnedest." Let the same be said of you.
PS. I'm still not comfortable with the age thing ...
M.W. Guzy is a retired St. Louis police officer who currently works for the city Sheriff's Department. His column appears weekly in the Beacon.