Something to Talk About
| Victor D. Infante
Not long ago, former United Nations ambassador John Bolton appeared as a guest on “The Daily Show with John Stewart.” It was an odd, almost uncomfortable affair, with an obviously hostile audience booing the mention of the man’s name. Bolton responded to Stewart’s questions by flat-out asserting that he was wrong without backing up his facts, including a rebuff of Stewart’s assertion that Lincoln staffed his Cabinet with people of divergent views.
Stewart pulled that last point from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” a historical study of how Lincoln recruited political opponents to create what historians generally consider an astoundingly effective Cabinet. Bolton’s view is that President Bush’s electoral responsibility is to appoint his administration from people in lockstep with his philosophy.
It’s this particular point to which I object. A president isn’t elected to serve an inflexible philosophy, but to lead--doing what’s best for all Americans.
I’m a fan of “The Daily Show.” Frankly, I admire Stewart’s ability to maintain civilized discussion with someone like Bolton even more than his ability to hilariously skewer politicians and celebrities. That being said, I have to wonder what’s it come to when you have to turn to “fake news” shows for adult discussion. Everywhere else, it seems people are shouting at one another.
Shouting into a philosophical void prevails over discussion. Opposing views are met with sneering derision unhindered by hard fact (see Bolton, above.) For example: Our Democratically-controlled Congress puts forward legislation to limit the scope of the war in Iraq, including creating a timetable for withdrawal. President Bush and Vice President Cheney assert that the consequences would be disastrous.
“And?” I find myself saying to the television. “How would it be disastrous?” The fact is, nearly every prediction that’s come out of the White House on Iraq has been wrong. I find it difficult to accept bald assertions without corroboration. But this column isn’t about the war. It’s about dialogue.
A “might makes right” mentality grips the country, echoing through business, journalism, politics and academia. Today’s objectives aren’t based on solving problems in a way that works best for everyone, but winning. Repeatedly. I’m unsure what winning has gained for any of them.
Washington plays this scenario out most dramatically. One has to ask if firing eight federal prosecutors – including the prosecutor who convicted Randy “Duke” Cunningham – was worth it. Or outing CIA operative Valerie Plame to undercut her husband’s criticism of the war. Was it worth destroying the work that she and the CIA were doing to monitor actual weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East? As opposed to the hypothetical ones the country was presented with repeatedly in the run-up to the Iraq War, which never materialized?
If our country is more concerned with being in charge then being successful...I’m concerned, because ultimately, failing to listen to opposing viewpoints has proved disastrous for Iraq, as it will anywhere else that mentality’s enacted. And what good is being in control if you’re standing in a pile of rubble?