Tyranny of the Majority

One of the more captivating notions to come out of de Tocqueville’s truly remarkable book Democracy In America was the notion of the tyranny of the majority. Coincidentally, John Stuart Mill arrived at pretty much the same notion at about the same time and the two men became close friends and mutual admirers. The exceptional Lord Acton — whose name (are you ready for this because it will be on the Mid-Term?) was John Edward Emerich Dalberg Acton — agreed with de Tocqueville and Mill about the tyranny of the majority, though he thought they were both all wrong about the strengths and weaknesses of Democracy. More about that below.

de Tocqueville convinced the French government to fund his trip to the United States in 1831 ostensibly to examine our prison system. Instead he examined our system of democracy because he was convinced this was the direction that all Western nations were headed and he wanted to be in a position to shout warnings if necessary and to help the process along if possible. But after visiting a number of New England town meetings he came away with a distrust of the majority rule — and with good reason. He said, among other things:

“A majority taken collectively is only an individual whose opinions, and frequently whose interests, are opposed to those of another individual who is styled a minority. If it be admitted that a man possessing absolute power may misuse that power by wronging his adversaries, why should not a majority be liable to the same reproach? Men do not changes their characters by uniting with one another; nor does their patience in the presence of obstacles increase with their strength. For my own part, I cannot believe it; the power to do everything, which I should refuse to one of my equals, I will never grant to any number of them.”

This is, surely, one of the most eloquent statements ever set down regarding the weaknesses of majority rule — which can indeed become tyrannical just as much as a single powerful King, perhaps even more so. But de Tocqueville didn’t stop there; he made an attempt to explain the psychology behind the tyranny of majority opinion:

“. . . as long as the majority is still undecided, discussion is carried on; but as soon as its decision is irrevocably pronounced, everyone is silent, and the friends as well as the opponents of the measure unite in assenting to its propriety. . . .I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and free discussion as in America.”

We do not often find ourselves in decision-making groups where the majority votes on large issues. Not as a rule, certainly. But we can recall the discussion and vote in our Congress not long ago over the question of the invasion of Iraq in which the wave of emotion swept the floor and the yeas had their day and the nays were derided as “unpatriotic” if not “cowards” or “treasonous.” We might call it “peer pressure” these days, but the force of the will of the majority can be powerful indeed; it is not always enlightened or even reasonable, and the voice of dissent is often silenced and refused a hearing when the majority is in full voice.

I mentioned Lord Acton above, and he tended to agree with de Tocqueville and Mill about what Acton called the “despotism of democracy.” In fact, he noted that:

“It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority. For there is a reserve of latent power in the masses which, if it is called into play, the minority can seldom resist.”

This devout Catholic witnessed first-hand the tyranny of the majority when in 1870 he fought unsuccessfully the attempts of Pope Pius IX to institute the doctrine of papal Infallibility. As pressure from Rome increased one after another minority Bishop succumbed to the “latent power” of majority opinion until the doctrine was approved. Earlier, in discussing the American Civil War, he analyzed the despotism of democracy noted above. Like many Englishmen, especially among the wealthy classes, his sympathies were on the side of the South. He was convinced that the Northern states were not so much interested in the emancipation of the slaves as in subjecting all of the South to the authority of the national government and reducing the population to a single, undifferentiated mass. He was convinced that a plurality of nations within a single civil state was to be preferred to a homogeneous group of people who all looked, dressed, and thought alike.

Just as majority opinion tends to silence dissent, the movement toward Nationalism, toward a single (isolated?) geographical and political unit, as Acton saw it, was a movement toward homogeneity, toward like-mindedness; he fought it in the name of pluralism. As he noted:

“A state which is incompetent to satisfy different races condemns itself; a State that labors to neutralize to absorb or to expel [different races] destroys its own vitality; a State which does not include [different races] is destitute of the chief basis of self-government.”

In a word, the tendency to silence dissent, to follow the “latent power” of the majority opinion to a single point of view — thereby silencing the minority, the attempt to build walls and send certain peoples away from this country, are all insidious and in direct opposition to the open and free discussion of ideas and the freedom of opinion that are the warp and woof of this nation. Without this sort of freedom there can be no real freedom whatever. And this appears to be where we are headed at the present moment. It is time to call “foul” and consider where we are headed.

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Euphoria

 

We live in the declining years of what is still the biggest economy in the world, where a looter elite has fastened itself upon the decaying carcass of the empire. It is intent on speedily and relentlessly extracting the maximum wealth from that carcass, impoverishing our former working middle class.” E. Callenbach, 2012

The Republicans at the moment are experiencing euphoria. They act like it: positively giddy with power. After all, they now control the House and the Senate and have a president they think they can control (!). Accordingly, they are trying to manipulate the situation in order to have Trump’s incompetent cabinet recommendations approved as quickly as possible. They also plan to jettison the Affordable Care Act — despite the fact that they have nothing whatever to replace what they derisively call “Obamacare.” In addition, of course, they plan to scuttle the E.P.A. and any other regulating agencies that stand in the way of what they regard as “progress.” And all before the electorate catches its collective breath.

Predictably, many of these actions will take more time than planned, but, however long it takes, it is virtually certain that there will be some dreadful mistakes because of the political games that are being played and the haste with which these men and women want to take advantage of their advantage, as it were. These professional politicians are astute enough — or their advisors are — to know that they will not have Trump long in the White House. He won’t be able to work with them nor they with him. He has already insisted that he will not divest his businesses. At some point they will want to remove him, one way or the other, because they see Mike Pence as someone they can work with — he’s one of them, after all, equally nutty but not some brazen, outspoken, loose cannon who is bound to get them and their country into a mess if he remains in office for very long.

The whole scenario leaves us breathless. One worries that, based on history, actions taken in haste are usually regretted at leisure. (Think: Iraq.) Once the dust has settled and the economy is in serious trouble and the planet under even more relentless attack, there will be a good deal of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth. Many who supported this car full of clowns will have regrets and those who supported a con-artist will begin to grasp the fact that they have been duped.

Once Trump’s nominees are approved, and most, if not all, will be (predictably) the Republicans will look to Trump to return the favor — after all this is high stakes politics: you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours — and Trump will wonder what the hell they are talking about. After all, this is a man who is not used to returning the favor; he is used to having others do him favors. His is a business world where money talks and, since he has a great deal of money, people listen. He is used to being heard and having people bend to his will — from all reports. When the professional politicians he will be surrounded by in Washington come to him to demand that he now help them get what they want since they delivered to him the cluster of incompetent people he wanted to surround himself with, he will balk. Surely. And, I predict, this will be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. This is when (if it doesn’t happen before) the Congress will take measures to remove Trump from office, either by resignation or impeachment.

The rest of us, of course, will be left holding the bag, as it were. We should at that point — though judging form past experience we will not — replace the entire elected body with another group that might approximate a reliable coterie of men and women who will actually represent the will of the voters and not the corporations. This is one feature of the British Parliament system the founders did not choose to incorporate into our Constitution, sadly: the ability of the government to dissolve itself due to inability to work together and initiate new elections to make possible the replacement of one set of clowns with another. The only way the voters can do this in our system is to wait for the elections to roll around, and the founders were convinced this is how it would work; but we have shown ourselves unable to do this in the past as we keep re-electing the same group of clowns. Until they step on our toes.

 

History Lessons

After Athens and Sparta led the Greeks in battle against the mammoth forces of Persia and won the battle of Marathon — where Herodotus estimates that they were outnumbered as much as 10 to 1, the Greeks formed the Delian league which exacted tribute from the various Greek City-States too help build Greek forces against possible future attacks. The funds were kept at Delos, home of the Delphic Oracle and a place sacred to the Greeks.

Eventually, Athens transferred the money to Athens and used it to help them build their navy and arm their forces (and the Parthenon), while assuming control of many of the City-Sates that were weaker than they. Indeed, the Athenians thought it only natural that the stronger should take control of the weaker. And, oddly enough, the rest of the Greeks seem to have adopted that view as well — even the weak ones! But eventually Sparta realized that the growing power of Athens was a direct threat to them and to those City-States that looked to them for protection, such as Corinth. Soon began the Peloponnesian War that lasted 27 years and ended with Sparta taking control of the country and occupying Athens. The war is chronicled by Thucydides who lived thorough it and who gave us what many regard as the first truly factual historical account of what was happening in the dark and distant past. It should be noted that Thucydides was intent to dismiss the poetical “fancies” of such people as Homer who didn’t tell is “like it was.” The new history was to be factual and the historian seeking above all else to be objective.

Well, it is a fascinating question whether a historian can be objective and many now think that all history is poetry — or fiction at the very least. But the lessons that Thucydides sought to teach the future he was convinced were lessons that could help us all understand the forces that operate on us all and assist us in dealing with an unknown future. He regarded history as cyclical, major trends repeating themselves while the personages and specific challenges changed with the times. What happened in Greece in the fifth century B.C.E. can teach us how to prepare for what is happening to us right now. The decision of the Athenians to send a majority of their troops to Sicily late in the war (resulting in 40,000 Athenian deaths) parallels almost exactly Hitler’s decision to attack Russia during the Second World War — with almost identical results. And George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq following the huge success of his father’s adventure in The Gulf War may be yet another parallel.

The key elements in this repetition are the greed and ambition of human beings coupled with their aggressive instincts — according to Thucydides. Those elements are still very much with us, as noted above. And it should also be noted also that toward the end of the Peloponnesian War Athens became arrogant and in its excessive pride took a step too far and brought about its own ruin. There are lessons here for us all.

In our eagerness to “make America great again,” we must recall the lessons that the fifth century historian sought to teach: pride and arrogance coupled with fear and our aggressive impulses often, if not always, lead to tragic consequences. I have noted in the past that the greatness of this country lies not in its military power — such things as increasing the already obscenely huge nuclear arsenal and a “defense” budget that dwarfs all others on this planet — but in its espousal of values such as honor, nobility, and generosity. These were values that the Athenians paid lip service to, but which were displaced in their frenzy to build their empire and amass land and wealth — which brought about their demise. We, too, have paid lip-service to values such as these while we play the game of power politics. And we have a leader recently elected whose avowed purpose is to disconnect with the rest of the civilized world, build walls, and increase our military strength in pursuit of what he regards as “greatness.”

Those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it, according to the philosopher Santayana. And Americans are notoriously ignorant not only of world history but of their own history as well. It is not a formula for success, and we would be wise to pause and reflect along the way toward “greatness” and ask repeatedly whether we really want to go where we seem to be headed. We must cling to such values as integrity, nobility, true heroism, sacrifice, and charity toward those who rely on us if we are to approach greatness, which does not wear armor but wears, rather, the cloak of generosity and selflessness.

Out Of Bounds

In the most recent Republican debate Donald “the Trumpet” had the audacity to speak the truth and the Republican loyalists collectively pilloried him. It matters not that he has been telling blatant lies throughout his campaign, as long as the lies are within the boundaries of accepted Republican dogma. It matters not that the trumpet insisted that the Muslims in New Jersey cheered when the Twin Towers were attacked (a lie) or that Mexican immigrants are all rapists (another lie). What matters is that he had the audacity to insist that the Iraq war was a mistake and that there never were any weapons of mass destruction. That was true but, more to the point, it was not acceptable to Republicans because George W. Bush was president at the time and he is regarded as the man who “made our country safe from terrorism” despite the fact that the Twin Towers were attacked during his presidency and all report indicate that he had been warned that an attack was immanent. The following slice from an interesting story on the internet spells out the essentials:

I won’t even hazard a guess as to whether this double-sided exchange helped or hurt Trump. Watching it on television you’d think Republicans watching hated everything he had to say. But the reality is that the in-studio audience was hand-picked by the state party, and seemingly stuffed with Bush supporters.

But if it did go badly for Trump what’s fascinating is that it went badly in exactly the kind of way you would have expected Trump’s campaign to go south months ago.

He went way outside the boundaries of the kind of things Republican Party politicians normally say, and in response Republican Party politicians (and their backers in the state party) piled-on to diss him. A political party, after all, is a coalition of like-minded people. When you step outside their zone of comfort and say things they wouldn’t say, they team up to crush you.

What’s important here is not that the Trumpet actually said something that happened to be true (which is remarkable in itself) but that the  Republican fraternity determined that these sorts of remarks are heresy, even blasphemy. You can say anything you want, no matter how absurd or untrue as long as you don’t bash one of us — in this case the Shrub who was supposedly in control when the Towers were attacked and later ordered the invasion of Iraq for bogus reasons. It really is about Party Loyalty and not about the Truth or about the Common Good.

And now that Judge Scalia has passed on the Republicans have clustered about and are determined to block any nomination that the president puts forward. Why? Not because he might suggest the wrong person for the job, but because he’s a Democrat and whoever he chooses is unacceptable a priori. This is called “poisoning the wells,” and it is an example of faulty logic, a logical fallacy in fact. But logic doesn’t matter to politicians these days any more than the truth matters. What matters is circling the wagons and making sure that those on your team are of one mind — even if that mind is closed and terribly small.

Poetic Justice?

Prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by a coalition of reluctant countries led by a delusional United States chasing fictional WMD’s, you may recall that there were international sanctions against Iraq that were apparently crippling their economy — especially the export of oil from that oil-rich country. A cynic might suggest that the invasion was the brain child of Big Oil, since they were having difficulties getting their hands on that oil due to the sanctions, but I am not willing to make such an assertion. I say this even though I am aware that the first thing secured by the United States forces were the oil fields — not the museums where millions of dollars in treasures were pilfered and never found again. But, as I say, I am not cynical enough to suggest that Big Oil was behind the invasion — again, in spite of the fact that Bush and Cheney had (and still have) connections with Big Oil. I’m not sayin’ . . . .

In any event, as it happens, now that that abortive war is over and Iraq has been restored to relative calm and the oil fields are up and running America’s Big Oil maggots  magnates are now fuming because they still can’t get their greedy hands on all of that oil. In fact, the Iraqis are selling the bulk of it to China which had nothing whatever to do with the invasion of the country. But the Chinese are willing to pay top dollar for the oil because China is not being run by the oil maggots magnates; it is run by a government that is more concerned about getting hold of the oil than they are about the profits. Chinese oil companies are not privately owned by companies like Exxon/Mobil, which owns the lion’s share in one of the largest oil fields in Iraq; they are state-owned and the country needs the energy.  These companies do not have to answer to their shareholders, pay dividends, or even generate profits. The American oil maggots magnates want to buy the oil cheap and sell it high whereas the Chinese are willing to pay the Iraqis what they demand. Guess where the oil increasingly ends up? In China, of course — not the United States.

Not only are the Chinese buying the Iraqi oil at relatively high prices, they are pouring people and billions of dollars into Iraq to make sure the supply of oil continues for as long as possible and that they get a larger and larger percentage of the oil that is exported. As we are told in an article first published in the New York Times and written by Tim Arango and Clifford Krauss, former Defense Department official Michael Makovsky, who worked for the Bush administration, complains that “We lost out. The Chinese had nothing whatever to do with the war, but from an economic standpoint they are benefiting from it, and our Fifth Fleet and air forces are helping to assure their supply.”

It’s enough to restore one’s faith in the ancient notion of cosmic harmony — until you stop to think of all the killed, wounded, and displaced people that war cost.

Disobedient Soldier

America has a proud tradition of civil disobedience. From Henry David Thoreau who went to jail rather than pay a tax to support slavery to Martin Luther King Jr. who went to jail in protest over laws in Alabama that he was convinced were discriminatory. The  latest in that line appears to be a young Army private named Bradley Manning who is facing a court-martial for leaking confidential and classified material. As Manning sees it, he was simply trying to alert the American public to the atrocities their armies were committing in Iraq and Afghanistan where he perceived a “bloodlust,” what he called a “total disregard for human life.”
As we are told by HuffPost, in a 35 page document he read prior to his court-martial he said he was disturbed by the conduct of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the way American troops treated the populace; he did not believe the release of the information he downloaded onto a thumb drive would harm the U.S.

Bradley Manning (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Bradley Manning
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Manning went on to say, “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.”  In a word, he saw his act as an act of patriotism that would draw attention to a situation he thought his fellow Americans would abhor. In his statement, for example, he claims he saw films of American soldiers who killed 11 men, including a Reuters photographer, and they seemed to be exhibiting the same sort of delight as a group of young boys “torturing ants with a magnifying glass.”

The key to civil disobedience, as King noted, is to draw attention to an unjust law while at the same time showing a willingness on the part of the disobedient to respect laws in general. As King said in his famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,”

“Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. . . . One may want to ask: ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all'”

The difference between Manning’s case and that of King or even Thoreau is that Manning did not disobey a civil law; he is a member of our armed forces and it will be argued that as a private in the Army he has an obligation to follow orders and not put the nation at risk by leaking thousands of classified documents. One could counter that the war in Iraq (as St. Augustine would argue) was an unjust war and that Manning is on solid moral grounds. Still, he is in the military and it is doubtful that Manning will escape the harsh judgment of a military court that will have what it regards as the nation’s best interest in mind — and future military discipline as well. They will want to make an example of this man, it seems, and he is facing the very real prospect of life in prison.

But the parallels with Thoreau and King are striking and one does wish the young man could be tried in a civil court by a jury of his peers. In the end, though, the moral high ground that Martin Luther King always sought no longer seems to be a concern in this “war on terror” that really isn’t a war at all but is a nightmare in which we seem to be lowering ourselves to the level of the very people we are protecting ourselves against.

Defiant As Ever

Director R.J. Cutler has put together a film on Dick Cheney’s life that will appear on Sundance TV and later on Showtime. It features lengthy interviews with a candid and “defiant” Dick Cheney who says, among other things, that he has no regrets whatever about the torture techniques that were used to get information about terrorists — including the infamous “waterboarding.” Quoting Cheney, the Yahoo News story goes on:

“Are you going to trade the lives of other people because you want to preserve your honor?” Cheney replies when asked about waterboarding and other controversial interrogation techniques. “You do what’s required. That’s not a close call for me.”

Cheney always struck me as a thoroughly unprincipled man in a world of politics where principles are as rare as three dollar bills. This quote confirms that suspicion. It brings back that whole George W. Bush-era, all the lies about the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” that Iraq didn’t have that led to the invasion that many think brought about the economic recession we now find ourselves in. It brings back memories of the thousands of American lives that were lost and the millions of  Iraqis who were killed and/or displaced in a war that appears to have been about the oil fields. At the time I recall that while the invasion was taking place, the Army’s first objective was to protect the oil fields — not, say, the museums where millions of dollars worth of treasure was being stolen or destroyed. But we know what matters to the powers that be.

In any event, the Machiavellian-like approach Cheney takes to politics is positively chilling. He asks what he regards as a rhetorical question that makes it clear that “honor” doesn’t count for anything when human lives are at stake. But we know that the human lives he has in mind are not foreign, they are of the domestic variety. I have always had a problem with those who insist that American lives are somehow “worth” more than foreign lives. This was the argument used after the Atomic bombs were dropped on Japan at the end of the Second World War. It seems to me that all human lives are equally valuable, none more than others.

“You do what is required” translates into “the end justifies the means.” It means that morality has no place at the table and expediency is the name of the game. But even if we allow that torture was necessary to save American lives — which is debatable — the very act of submitting another human being to waterboarding and other interrogation techniques reduces the victim to a sub-human level. And it reduces the torturer as well.

Socrates said long ago that the one who inflicts harm on another harms himself more than he does the other person. That was an extraordinary insight on Socrates’ part and it is something that people like Dick Cheney will never understand.

Culpable or Coverup?

A recent article in the New York Times about the investigations into the culpability of those Americans accused of torture and other atrocities committed during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is worth comment. The article begins as follows:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Thursday that no one would be prosecuted for the deaths of a prisoner in Afghanistan in 2002 and another in Iraq in 2003, eliminating the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the C.I.A.

As the article goes on to point out this determination was based on Holder’s conviction that no verdict could be reached beyond a “reasonable doubt.” This conclusion will satisfy no one but the guilty themselves and those who would make excuses for them. At the very least to the rest of the world it will appear to be a cover-up (whether it is or not). It is common knowledge that atrocities were committed and that at least two horrible deaths resulted from the tactics used by the CIA in extracting information about possible al-Qaeda personnel and movements. I would have liked to see our dirty linen aired in an international court. That way a decision not to prosecute could not be questioned.

The typical rationale for permitting torture is the supposed “fact” that information gleaned by these methods led directly to the death of people like Osama bin Laden. The assumption is (and it is important to note that this is an assumption) we could not have gotten that information in any other way. The reasoning is as follows: the end justifies the means if and only if the means are the only or the best possible available to achieve the end. There is some question whether torture was the only or the best means to the end of capturing or killing bin Laden.

To take another example, we attempted to justify the dropping of two atom bombs on Japan by this reasoning: if we had not dropped those bombs thousands of American lives would have been lost in the invasion of mainland Japan. The viability of this reasoning assumes, of course, that American lives are more intrinsically valuable than the countless Japanese lives killed by the bombs, a questionable assumption at best. It also assumes that this was the only means to forcing Japan to surrender without an invasion of the mainland — another questionable assumption.

In any event, the attempt to justify torture on the grounds that the end justifies those means is spurious precisely because it rests on what logicians call a “counter-factual.” We have no way of knowing if the U.S. could have found Bin Laden, say, by means other than torture resulting at least twice in human death. It is quite possible that torture was not necessary — if a sufficient reward was offered, for example. Besides, torture is such an unmitigated evil that any attempt to morally justify torture is doomed to failure. The best one can do is rationalize the act on the grounds of expediency.

In any event, the U.S. government has officially washed its hands of the incidents and though the military continues to deploy drone strikes against al-Qaeda, we like to regard ourselves as possessing the moral high ground in the war on terror. This is questionable, since our tactics are themselves terroristic — sending drones into crowded neighborhoods where the innocent along with the guilty fall victim to the strikes. But presumably there is no more waterboarding or torture of any kind — if we can believe what we are told. There are those, however, who will pursue the matter further since there are grounds for doubt as to whether this investigation was politically motivated or indeed undertaken with a high moral purpose. Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First is not so sure. As the article concludes:

Ms. Massimino noted that in some other countries, the torture and death of prisoners have been the subject of public inquiries decades after the events. “I don’t think this is over,” she said. “I take the long view.”

Trumping Donald

Conservative writer George Will is having it out with Billionaire Donald Trump so keep your head down! The verbal fisticuffs and name-calling have already started to fly. On ABC News, George Will wondered aloud why on earth Mitt Romney would want Trump’s endorsement, saying, in part,

I do not understand the cost benefit here,” . . .. “The costs are clear. The benefit — what voter is going to vote for him because he is seen with Donald Trump? The cost of appearing with this bloviating ignoramus is obvious, it seems to me. Donald Trump is redundant evidence that if your net worth is high enough, your IQ can be very low and you can still intrude into American politics.”

Trump then tweeted back, calling Will “dumb.” I recall higher-level verbal abuse on the playground as a kid — though none of my friends ever used a word like “bloviating.” Come to think of it, none of my adult friends have ever used that word, either. In fact, I had to look it up: it means Trump is a bit of a wind bag, so there! Take that, Donald! But George Will is a wordsmith, and Donald Trump is. . . well, Donald Trump: pretty much what is wrong with this country — a self-absorbed, short-sighted, greedy, raper of the earth, who enjoys manipulating other people.

I don’t read George Will regularly, though I maintain a high opinion of him because of his pointing out early on in the Iraq war that if Weapons of Mass Destruction were never found there would be no possible moral grounds for that war. I agreed with him at the time and thought it a courageous thing to say, given his conservative credentials. “W” was at the height of his popularity at the time. Mr. Will would seem to have integrity, though I admit I never heard him mention W.M.D. again after it was clear to the world that there never were such things in Iraq. It might have been appropriate for him to ask aloud why on earth we invaded that country in the first place. But we have to take what crumbs we can get from the tables of the great and not-so-great.

Trump, on the other hand, has never struck me as much more than a tiny man with a smirk and a large idea of himself under a mass of hair that always seems about to take off. The man still insists that Obama is not an American citizen, for Pete’s sake! How can anyone take him seriously? He is now involved in the golf game on a grand scale, building expensive golf courses around the world (all with his name attached of course), appearing on the Golf Channel with some regularity and on national TV as well, promoting himself as usual and sticking in my craw. But I can always turn off the TV when he appears, as I learned long ago. In any event, you have to marvel at his way with words. In the “debate” with Will, Trump jumped on Twitter to lash out against Will, writing that “George Will may be the dumbest (and most overrated) political commentator of all time. If the Republicans listen to him, they will lose.”

What we have here is a flyweight flailing away at a light-heavyweight. My money is on George Will in this fight, and on Obama in November — no matter who does or does not endorse Romney.

Bold Move

In a recent interview Barack Obama came out openly in defense of same-sex marriage. From one point of view this is a no-brainer because there can be no moral reason why two people should not get married when they love one another. In addition, from a political perspective there is every reason why the marriage should be recognized, since failure to do so denies the parties the rights of citizenship that other married couples enjoy. Those who are in a tizzy about the destruction of the “sanctity” of marriage are sublimating a homophobia they are reluctant to confront. Heaven knows the world can use more love and less hate. None the less, while Obama knows how to play the political game he also knows that an election is looming on the horizon. Thus, for him to take a stand on an issue such as this is indeed a bold move. Following the interview, he sent around an email explaining his views:

What I’ve come to realize is that for loving, same-sex couples, the denial of marriage equality means that, in their eyes and the eyes of their children, they are still considered less than full citizens.

Even at my own dinner table, when I look at Sasha and Malia, who have friends whose parents are same-sex couples, I know it wouldn’t dawn on them that their friends’ parents should be treated differently.

So I decided it was time to affirm my personal belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

I respect the beliefs of others, and the right of religious institutions to act in accordance with their own doctrines. But I believe that in the eyes of the law, all Americans should be treated equally. And where states enact same-sex marriage, no federal act should invalidate them.

For a man who has been reluctant to take a positive stand on any issue for fear of offending someone, who has been far too conciliatory during his first years as President, this move raises some interesting questions. The man is a masterful politician, if nothing else. Though he was careful to point out that this is a states’ rights issue, one must wonder why he has chosen to be forthcoming on gay marriage at this time, a few months before a major election. The issue is sure to polarize voters and it could well cost him votes. But it could also bring back many of the younger voters he has assuredly lost as a result of his disappointing failure to deliver on promises to close down Guantanamo and bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. (Eventually, of course, the troops did come home from Iraq, but many of them were reassigned to an expanded war in Afghanistan and the trade-off was a disappointment to many.)  In addition, there has been little in the way of an economic recovery and there are still a great many people out of work. Finally, Obama has been far too friendly with the corporations and weak on the environment to please many of the bright-eyed hopefuls who saw his presidency as a sure sign of better things to come. He has to do something to bring back many of those voters. I suspect this declaration is a calculated risk.

More power to him. Regardless of his motivations, and they are clearly political, it is refreshing to see the man take a stand on a highly controversial issue, indeed, a moral issue, and declare himself boldly in favor of gay marriage. And this in a political climate where successful politicians are masters of the artful dodge, the old soft-shoe. I would love to think it is a sign of things to come and that a second term would see him take more stands on moral high ground when he no longer has to worry about his reelection. This is certainly what people expected from him in the first place.