Monday, May 25, 2009

Post No. 121: “Let It Be Clear that I Support Our Troops with Boots on the Ground”


© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Last week, while filling our car with gas, we noticed a truck with a large number of bumper stickers pasted to its rear end. One sticker caught our attention. It suggested that fundamentalism is a destructive force which leads to the death of one’s brain.

We then perused the dozen or so other stickers on the rear panel. Each, in its own succinct way, revealed a personal philosophy about the owner. That prompted us to await his exit from the convenience store portion of the gas station. That he wore his emotions on his vehicle, in so many ways, aroused our curiosity.

After a couple of minutes, the owner approached us. We mentioned how the collection of bumper stickers prompted us to check him out.

He described himself as far left of center, and a self-educated hillbilly, who grew up in the hills of Tennessee. Paradoxically, he said that he was tired of people reducing complex subjects to simplistic explanations, to which many are drawn emotionally and illogically.

We invited him to participate in our forum, after informing him that we welcome all points of view.

Shortly thereafter, we saw Republican Party member Gen. Colin Powell on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday morning. We were reminded us of how someone can explain their position in such a manner that you have to respect their thought process, even though you may disagree with their position.

Powell very calmly, and without emotion, discussed his recent encounter with Rush Limbaugh. Apparently Limbaugh called him out last year when Powell indicated that he planned to vote for and support presidential candidate Obama. Limbaugh responded by suggesting that the only reason why Powell supported Obama was because both Powell and Obama are African-Americans.

Powell indicated that he had always voted for the candidate who he personally considered most qualified, and that despite being a Republican, he had previously voted for Caucasian Democratic candidates Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter.

He then went on to discuss many issues in the news today, including the issues of water boarding and / or torture, the closure of Guantanamo, his differences with former Vice-President Cheney, and the missteps which he considered our new President had made thus far.

What struck us was the tone of his comments, his even-handedness, and the lack of invective. However, during his discussion of the issues, including those in which he was intimately involved during the Bush administration, we thought about our new gas station follower, and how few issues today can be reduced to simplistic, emotional explanations.

All this Memorial Day, we listened to those opposed to our involvement in Iraq preface their comments using the statement, “Let it be clear that I support our troops with boots on the ground.”

We then asked ourselves why it was necessary to even make that disclaimer. How did the debate become so convoluted that one side could conceivably suggest that the other side was unpatriotic and did not care about U.S. troops abroad?

It is clear that such framing of issues "works," and appeals to some baser, emotional instinct. That we as a society find it necessary to engage in such an oblique, unproductive exchange in discussing issues of such moment should distress us all.

To characterize someone opposed to our involvement in Iraq as unpatriotic or un-American simply boggles the imagination.

Quite frankly, we recognize that an argument can be advanced that all’s fair in the game of infotainment, and that non-elected talking heads in the media, on both sides of the aisle, have the right to cast their message in any form that they so desire. Especially if it is to boost ratings and generate more revenue. We’re all for that, right?

However, it concerns us when our elected officials employ such tactics. It smacks of intellectual dishonesty, despite its effectiveness.

But then again, that may be why certain ones of our elected officials have abdicated their leadership responsibilities, and left the sentiment of our citizenry to be dictated and formed by the non-elected.

And that is a very troubling notion.

30 comments:

  1. Hello sir. I am honored that you visited my blog. Please do so again. I am anxious to peruse your blog. I know already that we have much in common. Will be back on tomorrow, it is late now, sincerely, Kip Powell

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  2. In the 60s, "nothing is black or white, right or wrong, it's all shades of gray" arose as a common philosophy. I, too, took that attitude. We are, after all, complex creatures with complex brains that have complex reasons for behaving as we do. Or so we like to think. I have moved away from that philosophy over the years because I think we need more stable values and judgments. And I have developed a core set of principles where I had a more "situational ethics" value set back then. The man at the gas station may have been tired of people reducing complex subjects to simplistic explanations but he then reduced his explanations to fit on a bunch of bumper stickers. And I will bet almost anything that those bumper sticker slogans fit neatly into a certain political philosophy.

    Gen. Powell seemed to be taking all sides of any issue (except where it concerned Limbaugh, a safe "target") and claiming ignorance (regarding waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques) at times and knowledge at others. Becoming a general is much like getting elected, it involves a lot of politics as well as hard work and accomplishment.

    We want leaders, not politicians. At least I do.

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  3. It appears that we may have done a poor and clumsy job of expressing our point in this article, and for that we must apologize.

    Although folks are entitled, of course, to criticize (a) the truck owner at the gas station for employing "read bites" in the form of bumper stickers, and (b) Gen. Powell for his conduct and decisions while serving on behalf of the Bush Administration, we really had two goals in generating the article.

    First, we wanted to again focus on what we consider to be the advantages and value of civil discourse and the calm examination and discussion of issues without resorting to name calling and scurrilous accusations.

    Second, we wanted to express our disappointment in leaders who employ questionable labeling of positions to whip up emotional fervor amongst our citizens, since it detracts us from the real issues.

    Last evening, Chris Matthews of NBC /MSNBC's Hardball appeared on Charlie Rose on PBS. He suggested that perhaps Gen. Powell behaved far too much like a soldier following orders, and was not enough of his own man and statesman, while working for the Bush Administration. He suspects that the General regrets his failure to speak out more forcefully, and express his true concerns, at the time that the events were happening. All of our Fellows here at the Institute having been in the military, we suspect that there is some element of truth to that analysis.

    Additionally, as we learned during the Scott McClellan discussion, having someone stand up to a President while serving under him has its complexity.

    Lastly, to Douglas: We accept your bet. You owe us "almost anything." The bumper sticker slogans did NOT fit neatly into any one particular political philosophy. That's what actually captured our attention, the fact that they were all over the place.

    If they had been all one way or the other, it would not have caused us to stop and want to see who he was. In our opinion, the noisiest voices out there today appear to be at one extreme or the other, and we've heard what they have to say. We're more interested in those individuals who are actually trying to work through the issues which are varied and complex.

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  4. Erin: Thanks for the compliment and for visiting us. Please feel free to do so again, and frequently.

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  5. Were they truly "all over the place" or did they seem to be that way? Were they consistent with a distrust of the Right or Left? Or were they consistent with a distrust of government and higher authority? Did you look close for a central theme or just at the wide variety of subjects and seemingly disparate POVs? I ask only because I know the layers of complexity we all consist of sometimes fool even ourselves.

    My philosophy has become simple over the years. Consider a building. It has many rooms and a complex framework but it must have a solid foundation on which it is anchored. You cannot build a strong foundation on shifting sand either. So even the ground below must be solid if the building is to remain sound.

    Perhaps I have worked through many of those issues and arrived at conclusions and opinions which work for me. Perhaps I was able to do that because I found solid ground for my foundation.

    It's just a thought.

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  6. I have one more thought (it just occurred to me)...

    We want leaders. It's a natural human desire and most of us would rather be led than lead. But what kind of leader is best?

    a) the leader who has a vision of the future, presents it honestly, and doesn't waver in his beliefs?

    b) the leader who wants to follow the wishes of his people and alters his vision to suit the "will of the people"?

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  7. a) could be Hitler or Chairman Mao. I'll go with b) if you can't describe the two choices in more complexity.

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  8. a) could also be FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, George Washington, or Abraham Lincoln. I think the "presents it honestly" part helps define it.

    As for b)...

    If you are in the wilderness, would you trust the guide who ignores his map in favor of your opinion?

    These are simplistic choices, of course. We are so much more complex than that. Except as a mob then we are fairly simplistic.

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  9. "Honestly" does not equate to "in terms with which Douglas agrees." There was nothing "dishonest" about either Hitler's or Mao's presentation of their agendas: they both tried to do what they proclaimed that they would try to do. If either of them had taken into consideration what their fellow countrymen wanted to do, 20th century history might have gone better for many millions of people.
    In a democracy, the leaders should listen to the people. What the hell do you think "demo-" means?

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  10. You need to reread your history, rodak. Neither of your examples presented their goals honestly. Oh, they did present some goals quite openly. But these were the acceptable ones. There were hidden agendas and methods which weren't offered to the public.

    In a democracy, leaders should offer their ideas and let the people decide who to follow. A leader who takes his cues from the people is not a leader but a follower. What the hell do you think "lead" means?

    If either of them had taken into consideration what their fellow countrymen wanted to do, 20th century history might have gone better for many millions of people.

    That's quite an interesting statement. Are you saying the slaughter brought by these two "leaders' wasn't their idea? That it was something their countrymen wanted to do? Strange twist.

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  11. Oops. Sorry, misread that. But, still, if they were honest, as you say, then the countrymen did want what happened. Hmmmm... must think about that.

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  12. What the hell do you think "lead" means?Leaders have advisors. Leaders use scouts. Leaders should not take their people where the people do not want to go; or where they people are dismayed to find themselves once the leader has maneuvered them there. We saw quite of bit of that with the previous administration in this country, no?
    As for Hitler and Mao, enough of their countrymen agreed with them to allow them to take the leadership. It is precisely the passive minority; those who don't make their "wants" heard and who are therefore ignored by would-be strongmen, who enable the strongmen. A leaders who listens to those who don't agree with him is a leader who is not jockeying himself into position to be a despot.

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  13. Correction: should read "it is precisely the passive majority..."
    As I said elsewhere, Americans don't want leaders, they want good managers. A democracy, like a well-run business should be a team effort. The leader is there is organize and to delegate tasks to an able staff, based on the best data that can be gathered and presented to him. It is not his job to decide unilaterally what to do, and do it regardless of the opinions, advice, and knowledge of others.

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  14. I think that we, on the left, who don't support the war feel like the "preface" is necessary as a result of the way our troops were treated during the Vietnam War. I think we can all agree that there were some pretty nasty "lefties" back then who took things to the extreme, in the way they treated the troops coming home, etc. But it's also good to preface things in general, because, even though it should go without saying, you protect yourself from your opponent making false claims.

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  15. Jason: Welcome to the forum, and for taking the time to comment.

    Several of our Fellows here at the Institute are "Vietnam Era Veterans," although we did not have to travel to Southeast Asia.

    You make a very valid point. Thanks for inserting another element for consideration into the exchange.

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  16. rodak, you are entitled to your opinion. As I said once before, I used to share much of that opinion and mindset but no longer do. You asked once if I questioned some "given" about US policy. I have learned to question everything regardless of whether it fits my mindset or not. Through that, I have changed my mindset over the years. A majority oppose a number of the policies and programs of the current administration (according to polls). They are not being listened to. Only a third of the population supported breaking away from British rule at the time of the Revolutionary War. A majority of Americans opposed getting involved in World War I and World War II. Eventually, they came around. A good leader presents his case and convinces the majority to support him. That is what democratic systems are actually about. They are not about mob rule. They are not about following the people. They are about presenting one's case and letting the people decide if it is the path to follow. Sometimes this takes some time. A leader is there to present the case.

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  17. Also Douglas, a leader has to be able to make and weather the flack associated with making unpopular, but necessarily difficult decisions, even if he never ultimately convinces the citizenry of his position.

    Harry Truman was warned that de-segregating the Armed Forces would cost him the election. He went ahead, and it did.

    Sometimes history has to be the judge.

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  18. On the subject of "civil discourse" I am pretty pessimistic. As a scion of a large Southern Fundamentalist Baptist family, I, a suspected apostate and borderline anathema, haved lived through the destruction "force" of non-thinking people. Immersed in a separate bizzaro world for nearly 40 years, a hermetic ante-inferno of DO NOTS, STAY AWAYS, and WE ARE CHOSENS, I learned that intellect, dissent, debate, and worldviews were foreign anti-God convictions. Those notions could be conceived only by one who followed the Devil. The hypocrisy of these most proud crusaders and creators of schisms doom them to a lifetime walk in a circle of uncertainty. Their faith is not strong enough to be challenged and their fears are allayed by deconstructing opposition. Their surmisings are self fulfilling prophecies as they make enemies in pre-emptive strikes against anything different. Their way of life, they say, is threatened and everybody else must be stopped. The scary thing is I believe THEY make the world a dangerous place and my non-violent nature may be tested as they become more irrational and paranoid. Diplomacy and disclaimers are a given for reasonable people, and bumper stickers may be a good way to let the steam out. Fundamentalism is not open to negotiations, is deaf to prefaces, and illiterate to profound liberal speech. The very literal mission of these extremists is EXACTLY like those we see in all of those other "uncivilized" societies.

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  19. Kip, don't judge all the religious by the experiences you had. There are many open-minded religious folks out there, just as there are many closed-minded atheists. Trust me, I am atheist and traveled among much of that Southern Baptist world as you. One should be careful that they are not "anti"something for emotional reasons. Your issues are with extremists, regardless of ideology. The extremist always assumes rightness of belief... even if that belief is a non-belief. Seek wisdom, not answers.

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  20. Kip:

    Welcome and thank you for your thoughtful comment.

    The History Channel has a new series entitled, "Angels and Demons Decoded." The most fascinating aspect of the program was the discussion of the period when the Church actively discouraging thinking, exploration, and the pursuit of science. Galileo was a prime target. Additionally, other great men of science were forced to perform their work in secret, and sneak around including Da Vinci and Sir Issac Newton. Unbelievable.

    Here's the link to the program: http://www.history.com/shows.do?action=detail&episodeId=450762

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  21. Thanks guys. Yes, I am afraid of becoming radicalized in my exasperation and frustration. Isn't that how wars begin?

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  22. Kip, I have come to the conclusion that wars begin because someone decides he wants what someone else has. Of course, that is the simplest and basic underlying cause of all strife between people.

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  23. Douglas and I seem to have begun and ended somewhat in the same space over our lifetime as I can, and do, echo all that he has said. And (a) is the answer we are all looking for whether conservative, liberal or somewhere in between. We want a person who stands up and honestly states his views and aims and then adheres to them once he is in power. It is assumed these are the wishes of the people as they chose to elect him.

    The key word is "honestly".

    My post got too long so I took it home. If anyone cares what I have to say come on over. BB

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  24. Brenda: Welcome back to our forum. We will post this responsive comment on your lengthier contribution also.

    You indicated that you and Douglas appeared to be of the same mindset on the issue of the honest presentation of views and positions by our political leaders. First of all, isn't there a difference between honesty and consistency? Aren't there plausible explanations for inconsistencies particularly when more information is acquired?

    Finally, you will recall that we had a post entitled, "27 Situations Where People We Respect Claim that It Is Appropriate to Lie." More interestingly, both you and Douglas argued that there are "some occasions" when telling the truth is not the best choice. Douglas in particular argued that politicians need not present an "accurate" picture at all times, but sometimes present one who encourages or motivates the citizenry or makes them feel more optimistic, particularly about their economic future (and implicitly about their chance for success in a military battle or war).

    Are you now suggesting that a politician should be honest 100% of the time and never deviate from that? Or are you suggesting that "honesty" and "telling the truth" are different things?

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  25. A Nice Read .. Leaders understand the dynamics of gaining influence with people using the Five levels of Leadership , they come to realize that position has little to do with genuine leadership . You can lead others from anywhere in an organization,and when you do , you make the organization better. Colin Powell is a true 360 Degree Leader and that is what alot of people don't understand. So they continue to make bias comments ..... "CarnellJames

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  26. Carnelljames: Thank you for taking the time to visit our forum and provide an insightful comment. Please feel free to visit us often and share your thoughts.

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  27. A Nice Read .. Leaders understand the dynamics of gaining influence with people using the Five levels of Leadership , they come to realize that position has little to do with genuine leadership . You can lead others from anywhere in an organization,and when you do , you make the organization better. Colin Powell is a true 360 Degree Leader and that is what alot of people don't understand. So they continue to make bias comments ..... "CarnellJames

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  28. I think that we, on the left, who don't support the war feel like the "preface" is necessary as a result of the way our troops were treated during the Vietnam War. I think we can all agree that there were some pretty nasty "lefties" back then who took things to the extreme, in the way they treated the troops coming home, etc. But it's also good to preface things in general, because, even though it should go without saying, you protect yourself from your opponent making false claims.

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