Mucking up one-car funerals is supposed to be the epitome of active incompetence but it’s patty-cake compared with the Master Mucks of some of our presidents. Keeping it in the family, the Roosevelts, Teddy and Frank set the stage for Pearl Harbor and future military excursions into Korea and Vietnam. And they weren’t the last presidents to try to put the wrong shoe on the wrong foot.
So why bring it up now? Because democracy gives us personal freedom but it does not free us from a very special kind of personal responsibility; we voters put them in office and we have an obligation to know the issues beyond the last two bumper stickers we saw. Instead, we keep electing people who make us want term limits. More on that later.
Where Oh Where to Begin?
“The China Mirage” by James Bradley tells the ugly story about how Teddy Roosevelt favored Japan because of a Jap buddy he went to Harvard with, and a similar situation with FDR and a Chinese buddy with whom he attended Harvard. During TR’s administration, he gave the go-ahead to Japan to take over Korea, abrogating a treaty that obligated the U.S. to defend Korea. This eventually enabled a land invasion of Manchuria and China by Japan.
Along comes FDR a couple of decades later, and his Harvard buddy from China convinced him to back Chiang Kai-shek against Mao Zedong, against the advice of knowledgeable advisers. Mao, by the way, made several overtures to the U.S. but we drove him into Russia’s arms.
By now, Japan was thrusting deep into China and had taken the capital city of Beijing. The China Lobby and others were pressuring the U.S. to stop selling oil to Japan. Roosevelt was characteristically indecisive and, while he was on a two-week vacation as a cover for a secret meeting with Winston Churchill, some of his staff shut the oil spigot on the Japs. FDR had recently moved the Pacific fleet from California to Pearl Harbor and, as they say, the rest is history.
Author Bradley reaches the conclusion that had we treated Japan differently, we would never have had a Pacific engagement in WWII and if we opted for Mao instead of Chiang, there would never have been military engagements in Korea or Vietnam.
And then there are the Bushes, father and son. April Glaspie, the senior Bush’s ambassador to Iraq was sounded out by Saddam Hussein about our attitude with regard to Arab-on-Arab conflict, to which she responded, “I’ve been instructed by secretary Baker to tell you that is not our concern.” A week later, he invaded Kuwait.
A little over a decade later, W, as Bush 43 is often referred to, decided to democratize the Middle East. He began by knocking out Saddam, removing Shiite Iran’s biggest obstacle to Mediterranean access on Israel’s door step, and putting Iraq’s Shiite majority in the driver’s seat.
Mother of All Muckers — Afghanistan
Afghanistan is where you wind up after you take a wrong turn 100 miles back and the longer you stay there, the worse it gets. When Alexander the Great’s trek to India was stopped cold in this pile of rocks, he designated a tribal leader the king, married his daughter and went home. That is the most graceful exit anyone has ever made.
While we date our response to Nine-Eleven as the beginning of our longest war, we were muckin’ around there during the Reagan administration training and equipping peasants to become jihadists.
From “America’s War For the Greater Middle East” by Andrew Bacevich: “Sticking it to the Russians over all other considerations… Intent on turning Afghanistan into a Soviet equivalent of Vietnam, Washington was equally intent on avoiding its own direct involvement in anything remotely resembling another Vietnam.”
- Peasants still seeking their “72 Virgins” weren’t done fighting when the Soviets pulled out and became eager combatants for any fighting that might accomplish their goals. This included al-Qaeda, ISIS and any one of 1500 jihadi groups active in Syria.
- When Osama bin Laden offered the Saudi King an army of these folks to protect the Kingdom from whatever objectives Saddam Hussein had in mind beyond Kuwait, he was turned down in favor of the U.S. Army. Bin Laden retired to Afghanistan to plan his revenge intended on September 11, 2001.
- The U.S. still has troops in Afghanistan numbering in the thousands and battle casualties still persist.
That’s you and me. Scary, huh? We chuckle at man-on-the-street interviews when people don’t know who the enemy was during the Revolutionary War. Some of them actually vote sometimes. Are you still laughing?
We put these gomulks in office and then scream for term limits like they are going to initiate legislation that will cost them their jobs. Who is stupid?
Democracy is a contract between those who govern and the governed. Those who govern are obligated to provide the greatest good for the greatest number at the least cost while carrying out their electoral mandate. The governed are obligated to keep informed about office holders and people seeking elective office and the issues they advocate.
Politicians pay consultants to know what you know and campaign accordingly. During the 1982 off-year election cycle, I attended a League of Women Voters candidates night featuring a sitting congressman and three challengers leading up to the primary. Inflation and prime interest rates were in the high teens and Fed Chairman Paul Volcker was the designated culprit. Jack Kemp, then a member of the House, was sponsoring legislation to curb Volcker’s power to set interest rates.
During Q&A, I asked the panel if they supported Kemp’s effort. I got three blank stares and a couple of mumbles before the incumbent gave a glib non-answer. At break, he came over to me and said, “we didn’t expect a question like that”.
Interest rates made big-ticket expenditures like cars and houses so expensive that most people could not afford them. My livelihood hinged on selling big-ticket items to contractors on public works jobs and I could only get price in effect at time of shipment terms from my suppliers when bidding on this work because of raging inflation.
And you did not expect a question like that? This little vignette speaks volumes about our politicians’ lack of respect and low regard for the voting public who put them in office. In their defense, I was probably the only one in the room who had that question and so you can say that we, the voting public, have earned our reputation. Dumb voters get dumb politicians.
The Big Cop-out — Term Limits
If you want to know why term limits won’t change anything, serve a term as a precinct committee person; Democrat or Republican, it makes no difference. You will learn that there is an inexhaustible supply of the same kind of folks as those who have termed out and you will have made the two major parties ever more powerful.
Carrying the candidates night story a bit further, the incumbent survived the primary and won re-election only to become a cancer victim. His replacement was a high school wrestling coach and a loyal party person who became Speaker of the House. After his retirement from politics, he was exposed as a pedophile during his coaching days and served jail time on related charges.
As the foundation sets the shape of the building it supports, so the governed shape the democracy they support. Freedom of choice allows us to decide how much time we will devote to being informed voters capable of making intelligent choices and to what extent we will be captive of the cultural trivia abundantly available in today’s society.
You want better, smarter government: It’s your choice.