As the campaigns slog on “experience” is often said to be a candidate’s most important qualification for office. The wonder is, though, how so many people with such bloated portfolios and long years in government could be so wrong so much of the time. Apparently political calculations and ideological formulations overwhelmed the powers of reason and logic, and our government grew unconcerned about how ordinary Americans were affected by its domestic and foreign policy decisions.
In the nineteenth century, writer and historian, Thomas Carlyle wrote “every man is my superior in that I may learn from him.” But, in the Bush White House, ideology and partisanship always trump other considerations and no-one outside the charmed circle is ever deemed superior in any way. The refusal to consider external opinions regarding the financial cost and the political turmoil that would ensue after the removal of Saddam Hussein was a stunning example of just how far astray government advisors, for all their vaunted experience, could lead the country. Obviously in the absence of wisdom and good judgment experience is just a way of passing time.
Globally the administration refuses to engage with adversaries unless they capitulate about disputed issues – – a strange deluded approach in a world where the United States isn’t the only player, its leadership out-of-touch in terms of understanding other peoples and cultures. And if critics blame a down-sized military (the result of what was once called the “peace dividend” at the end of the cold war) for an under-manned invasion and occupation force in Iraq, what was the government thinking to undertake a project with limited manpower and little or no post-invasion planning; partisans closed off debate lest their most cherished beliefs and goals ran afoul of unwelcome rationales.
The administration’s tone-deaf self righteousness maintains fictional values and principles that mask its behind-the-scenes machinations. Proponents of the war effort represent but a small percentage of the population – – supplies and the ability to pay for them are stymied by tax policies that fail to address the exigencies of a wartime economy. Are there any victory gardens, any rationing to help feed the troops, a war tax to defray costs and allay the terrible indebtedness the country is assuming?
Of course not – – corporate fat cats with huge contracts feed the military, the country is far removed from supporting the troops in any meaningful way, and tax cuts are touted as some magical economic catchall. In the meantime, as various politicians try to prove how tough they are in the face of terrorism, other national needs go unattended – – New Orleans is still a disgrace in terms of rebuilding and caring for its displaced inhabitants, the country’s infrastructure is fragile, and the state of our educational system has been phonied up with a no-child-left-behind mantra that fails to provide an intellectual and occupational bulwark for future generations.
In his ‘70s book, Children of the Revolution, teacher and author, Jonathan Kozol describes Fidel Castro’s effort to wipe out illiteracy in Cuba, combining young volunteers, professional educators and a comprehensive vocational program. One rarely hears about this project amidst the clamor over Castro’s years as a repressive dictator, but interestingly it was a great success. Could such an undertaking instruct the United States even if it was the brainchild of a leader whose politics we deplore?
In one conversation, University of Havana professor, Garcia Gallo, says to Kozol, “It is difficult to say this to you…as we have the faith that you come here with an open mind and that you take an earnest point of view. But … U.S. corporations almost always find their real self-interest in perpetuation of a partially illiterate and unskilled population.”
Of course Cuba had embraced Communism, but the comment is striking because in our own country businesses profit most from the cheap labor of the poor, uneducated throngs who vault our borders and the disadvantaged already here. If a better educated, literate workforce were really a goal surely we’d find a way to make that happen. As Carlyle suggested, everyone from whom we learn is superior in some way to us. What gets in the way of listening to our better selves and others is greed and the power brokers that shape our government and boast about how experienced they are.