Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Who am I kidding.

"Who am I kidding" is the better way to say "I am fooling myself": the one extra mental step involved in the rhetorical question is taken in humility.

"But my life is complicated, there were hard choices to make in this decision" is a transparent excuse. President Bush is now broadly criticized for ignoring a law that was written for and is entirely adequate to the national security needs which he claims. It is like Mordechai Liebling's observation about charity: The poor know from sore experience exactly what the bare necessities are and when asked how much they can spare, can and do dig deep in their pockets knowing exactly what they must leave for themselves. But the rich find the request perplexing because status purchases have taken on an air of necessity that arrogance and their tax attorney have hardened into a certainty.

Speculation about dark motives on the part of the president come naturally to those of us he may now be spying on: why would he avoid even the minimum of oversight on his spying unless he or his Svengali, the creepy VP, knew the targets of eavesdropping would be seen as personal or political domestic enemies not related to terrorists or foreign interests? FISA does not require them to publicize anything, only to endure the minimum of oversight. Self deception, I would argue, is more likely than conspiracy to be powering these horribly flawed decisions. It is against that very human and nearly universal weakness that checks and balances were designed into our system of government. This is our nation, this is and will be our way of life,

our children will not live in the political climate we intended but the climate we tolerated can not be personal and it cannot be left prey to personal weaknesses. Let me put it bluntly: checks and balances were made law to keep government above personal or clique motivations. Thus abrogating those checks and balances breaks more than law, it breaks the very backbone of American government's long claim to a greater civility than most nations enjoy.

Arrogance and self-deception are just the different faces of the same two-headed snake.

You will not cast one out of your character if you do not also cast out the other.

Though the high holiday Machzor used at my synagogue comes in for some knocks, it has one line that just pierces my smugness: "A mighty fortress is self deception"...I hardly need to read past that line. For the President, his elevation to the honor and grave responsibility of defending and upholding the constitution justify the intense spotlight of public scrutiny [and outrage] at his failure and his betrayal of trust. At what line did the President stop reading? He claims to operate from a religous world view but I know Christianity teaches a humility that would require one to weigh the good or evil of one's actions in a scope that included the least of gods creatures, not merely the good of a lobbying group or sect. He is stuck, for better or worse, with being the president of us all, not the president of the hawks, the fundamentalists or the Repulicans. At no time can he afford to fool himself as to whose benefit he must serve. Yet he has fooled himself, saying earnestly that his violation of law is somehow legal.

The rest of us may not carry the President's special burden to be fair and uphold the law but we too have to be on guard about the many guises in which our self interest hides. When we fool ourselves by proxy, we are not so much better than our agents. I like this quote that Liebling provides:
"There is no such thing to my mind… as an innocent stockholder. He may be innocent in fact, but socially he cannot be held innocent. He accepts the benefits of the system. It is his business and his obligation to see that those who represent him carry out a policy which is consistent with public welfare."
--Louis Brandeis

And it is by proxy that those who now uncritically support Bush are kidding themselves.

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