Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A place and time for everything

I was watching the Intelligence IQ conference on BBC world a few days back. The subject of the talk was whether or not Bush was the worst president ever, and among the panelists was Karl Rove. When his time to speak came, he went into the standard-Bush-legacy talking points, I started to tune out, and then he sat down. And it occurred to me: despite the fact that Karl Rove represents the absolute worst in politics - Machiavelli with even less scruples, a man who had long since put the interest of the Republican politics over the interests of the Republic, dedicated to the singular idea of win at all and any costs - I had to admit I admired the bastard's loyalty.

Listening to the spew of utterly trivial minutiae flowing from his mouth, the insignificant accomplishments of the last 8 years set against the momentous tasks of the next 4, that one fact couldn't possibly be lost on someone listening. Despite everything, Rove is still willing to follow Bush into Hell. How someone as supposedly smart as Rove could tie his hopes to a man like Bush is bewildering, but I can only suppose he figured he'd mold the non-descript piece of clay that was Bush into a statue of Michaelangelo perfection. Unfortunately, Rove forgot that he's never actually built anything in his life: anything that he and Bush ever accomplished in their lives was done by way of opportunism and sowing the seeds of division and despair.

And then on the other hand, there was Scott McClelland. Who has enough integrity to admit that he was a part of something that went horribly wrong. Who doesn't try to demonize anyone or rationalize anything, but simply admit that serious mistakes were made and responsible people should sincerely offer their regrets. Who had the best of hopes, and showed up to serve, only to find that the powers that be surrounding his President directed them both down a path of deceit and mismanagement. Both these men love Bush, that can't be denied. It's almost like they know perfectly well what we all know without the luxury of being able to admit it: that it's not really Bush's fault, he's a well-meaning putz and anything that went wrong was the actions of those around him. That they simply needed someone who could get them in the Oval Office, so they could do what they wanted from there. They've all abandoned the White House long before the final curtain fell today, but they never fail to come to the boss's defense.

So what's the lesson in all this? It is yet another front in the true war within and among mankind: the war between simplicity and complexity. The lesson is that there are good and bad parts to everyone and we tend to focus on the one or the other and conceive of people as just that. Why do people do this? Rove is a bastard, but he's a loyal bastard. McClelland is conscientious, but he was conscientious about 3 years too late. We all take stands, some good, some bad. But taking a bad stand shouldn't make you a bad person, it should only mean you have bad judgment.

Really it all comes down to conviction: the intersection between faith and action. As much as people would like to think conviction should be easy, believing anything to the exclusion of everything else ought to be the most rare thing we ever do. People say that the bull-headed conviction that Rove and McClelland had in their president was their folly. Rumsfeld and Cheney had faith that their vision of government was the answer and took actions to bring it about. For various reasons they should have known how this would turn out but they made their stand, and they were mistaken. But conviction, believing in something, is not the problem. The real problem, where things get complex, is channeling conviction into responsible avenues. Like everything, conviction has its time and its place. For Rove, should not that time and place have vanished by now?

The new President has conviction that unity, tolerance, steadfastness, prudence, expertise, pragmatism and civility will cause Americans to turn the page and address their problems as a nation. He may be wrong. I'll confess that the pessimist and Canadian in me kind of hopes he's wrong:-) But this idea that hope and belief and faith in the possibilities of tomorrow isn't something that should be actively championed, this nihilistic fear of disappointment and hesitance to make a stand, I find juvenile. A person with conviction on the side of right can do anything. A person with conviction who is wrong can destroy everything, the whole world, if they were so inclined. Yes, destruction is easier than creation. Yes, reaching for the sky dramatically increases your chances of falling on your face. But when people cease to hope for and expect the best from themselves and for tomorrow, then the system is truly broken. The time and place for optimism is now.

P.S. a writer in the New Yorker aptly reminds us of Lincoln's old saying that you can only fool some of the people all the time. that percentage of people seems to be 22% - the amount of Americans with a favourable view of the Bush years. yeah, well, now that I think about it, I guess it wasn't that bad...