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November 28 2010

16:48

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Working to untangle the the ganglion mass of outside Christmas lights yesterday morning in the yard, the 2010 version of the exterior illuminationist wondered just what the hell ole '09 Tom was thinking with his bizarre knots and warped winding. "Oh, Holy Night!" snaps the hero in his best pissed off Donald Duck imitation, while the two lads work steadily on - one on the endless litter of maple leaves (which are to our yard in November what the locusts were to the Nile Valley in the time of Moses) and his older brother on stringing the big globes from the ever-widening rhododendron.

While not quite of Griswoldian proportions, both the tangle and the finished display provided enough of a glimmer to ruminate by. But only just.

This is a dim time of year - both colder and darker earlier, and infused with the imitation good cheer of unchecked consumerism and product worship. We are increasingly defined by our gadgets and technology, as if  the mere slapping down of two-hundred smackers for a certain brand of smartphone was in itself, a creative act. The creative class is dying, but everyone poses as the creative class. It's all in Jimmy Stewart's darkest post-war dream. Nick, dontcha know me? Hit me, I'm downloadin' apps. Black Friday and the insulting Cyber Monday - big savings online! - are mere marching orders from the oligarchs, secular holidays without the charm and humanity of the Hallmark-breeched Mother's Day.

A decade ago, Black Friday was a financial term used by analysts in the consumer marketing sector - a decade from now, I expect lawn decorations and Black Friday-themed shopping parties. It all kicked into gear when George W. Bush urged Americans to head to the mall in reaction to the killings of 9/11, beating swords into credit card debt. "This invasion of nature by trade with its money," warned Emerson before the Civil War, "threatens to upset the balance of man and establish a new Universal Monarchy more tyrannical than Babylon or Rome." Emerson wasn't against commerce at all (he fairly reveled in young America's commercial energy), but he argued for balancing trade with public good, and his idea of the American Dream was personal improvement, not wealth. But the Concord philosopher never had the opportunity to get to Best Buy at 3 am for that sweet 40-inch flat screen - ho, ho, the mistletoe.

Then too, we're hemmed in by media-required anniversaries of iconic American murders, from Dallas '63 to West 72nd Street '80, reminders of our own tragedies of course as well as heralds for the ghost of Christmas That Never Was (and Never Will Be Again). The late election results curdle the milk as well, especially if they're a harbinger of the national swing rather than a mere structural mid-term blow-out. The President's 12-stitch fat lip, garnered playing school-yard shoot-around with the boys (and he's entitled) may, we hope, serve as a painful reminder that he needs to set the high pick against the Republicans and lay out the likes of Tannin' John Boehner in the lane. No more pre-negotiating. More Charles Oakley in the West Wing, less Charles Smith (for you Knicks fans of a different era).

 'Tis a strange sporting event, this national rooting for the retail economy. Halcyon days are those spent sitting 'round the barber shop on a Saturday afternoon, kibitzing with the fellas about Apple's latest iPad numbers. When Don Draper says he sleeps "on a bed made of money," Matt Weiner is writing pure 2010, folks, not our 60's selves. In The Times today, David Segal seemed to pick up on the patriotic call to purchase in the service of our country, but he had some bad news to deliver:

We are not going to shop our way out of this mess.

It’s a cheerless truth about the post-Thanksgiving start of the Christmas season, traditionally the bell lap in America’s year-long steeplechase of buying. There has been a rebound in consumption since the grimmest days of the Great Recession, but that has not been joined by an uptick in hiring or a robust expansion.

So the question of our anxious age: What will return our economy to full-throttled life?

Maybe when the feuding Teutuls get back together on American Chopper? (By the by, how can you not root for Paul Jr. and his buddy Vinny? Or for Derek Jeter over the hereditary billionaire Steinbrenner spawn?) Strange days indeed, and it's still November. Another month of deck them halls and shopping lists and forced commercial merriment.

But you know, the poet said it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive, even amidst the darkness. There's something to that. And that Emersonian glimmer remains: "It is much that this old and vituperated system of things has borne so fair a child. It predicts that amidst a planet peopled with conservatives, one Reformer may yet be born."

We can hope. Cue the Christmas lights, boys.

October 31 2010

18:01

The First Jewish President

In the same way that Bill Clinton was the first black President even though he isn't black, Jon Stewart is our first Jewish President - even though .. you know ... he isn't President.

Strafing the yapping cable media like a Dockers-clad Snoopy on his dog house was good fun (he does this nightly, folks). Staking out new ground for true centrism - which is to say, the new American norm - was deadly serious. And with flags swirling to the breeze before hundreds of thousands of souls on the Mall, Stewart promoted a muscular, practical form of big tent progressivism that - quite frankly - rose well above what the White House and Congressional leadership offer in direct political vernacular.

Stewart seems to have an innate understanding of this moment in American cultural and political history that both major parties, and President Obama's team of image-makers, don't seem to grasp. With a veteran comic's sense of the audience, he knows where the veins are and that knowledge reveals both a moderate electorate and a socially progressive trajectory; what I got from Stewart that I don't get from Obama or Reid or Pelosi is the open realization that this country is inexorably moving to the left on social issues related to tolerance - that the United States has and always will continue in that general direction, at least if viewed in 20-year chunks. It's not a theory or a polemic of an ideology on Stewart's part. It's reporting. It's listening. And it's bringing back this frankly welcome view that a massive swath of the citizenry supports core values of progressivism - more open government, respect and diversity, civil rights widely applied. And if that's the case, there's fertile territory for the real work of government.

That new ground established, Stewart's approach to the nitty-gritty is the comic's timely shrug - a gesture honorably (and hilariously) rooted in generations of Jewish-American humor. Or New York humor. With a dash of blarney thrown in. Humor that is self-deprecating and deeply tied to assimilation, commonality of experience, and the wider community. Humor that rips down pomposity and entertains the unwashed poor, whether in cramped Vaudeville houses or the Comedy Channel. No rabbi is safe humor. No politician off limits humor. Equalizing humor. My humor. Which is to say, the humor of my generation - the same shoulder generation as Barack Obama and Jon Stewart (very late Boomers, early Gen-Xers, darkly cynical to the very structure of its DNA). The humor of sanity.

And the sanity of open imperfection and recognized difference as well. In some sense that's what Stewart's surprisingly moving message went fishing for. The frame isn't about these meshugenah mid-term elections. It's not about President Obama (though Stewart got a prickly and somewhat deluded President the other night, I thought). In watching the video highlights last night, I thought I saw the kind of open-source message that doesn't pretend a slogan or a website or even a spiffy blue-themed GOTV social media campaign has all the answers - something that moves beyond the notion of winning and losing, up and down.

Yeah it probably won't be a big hit. And by next week, the lame-ass headline will be "How Can Obama Save His Presidency?!" with suggestions ranging from concern-trolling Dick Morris to the clueless Elmer Fudds of the DNC. But I think Jon Stewart surprised a few people yesterday (you could tell by the prissy, seemingly hurt mainstream media responses - especially the "liberals"). And maybe he made a few Democrats and independents think about how they interract with media and politics. Or maybe it's just a few yucks.

In any case, next year in Jerusalem.

September 04 2010

21:58

Laborious Day

The summer fun season wanes and I welcome its slowly diminishing light and longer shadows. There have been some lakeside revels to be sure, and the ritual jumping of waves so high that sometimes you can see clear across to the bay. Meat has been duly seared. And there was a fraternal wedding to celebrate with high spirits. Much - too much perhaps - has been imbibed. But the highest days of sunlight, the real hot peaks of summer, brought sadness this year and it's still an untreatable ache in the back teeth of the my soul. No picnics, no barbecues, no ballgames can obscure the simple fact that I spent summer's most broiling day at the graveside of my father.

So perhaps it's no minor thing that my attention has been drawn to voices that challenge and sting, writers who refuse to accept a somnolent consumer summer of "recovery" and media, new digital toys and returning television favorites. Sure, I'm angry but there's no rational direction to my anger. There's no form, no ideology - in tandem, it seems, with many on the periphery of American politics. "Taking back our country," the bumper sticker of bland and unformed Tea Partyism, is familiar in tone to me, writ small. The urge to lash out can be strong.

Luckily, my reduced blog reading - and who among us hasn't reduced real blog reading in this age of Facebook "likes" and too-easy retweets - has brought the stress-reducing curled snarl of a smile to my lips. I don't always agree. But I appreciate. And I get in on the buzz, like a passed joint of hand-rolled skepticism.

Among the old newcritics crowd, everyone's favorite angry American is Dennis Perrin, whose propensity for calling out liberal hypocrisy is rivaled only by his willingness to over-share the still-dripping details of his personal life. No matter. The patient anesthetized upon the table needs the jolt of fully-charge paddles, which Dennis deftly and maniacally applies to mainstream Democrats in this bit on President Obama's earth-toned speech on the "end" of the Iraq War:

Obama's plea that Americans "turn the page" on Iraq, while predictable, is unnecessary. Apart from those families directly affected by the terror wars, most Americans really don't give a fuck about Iraq and haven't for some time. It was massive destruction in plain sight, yet few in the heartland showed any anger, concern, or active resistance. Iraq was a shadow war at high noon. And it hasn't ended, nor won't for some time, pious PR to the contrary. Many political observers concede this, but again, it doesn't register on a national level. Besides, there's the other holy war in Afghanistan to "win," plus the dire Iranian threat to our existence to defend against. Iraq is soooo Bush/Cheney. Move to the next Kindle file.

Correct, Dennis. No one cares. The plastic American flags whipping from car windows seven years ago lie in tatters in the back of the garage. We've moved on. We've got iPads! We've got Mad Men! Football season! We've got a proposed Islamic community center to blather on about! (Myself included). On the political scene, the conventional wisdom has a rudderless Democratic Party led by a remote and undramatic President headed for a mid-term disaster at the polls, clanging the bell for the return of Congressional Republican power and the requisite subpoenas and impeachment hearings that are their weapons of Washington warfare. To this CW, my friend Al Giordano (appearing like Zorro from summer hiatus) takes his trusty machete - and his point is a good one. The comic book short-hand - left disappointed in young, inexperienced President while the right is ascendant and fueled by anger in the heartland - ignores the local, or at very least, the regional imperative of all American politics. It layers the most rudimentary of analysis with thick lacquer. And it eschews any discusses. In re: that, Giordano -

In this sense, a political parody site like Wonkette has become more relevant to the 2010 midterm elections than the entirety of the so-called Netroots, which in 2006 became a kind of kingmaker in the Democrats’ midterm electoral triumphs. I tuned out completely on the Netroots blogs since June and only started browsing them again recently, and its as if they’re stuck on autopilot, still debating “Obama, good or bad” and blissfully disinterested in the midterm elections, certainly compared to where they were in 2006. On the eve of the 2010 elections, they’re still infighting like it’s 2009! Meanwhile, day in, day out, Wonkette is producing wonderful caricature profiles of the insane class of GOP congressional and senate nominees this year, and is actually driving the media discourse about them.

Likewise, the cable TV political shows on Comedy Central – The Daily Show and The Colbert report – have become far more relevant to the national political discourse than any host on MSNBC or even Fox, which has gone down the Glenn Beck rabbit hole in a manner that only increases the dysfunction inside the GOP. Fox and the “tea party” minions it has stoked are now the Republican Party’s own version of the 2010 Netroots: mirrors on each side of the partisan divide that seem more concerned with asserting their own illusory relevance and factional power than with actually getting out there and winning general elections in November.

Both Dennis and Al (who would not agree on Obama, by the way, and who I'd like to therefore introduce) kinda of make you want to add a simple inquiry chorus to their best blog posts: "do you, Mr. Jones?!"

Meanwhile, Lance Mannion - otherwise known as the R.A. Dickey of bloggers* - is generally slow to anger. But he's had enough of the Jonathan Franzen literary sales hype (and what else can it be called) and so he proceeds to take a bat the heads of the critical fawns, and in the style of DeNiro in The Untouchables. Oh, Lance might deny it - he's a uncommon gentlemanly blogger - but you can't argue with the splatter pattern analysis:

The literary powers that be, represented in the NPR piece and Ron Hogan’s post by New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus, routinely decide that an author or a book is IMPORTANT for reasons that seem to have little to do with questions of art or literary merit.  The writer or his books---and it is usually a his---will be declared IMPORTANT because the subject is IMPORTANT.

ISSUES of the day are being tackled.

Something BIG is being said about the way we live now.

And we’re meant to read this IMPORTANT work in order to learn stuff.  IMPORTANT stuff.

Besides that this sort of judgment values fiction as if its purpose was sociology, when books get pushed for their IMPORTANCE, I feel like I’m being assigned homework.

And this is the root cause of my Franzenfreude.

It’s good that a novelist has made the cover of TIME for the first time in a generation, and I guess it might as well be Franzen as anybody else, but he’s not there because the editors at TIME think he’s a great writer.  He’s there because they’ve decided he’s news.

Yeah, oh reader. It all makes me feel better. There's too much counter-cultural power on the American right these days, and too much puffery on the left. Too much convention. Too much respect. Too much acceptance. Too much anointing. Too little hot sauce. Too little heat. Too little anger. So let this summer diminish and dip below the horizon. And let the hurricanes blow.

* Lance not only vaguely resembles the Mets' knuckerballing late-career success story, he always stays on the bench rooting for his teammates until the end of the game, just like Mr. Dickey.

July 25 2010

16:19

The Lamplighter

Lamplighter
Even in his last hours, Dad had a smile that could light the shadows of a room and chase away despair. He was that kind of man - the hail fellow with a bit of wit on his lips and the glitter of companionship in his eyes. No one ever minded seeing Don Watson walking toward them down the street. He was easy to be around, essentially forgiving in his nature, and blindly enthusiastic in his almost child-like wonder at anything that he found interesting, which made for quite a list.

Fishing (always at the top). Storms. Horseshoes. Cars. Boats. Power tools. Sharks. Dogs. Cats. Machines of almost any kind. James Bond movies. Castles. Model trains. Trees. Flowers. Drawing and painting. The History Channel. The Discovery Channel. The Weather Channel. Square-rigged ships. Miniature golf and the Masters. Bagpipes. Tommy Dorsey. Buddy Rich. War movies. Battlefields. Hats in all shapes and sizes. Any meal in any restaurant. Any beach on any coast. Songbirds and a whistle. Singing in the choir.

But most of all, Dad loved his family. This was easy on Christmas morning when the rollicking sounds of grandchildren mixed with the smell of pine and all the world was cool and jolly. Dad loved those occasions more than anyone. He'd wear his goofy hats, mix the drinks, and make the rounds. But anyone can do that. What made Dad's commitment to his family, to his marriage of 51 years, so special was his determination during the harder times.

Dad might not have wanted it well known, but he worked three jobs simultaneously for several years in the 1980s to put his children through school, pay the mortgage, and keep food on the table. After his full-time and part-time newspaper jobs, he'd often go home and put on a uniform - dark blue shirt, navy slacks, and heavy shined black shoes. We thought of them as Dad's "guard shoes" because he was moonlighting as a night watchman, running on coffee and four hours sleep - and a commitment to his family that he would not break. Most people who knew our Dad will remember his great good cheer, his quick one-liners, and his smile. But his family won't forget those shoes.

The American songwriter Lou Reed once wrote that if he had to pin one crucial aspect to the elusive quality of love, he'd choose time. How we decide to spend our time, and who we spend it with, is the simplest possible formula for determining the reality of love, a calculation free of roses and flowery words and good intentions. It's a formula that fits our father, because he always made time - and he gave his time freely. He never left. He was always there. His presence was the deeply-rooted foundation of our lives. It's a lesson that his nine grandchildren will undoubtedly understand clearly in the years ahead as they build their own lives and families. Alexandra, Veronica, Sean, Timothy, Daniel, Kelsey, Samantha, Devon and Conor were the leading lights of Dad's third act in life and he spent the best of times reveling in their young spirits.

In his last three months at home, Dad offered another lesson in perseverance and strength. Sometimes it's hard to find dignity in this world. But anyone who visited that bedroom and spent time there found dignity. Cared for so faithfully by our mother throughout his long illness, Dad was still the same "big guy" even as he grew smaller. It was a great gift to spend that time with Dad, watch a little television, listen to some music, and talk over the events of the day. He couldn't speak much but he'd still find a way to express his amazement with a simple "wow!" at something on television or a story from the world outside that room. The smile was constant, and the quips were still there. A few weeks ago, he was asked by a visitor if there was anything he needed. "Yeah," he said, his eyes sparking with mischief. "How about Elizabeth Taylor?"

Even in those dusky twilight days, Dad still provided the spark. And he still does now. His favorite poem was about a simple man going about his daily rounds - "picking them up and putting them down," as Dad would say. The man was Leerie the Lamplighter in Robert Louis Stevenson's poem from A Child's Garden of Verses, who lit the way each night to the delight of children who felt safer for his presence.

My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky. It's time to take the window to see Leerie going by; For every night at teatime and before you take your seat, With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street.

Now Tom would be a driver and Maria go to sea, And my papa's a banker and as rich as he can be; But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I'm to do, O Leerie, I'll go round at night and light the lamps with you!

For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door, And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more; And oh! before you hurry by with ladder and with light; O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him to-night!

We were very lucky, indeed. Dad was our Lamplighter, the friend of the children and most faithful of men. We'll miss him on his rounds every day. But we'll carry his light with us.

Thank you, Dad. Fond love, always.

Donald W. Watson
1932-2010


______________________________________________________________ Note: This was my father's eulogy. He died on Tuesday morning and was buried yesterday. Things have been quiet around this address for quite some time, but I hope to return to these precincts more often in the coming months. Thanks for everyone's kind thoughts.

January 02 2010

03:38

Tens and Twenties

There's a moment in Sherlock Holmes when the great detective's love interest, chestnut-haired Irene Adler, emerges from a chase in the sewers and passages under Parliament and Whitehall into the construction site of Tower Bridge, built over the Thames in the years between 1886 and 1894. The problem is, the Tower Bridge is more than two miles - and one hellacious river bend - from Big Ben. It's a bit of Hollywood short-cut drawing, like that time in the Seven-Ups when Roy Scheider hangs a left on Madison Avenue and turns up on a Pelham Parkway side street in the Bronx. The discontinuity serves the action, I guess - but it's vaguely similar to the strange wrinkle in the space-time continuum that was the first decade of the second millennium.

I'm not a big fan of list-making or instant history in general, but I had to laugh the ironic middle-aged laugh of the scarred and experienced at the usage of "Suckade" by persons unknown on Twitter over the last couple of days. Le mot juste for the 140-character crowd: the whole damned decade had that "did that just happen?" quality to it.

Yet, as we begin the next decade - and really, what humans "begin" decades, after all - things look bleaker than they did at our big 2000 moment ten years ago. The economy has no super-charged second wave Internet explosion in the offing, no more tech-fueled productivity to be wrung from the working class - which can now safely be defined in basic American terms as the plutocrats and everyone else in the country. The wealth gap hinted at a decade ago has metastasized to threaten the foundations of the republic, and our national government is ever more in thrall of the "too big to fail" ethic of the elite and their lobbyist grunts, a strange and deeply un-American spell that shuts out the traditional source of growth from coast to coast: small businesses and people with big dreams.

Nonetheless there are no pitchforks down on Broad Street south of William, no torchlight parades, no barricades. Nary a protest echoes on Wall Street's granite facades, and the NYPD riot shields gather dust in storage. This despite thievery on a grand and arrogantly public scale. No one seems to care. So much of what politicians are fond of calling "the American people" lolls in a media and product-induced narcotic coma of disinterest and ignorance. The polity rots around us.

You can say it began in Florida in year two of the decade past. You can argue that Americans were more involved and informed during the 90s, that politics was less polarized and more serious. That the Bush years were the moldy core of political dry-rot in the double-zeros. And some of that is valid. But I've slowly come to realize that we place far too much of our capital - emotional, social, political - in the persons of those who would govern. A year of Clinton, eight of Bush, and a year of Obama creates a neat political pattern in the Washington of the decade just past - and it's so tempting to just pick door number two, the dishonest Republican swath between two thin Democratic stripes on either side. Bush sucked. The decade sucked. Analysis over. Plenty of columnists and bloggers from the center to the left have that little thought well-covered. Yet it doesn't ring true if you reject, as I do, the pervasive key man theory.

Frankly, it's too easy to blame George W. Bush for the lost decade. Just as Bill Clinton's presidency seemed that much greater after he'd given way to Bush, so does Bush's presidency rise to the level of at least the unimportant when viewed in the light of Barack Obama's well-meaning but very difficult first year. The President matters, just not as much as we thought. Call it the Ben Bernanke theory: the key man's just not that crucial. (Note for purists: this used to be called the Jack Welch theory).

No, the first Obama year proves - to me at least - that we're all fools for investing so much in the person at the top of the ticket. I was talking to my friends Ben and Charles about this last night, as the clock ticked toward midnight. We talked about the sheer size of the Federal government, with two million employees, and the limits on any President's time in both decision-making and management. The most President Obama can do is set the general agenda, appoint managers, react to national emergencies, and focus on several key issues per year - in addition to running for re-election and leading his party.

So I try to temper my keen disappointment in Obama's passive-aggressive tactics on healthcare - slow out of the box, tepid use of his former grassroots army, generally empty bully pulpit, pre-compromising with big insurance, and the lack of a principled stand on public healthcare - with the knowledge that his power is limited. I was younger in the 90s for the Clinton presidency, and spent much of those eight years angry at a Democratic commander in chief. I'm not making the same mistake twice. I was never on the hope and change bandwagon - I'm old enough to know they were marketing slogans - so I don't have any sense of personal betrayal toward the President, who was, after all, my second choice for the Democratic nomination. Obama gives himself a B-plus; I give him a B-minus. Which is fine - I was hoping for a B presidency after eight years of D-minus.

But enough of the big man in the Executive Mansion. What's coming from below? To me, that's what matters. Every study shows that this next generation is more active and more liberal in their attitudes than the one before it. I can see that in my own kids; they're pretty well-informed. Then too, the young social entrepreneurs I've had the chance to meet and work with are bright harbingers. To them, the old models don't necessarily matter - nor do the old barriers. I've spend the last year talking about my book, CauseWired: Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World (Wiley) and I'm encouraged by the people chronicled in its page - they're still out there working. Moreover, they're organizing from below - connecting people to causes and ideas and small organizations.

That organizing power is real, but it's also fragile, I think. Without encouragement and real success - beyond a glitzy political campaign, that is - young people will get discouraged. And we've built our modern society to discourage the dreamers, the gadflies, the activists, the iconoclasts. Oh, they're welcome as fodder for reality TV, alright - but they're generally not welcome in public life. And that's got to change. The decade just past knocked off too many corners and streamlined the handles of power, concentrating economic and political power in the hands of the few.

And so, with the last New Year's sip still on  my lips, I'll kick off this year's playlist with some lyrics from the great Patti Smith, from a song that's now 22 years old, amazingly enough:

People Have the Power

I was dreaming in my dreaming
Of an aspect bright and fair
And my sleeping it was broken
But my dream it lingered near
In the form of shining valleys
Where the pure air recognized
And my senses newly opened
I awakened to the cry
That the people have the power
To redeem the work of fools
Upon the meek the graces shower
It's decreed the people rule

The people have the power
The people have the power
The people have the power
The people have the power

December 02 2009

03:33

Obama's War

From tonight onward, the relevance of George W. Bush to the foreign policy of the United States begins to diminish like a lifting winter fog to the vanishing point. This war in Afghanistan is Barack Obama's war, and he traveled to West Point to boldly claim that ownership before some of the young men and women who may soon face death under the terms of his order.

President Obama's team, transported nearly whole from its triumphant political campaign, has a sure-handed mastery of the image, the words, the brand. So there was no mistaking any intention whatsoever in tonight's speech upon the Hudson - and any continued carping about inherited warfare and the failed policies of a predecessor in office conflicts with the image of strength and decisiveness the President projected at the U.S. Military Academy.

To put it bluntly: he was not forced into this decision. The failures of the opposition party are no longer all that relevant to what happens now. The Afghanistan policy - more fully understood, in my view, as the Pakistan-Afghanistan policy - is the Obama Administration's policy. It is not some moth-eaten hand-me-down hybrid forced on a unwilling President.

Liberals, who have long deluded themselves into believing Obama was a fellow traveler (in John Heileman's words), have got to find a way to accept this - to understand that President Obama is both the best and the brightest and a practical centrist to the core of his being. (This stands in stark contrast, of course, to the sheer lunacy of the hard right, which insists on branding the Administration as socialist). Progressives who somehow intuited an anti-war politician, a near-pacifist, based on Obama's opposition to Bush's Iraq misadventure must finally understand that this is a President who won't shy away from ordering military action.

Indeed, the President's national security and diplomatic team is resolutely interventionist - committed to military strength and its strategic use - even if they're not wild-eyed exceptionalist cowpokes like the previous Cheneyites. The key words in tonight's address were these:

“We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That is why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.”

This is about the danger from that region to American interests and lives. While I may believe Afghanistan to be an unwinnable quagmire that only cost lives and dollars with short results, that it's useless to try and prop up what Bob Herbert calls "ragtag and less-than-energetic Afghan military" and the corrupt regime, President Obama has decided differently. Clearly, the U.S. does have a national security interest in the immediate future of Pakistan and Afghanistan - and so, I might add, does the civilized world.

As David Sirota writes in a tough post tonight (he seems somehow personally hurt that Obama has decided to retain the mantle of "wartime President"), the punditry around this decision is tiresome:

Why do so many pundits and pro-Obama activists continue to focus on how "hard" and "difficult" and "trying" this decision is for President Obama, rather than on how "hard" and "difficult" and "trying" this will be for the soldiers who are killed? Doesn't Obama get to make this decision, and then go home to the comfortable confines of a butlered White House, while thousands of Americans will be sent 7,000 miles from home to face their potential deaths? Isn't the latter "harder" than the former?

I suspect the President himself would agree. Of course this wasn't an easy decision, but it was the President's decision - and the decision he ran so hard to make. Yes, he took his time and that's to his credit. And now it's his war.

And because he acts in your name and mine, it's still ours.

November 21 2009

01:42

'I Deserve Health Care'

Organizing for America has announced the winner of its Health Reform Video Challenge, and it's terrific. Hope the Senate's watching.

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