I’m not making the case for whimsical, arbitrary, pandering public policy. Pols and wonks need to explore the facts and philosophical assumptions behind any meaningful shift in policy. This points toward, for example, Bush and McCain’s approach on the issue du jour: immigration. It points away from some elements in the GOP who are stoking the anger of some regarding immigrants, and who want to militarize the borders. They never quite say it, but one senses a “keep the wetbacks out” mentality among the know-nothing crowd. That “thinking,” frankly, disgusts me. This is not to say that illegal immigration is not a problem, for it is, in my view. Improving border integrity strikes me as an abundantly reasonable thing to pursue. A nation can and should protect itself from illegal immigrants who might, for instance, have communicable diseases, swell the schools, hospitals and welfare rolls, or might even be a terrorist. How that shakes out in specific actions is not the point of this blog; there’s a wide range of things that can and probably should be done, and probably a mix of them is sensible.
No, what I’m really getting at is more a cultural than political problem. There is a “gotcha” mentality that I believe we need to shake as a culture. Russert’s interview this past Sunday of McCain illustrates nicely why I find this mentality dysfunctional.
Russert went through a litany of reasons why the Iraq War was a mistake. I happen to agree with Russert, Iraq WAS a mistake. He basically badgered McCain, and was, IMO, trying to embarrass McCain and, by extension, Bush.
McCain, I think, handled it well. Bush, on the other hand, has been trying to save face these past few years.
In a sense, this particular dance is the jurisprudential model, played out. Two opposing sides attack one another, float calibrated half-truths to win the day for “their” side, and hope to win over the judge or jury. Perhaps that’s a good way to do civil and criminal justice, but it makes for lousy public dialog.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing if Bush could say, “You know what, if the intelligence had said Saddam didn’t have WMD, I wouldn’t have pushed for war. In retrospect, we made a mistake.”
The way politics is played, he basically can’t say that. Just as Clinton didn’t at first say to the grand jury, “My personal life is none of your damn business.” Only the most self-assured could, and pols as a group don’t seem particularly self-assured to me.
Candor, in short, is heavily penalized in a system built on “us and them” confrontation. To me, it’s getting old. There’s got to be another way.