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The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria
Polyarchy by Robert Dahl
The Nazi Seizure of Power by William Sheridan Allen
Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman
The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck
Do It For The Right Reasons
One of my favorite poltical commentators has to be Eleanor Clift. Every week she holds her own against the likes of conservative warriors, Lawrence Kudlow and Tony Blankley on The McLaughlin Group and gives some reason and sense to the typically hawkish discussion. In a great article from Newsweek, Clift argues against the Bush administration's projection of smooth sailing in a war with Iraq. She attacks such optimistic thinking as unrealistic and says that "wishing is not a strategy." While the U.S. military certainly has the strength to dismantle an opposing nation in overwhelming fashion, such dominance should not be relied on. After all, we all remember Vietnam. Belief in one's destiny for victory is an admirable quality, but brashness and aggressive campaigning for war without a full understanding of the consequences of war and what a new Iraq will mean for the future are irresponsible at best and dangerous at worse.
The problem seems to lie with the administration leadership. As I have said before, Bush seems to have the attention span of an 8 year-old. Clift writes, "when Bush gets an idea in his head, there’s nothing else for it to compete with. He operates on gut instinct; he doesn’t require rigorous thought and argument to support his beliefs." It seems as if this type of thoughtlessness should be checked by a more thoughtful head within the administration (cough, Powell, cough) and that a sprint to war should be slowed to a more controlled jog so as not to run out of energy for the final lap of post-Hussein nation building. War is a serious undertaking. It should not be taken lightly.
Having said that, the fact that war is being used to smooth over the downfalls of administration policies such as Social Security, prescription drugs for seniors, corporate reform and, of course, the economy, make the rush to war even more careless. Ignoring these crucial issues in an election year should be seen by voters as a copout, for that is what it is. As Clift points out, "[t]he stock market has lost $7 trillion over the last two years, the highest percentage loss since Herbert Hoover was president." Is this not important? It seem fairly vital to the well being of every day Americans. Certainly more so than the war for Arab oil.
Granted, the administration has done a fine job of making Hussein appear to be on the brink of a terrorist attack on the U.S. with "weapons of mass destruction," but as irrational as a dictatorial tyrant might appear from without, Hussein still has a clear desire for self-preservation for himself and for his regime and will, with all likelihood, not be a threat to America or American interests abroad unless provoked. So why should we rush into a war where the outcome is so vague and potentially disasterous? If we follow the appropriate steps with weapons inspectors we can find out what we are up against. And if inspections are thwarted by Iraqi resistance once again, then at least proper justification would be had for tighter diplomatic pressure or a cautious attack which France, Russia and China could then support without excuses.
War requires vision and confidence, but those qualities are no more important than prudence and caution. Go to war with Iraq, but do it for the right reasons. Don't use war as an election year tactic to pick up a few more GOP seats in Congress. Don't use war to display American dominance. In all likelihood, it will be perceived in the opposite light in the region, and regardless, who says we would even win? Optimism a noble quality, but keep it out of the war room.
This weekend I went to Garrett's Bend, West Virginia with a student group here at Kenyon called Appalachian People’s Service Organization (APSO). We did service work there at the community center. We painted and fixed the building and generally made it a more inviting place to have community events. It was a great, rewarding experience.
When APSO goes down there, the local director of the county parks department is our main contact. His name is, no joke, Jim Cumm. As much as we try to pronounce it "koom" to avoid the obvious innuendo, he always corrects us, pronouncing it "kum"and somehow making it into a two syllable word. "There ain't a whole lot of Cumms in West Virginia!", he would say. Jim is a self-proclaimed "redneck". He's a big guy, huge hands, loves hunting, loves being outside, loves his kids, has no problem shooting at stray dogs, and generally enjoys who he is.
Anyway, I digress. We painted for two days. Then on monday morning, Jim showed up at 6:30 in the morning and he took Kevin and I squirrel hunting. Hunting! Yeah, I know. Kris, hunting, you say? But he's such a lefty, you say. Kris with a gun? Can't be, must be some mistake. Yes, well believe it folks. I went hunting.
Now this really shouldn't be a huge shock, for I never have proposed that the second amendment is completely worthless. Gun ownership for the sake of hunting is perfectly fine with me. While it may not be my chosen culture to have a pickup and a gun rack and mark the days off the calendar waiting for deer hunting season to begin, such a culture exists and thrives in a big way in a lot of places. Much of West Virginia is that place. After all, where else can you find a camouflage hunting hat with Nascar driver Tony Stewart's #20 on it? Honestly. These products just don't exist where I'm from. Similarly, the Walmart closest to my home certainly doesn't have a large gun section like the one in South Charleston does. These are just the differences between a certain rural West Virginian culture, and what I am used to. I think it's great.
But I digress again. We went out to Jim's farm and he handed each of us a shotgun for our morning of squirrel hunting. With amazing confidence and trust, he handed Kevin, a freshman from upstate New York who had never touched a gun before, a loaded shotgun. He then gave me a loaded 12 gauge, Remington 1100 automatic shotgun. I was given the automatic because I was deemed to be the more experienced of the two of us. This is all based on the fact that I had tried (and failed) to get the shotgun merit badge, and likewise with the rifle badge, when I was a 7th grader in Boy Scouts. Does this mean I know anything more? I wouldn't think so, but it earned me the automatic shotgun in Jim's eyes.
We then went out and sat in the woods for a while. This is really all that hunting is. Sit quietly, and listen. How exciting. After almost an hour of no good leads as to any squirrel whereabouts Jim told me, being the more experienced rifleman, to go down the hill into a more wide open area where there might be more small creatures to stalk. Meanwhile he and Kevin went in some other direction to do the same. Now the real fun (read: most boring time ever) began. I almost fell asleep at one point. I stood and sat in roughly the same spot for probably two hours. No squirrels seen by me. The squirrels were winning the mental game. I guess they brought all 110%. They came ready to play so to speak.
But alas, after two or three hours of patiently waiting/falling asleep, I spotted a pair of the large rodents and took aim. One shot, two ringing ears, and a slide down a steep embankment later, I had my prize: a big fox squirrel. One shot, one squirrel. Pretty good, eh? I certainly thought so.
Anyway, my point is not to brag about my amazing 100% hunting accuracy, but rather to prove that this culture of gun ownership can be completely consistant with severe limits on certain types of guns. As we were driving back from our morning of hunting Jim was proudly telling the two of us all about the ten guns that he owns. He was throwing brand names here, serial numbers there. Kevin and I had no idea. We just nodded and asked ignorant follow up questions which Jim kindly answered without rebuke. The point to all of this though, is to say that of Jim's ten guns, NONE of them are hand guns. He has a few rifles for certain kinds of game, a few shotguns for other kinds of game, and some sort of musket for that weird week of musket style hunting of deer. I then asked Jim if he owned any handguns. He replied, "naw, I just don't got any need for that kind. They ain't much good for huntin', and you know with the kids around at home, I don't want anything to happen." Spoken like a true gun enthusiast, Jim had made the case against handguns perfectly.
The only use for a handgun is for use against other people. This has been proven to be an ineffective way of "defending" oneself. Often times a handgun in a house will lead to a greater risk of injury or death, rather than the intended purpose of protection. With this said, why should handguns ever be in the hands of peaceful citizens? As Jim said, "They ain't much good for huntin'."
The second amendment has it's purpose. It fulfills it well. However, the right to bear arms should not be confused with the right to a safe society in which to live. True gun enthusiasts know the purpose of their guns. They know that you don't use a pistol with armor piercing bullets to kill a hawk, deer or squirrel. Let's stop diluting ourselves into thinking that rifles and shotguns are equally opposed by gun opposition groups as handguns and assault weapons. People kill squirrels. Handguns kill people.