Aqua Buddha. “Man up.” Obamacare. Same-sex marriage. No new taxes. Deficit spending. Ground Zero mosque. Christian nation. Or not. What’s missing from this snapshot of snarling candidates and voters? Could it be–shall I whisper it–war? The only bipartisanship in campaign 2010 is the silence about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have cost more than a trillion dollars, killed some 5000 and wounded more than 30,000 American soldiers (forget, as we prefer to do, about Iraqi and Afghan deaths), and placed this country in the morally untenable position of expecting the working poor to risk their sons’ and daughters’ lives while the governing class is exempt. Is anyone at this weekend’s Rally to Restore Sanity going to talk about the war? That would certainly be a step toward the restoration of sanity.
I woke up Tuesday morning to read, on the front page of The New York Times, that our loyal ally, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, had admitted that his government was receiving foreign aid from Iran in the form of regular bags of cash amounting to millions of dollars. “They do give us bags of money. . . yes, yes, it is done,” Karazai said. “We are grateful to the Iranians for this.”
Does this corrupt satrap, now engaged in sorry wheeling-and-dealing with the Taliban to keep himself in power and money by, among other means, selling out Afghan women, actually think he will last a day if American troops leave? When I turned to read the rest of the story on the inside, I noticed a small, black-bordered box with the most recently released names of dead soldiers. They are Staff Sgt. Kenneth K. McAninch, 28, and Specialist Ronnie Pallares, 19. Where are the 19-year-old sons and daughters of the Republican and Democratic legislators who approved the money for this war? Where will President Obama’s beloved daughters be when they’re 19? In college, that’s where. Nothing wrong with that, but there is something very wrong not only with the governing class but with a public that lauds military service–just as long as the troops are kids from Appalachia whose job applications have been turned down by Wal-Mart or kids from Harlem looking for the only way to raise money for a college education.
How can the candidates get away with not talking about this? It’s easy. Although public opinion polls show that Americans are about evenly split on the war, it’s not an issue on the top of anyone’s list of concerns–except, of course, families with children in the service. Washington is broken? I’d say the moral compass of the American public is broken.
There is no real upside to taking any position on the war. Democrats don’t want to talk about it because it simply enrages those on the party’s left. And there are also rumblings of discontent with the war among far-right Republicans of the tea party persuasion. They’re all hot and bothered about the Ground Zero mosque, but that doesn’t mean they want to be taxed to pay for a war to bring the blessings of liberty to Afghans. They’d rather talk about cutting Social Security benefits and hunting down illegal immigrants said to be taking American jobs than about what the nine years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed to the federal deficit.
As horrified as I am about what the triumph of the Tabliban (again) will mean for Afghan women, I know there is no way that America can remake a this distant society by continuing an openended war there. But we can do something about the moral issue at home– the continuation of a war that is being fought by the less privileged classes of our society. As Tom Brokaw notes, “The all-vounteer armed services now represent less than 1 percent of the American population, but they’re carrying 100 percent of the battle…If this is an election about a new direction for the country, why doesn’t some candidate speak up for equal sacrifice on the home front as well as the front lines.”
This is truly a moral issue–a canker at the heart of our society–that transcends political parties, as it does religion and atheism. And it is perfectly easy to understand why no candidate speaks up for sacrifice. If the military burden were to be shared equally, the draft would have to be reinstated. Can you imagine a surer route to defeat at the ballot box? Some Americans are quite willing to impose their ideas of morality on gays, or women who have abortions, or people who want to smoke marijuana legally. But they don’t want to hear a candidate question the morality of waging war with the blood of other people’s children. The candidates are just telling people what they want to hear–and not telling them what they don’t want to hear.
How can any of us look in the mirror? Oh, I forgot. The mirror is very, very broken.