With news from several sources pointing to a likely recession, the possibility of increased aggression from Iran, and the continued specific concerns relating to the role legal and illegal immigrants play in a tumultuous twenty first century economy, we are sure to get more meat in the upcoming presidential debates.
Awash in a sea of state and federal political chatter, I took refuge in a cool dark cave. I spent the weekend watching Atonement. Twice. No, I didn't venture into our local megaplex two separate times in one weekend; no one is that self deprecating. I watched the film based on the popular book by Ian McEwan, and at the insistence of a close friend, I watched the documentary, Fog of War. Both carried similar plot lines: loss, regret, adventure, even international conflict. Both starred aging story tellers, airing their life's journey and its misdeeds in an effort to atone for the negative consequences suffered by innocents.
I can assume, based on results from the Golden Globes, that many readers are well versed in the plot line of Atonement based on McEwans book. Instead I'll elaborate on the second film from the weekend. In Fog of War, Robert McNamara tells of his experiences and the lessons learned serving the United States both in the public and private sector; first with the U.S military, and briefly as president of the Ford Corporation then as Secretary of Defense, and later with the World Bank. As in Atonement, the aging McNamara sits before a camera and tells of his actions, frankly, honestly and at times emotionally. He lists the bullet points on his resume, and in so doing admits guilt and claims credit for atrocities like the fire bombing of Japan, and the specific site for JFK's final resting place.
More than an historical tell all, the film includes what he's learned, and for that reason, is incredibly relevant in that it sheds light on what is arguably the most nerve wracking collection of decades in the history of the United States, perhaps the history of the world. McNamara describes what it was like to be on the brink of nuclear war for every hour of every day for seven years. He shows us the severity of daily life in the White House for the president, and his staff.
In light of dueling fiscal recovery plans released by major candidates of both parties in the last week, we get to chew on something deeper than our first impression of each of these people. It's understandable that the comparisons to date have consisted largely of questions on the importance of eloquence, and the relative need for role models in the ranks of wealthy white teenaged girls, compared to their African American male peers. Thankfully we have more time than afforded in previous elections to get past these arguments.
On Tuesday, the world will be faced with a major decision. Each of us will sit on couches and bar stools, in kitchens and living rooms. We will scratch our heads, and fumble with our remotes. If we're not doing anything more pressing, we may watch the democratic presidential debates.
Choosing to watch or not isn't the epic question of the day. We've watched what seems like dozens of these things so far. The action of essence in less than forty eight hours is listening. It's our responsibility to listen to what these people are saying, to find out for ourselves what makes them more than a collection of stereotypically disenfranchised members of our community. We have a southerner whose self-identified fight for the little man in the face of towering corporate greed seems glaringly similar to the hard working and, as of late, sensitive woman with eight years of familiarity in Washington and on Pennsylvania Avenue. The black/white man from Chicago who promises to bring us together sounds all too much like his rivals but is accentuated by a similarity to voices from our past that make us proud and nostalgic. All of these candidates have attempted to woo us with words, and despite the criticism their efforts have received, it's all we've asked for until now.
Let's agree that Tuesday is the expiration date for all of this. Its time we paid more attention to the boring parts. We can love each of them, we can rank them in order of who would be best to share a beer with. But if the last eight years is any indication, that kind of thing shouldn't be the only criteria we use. We'll likely hear about the historic role of women in politics and society, if not during the debates, certainly in the op-eds. Race will finds its way into both venues, either as a point of pride or a weapon of division. But alongside all of that, we should demand discussion about what each of these people will do for the workers in Michigan ignored by these three because of a competitive disadvantage suffered by a candidate compassionate enough to face voters in one of our nations most devastated economic battle fields.
Race and gender will be present, as they should. But so will so much more that no one seems to be talking about. Yet