THE BLOG

Politics and the Water's Edge

03/27/2014 11:14 am ET | Updated May 27, 2014
  • Lance Simmens Author, The Evolution of a Revolution, and Fracktured

In 1994 I attended a meeting at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC and sat across the table from former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, one of the primary architects and executioners of the Vietnam War. I had read books by him and about him detaling his involvement in that sorry chapter of our nation's history and as I studied him during the course of an hours-long meeting it was easy to see how serious a man he was and it appeared that he was deeply affected by decisions he had made in his life. I remarked to my boss as we left the meeting that he appeared to be a man who was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Several years later the documentary Fog of War was released outlining an extraordinary analysis of the 11 lessons learned from the Vietnam experience and it was a rather solemn indictment of mistakes made. The portrayal of McNamara the man validated what I had read and observed many years earlier. McNamara held true to the belief that former Secretaries of Defense should not publicly question or criticize the actions of their successors.

This unspoken rule has applied to top level executives throughout government and has particularly been true in the case of commanders-in-chief. In introductory level American Government and Political Science courses students are taught that "politics stops at the water's edge" and throughout most of our history this axiom has been observed and heeded to. But along with the blunt force obstructionism of ultra-right conservative politics and a nearly total breakdown in comity and civility comes a disturbing brand of hubris from the right that sounds more like sour grapes than sober analysis.

Contrast this with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's juvenile critique this past weekend of actions undertaken by the Obama Administration, spewing invective-laced commentary as if venom from a rattlesnake Rummy has replaced his famous post-it notes management style with awkward and trivial political commentary. And all of this coming from a man who was the executioner of the most colossal and deadly deceit foisted upon an angry and confused nation still reeling from the attack on the World Trade Center: namely, the invasion of Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction that never existed. I have no idea what Mr. Rumsfeld has been doing since he departed the Pentagon but I would suggest that he could far better serve the nation if he would use the intellect that he so pompously boasts to anyone within earshot to reexamine the deadly mistakes he so cavalierly inflicted upon American soldiers, Iraqi citizens, and the international and domestic stature of the nation.

There is a disturbing and compelling trend here. Another former Secretary of Defense and Vice-President, Dick Cheney, has shown no reluctance whatsoever over the years to attempt to redeem his tarnished image by conducting an all-out offensive aimed at criticizing the Obama Administration while clinging to the absurd notion that the policies he helped shape with respect to the Iraq War, torture and rendition somehow live up to the standards of either our Constitution or International conventions. These people have entirely too much time on their hands and so little to contribute to the important issues of the day.

And to further add to the circus of failed efforts we now have clueless Mitt Romney attempting to exhibit some semblance of heft with respect to understanding, a word I use generously here, of foreign affairs. Yes the same Mitt Romney who was so cock-sure of his election in 2012 that he had not taken the time to consider the concession option. Talk about not ready for prime time. The same Mitt Romney who earnestly participated in the charade of politics posing as policy by renouncing the very health care program that he championed as Governor of Massachusetts. The very same Mitt who redefined the contemporary notion of flip-flopping to suit political expediency, and who raised the bar by campaigning on a platform totally devoid of conviction to levels that may never, hopefully, be seen again.

I am unshakably supportive of any individual's right to voice their objections at any time. The First Amendment is an inviolable tenet of our democratic system of government. But I am also a true believer in the notion that our constitution is a living document and that our government is premised upon continuing growth and our society is constantly evolving. All of these precepts require that we as people never cease to learn from the mistakes of the past and not only accept but advocate change. These grumpy old men are lost in a time warp that no thinking persons want to revisit. Memo to group: The Cold War was ended under Reagan's tenure; consult the oracle before rattling sabers.

We must continue to look forward while benefitting from a clinical evaluation of the past. Like a shark who must keep swimming in order to survive, we as a species must be forever challenging the intellectual truisms that in fact turn out not to be true, whether it was the geocentric theory that the Earth was the center of the universe and that everything revolved around it, or that the Earth was flat, or that women should not have the right to vote, or that slavery was a morally acceptable economic system.

The true measure of a person's contribution to the betterment of mankind can and should be found in that person's willingness to offer substantive solutions to problems not political pabulum. Just this week former President Jimmy Carter was showcasing the 28th book he has written since leaving office 33 years ago. Along the way he has spearheaded Habitat for Humanity, worked to eliminate diseases like guinea worm in underdeveloped countries, and monitored elections in countries which had never experienced democracy. This is the role of a citizen of the planet.

John Kerry was defeated after a vicious public relations attack upon his service to the country. The so-called swift-boating of his candidacy did not leave him either vengeful or complacent, but rather has driven him to continue to play a large role on the world stage, as Senator and now as Secretary of State.

Hillary Clinton's defeat in 2008 did not find her directing her disappointment or anger at the person who defeated her; rather it strengthened her resolve to similarly serve the nation and the world as an effective Secretary of State.

The dysfunctional state of affairs we currently find ourselves in is emboldened by the lack of contributions many of our former elected leaders exhibit once they no longer occupy the heady positions they once enjoyed. The current dearth of confidence in our institutions and its leaders is given currency when our elders turn out to be either bullies or crybabies. And it is even worse when they are both.

What we have here is the following:

1). Dick Cheney, the ultimate "conscientious objector", owner of 5 deferments, quick to engage in hostilities when it is someone else that has to do the fighting. The only thing he is conscientious about is his objection to actually fighting himself. By his own reckoning he was too busy, or too important to actually have to do the heavy lifting, too busy orchestrating his ill-conceived version of the world order.

2). Don Rumsfeld, originator of the "known unknowns" theory of policy-making. He knows a lot about trained apes, you know the ones who follow on command, because he makes several references to a base level of knowledge that one should possess to adequately formulate and implement policies that affect millions of people and if you are an untrained ape you do not pass. We will grant him the benefit of the doubt that due to a history of utilizing this conceptual model of leadership there are no racial connotations involved in denigrating President Obama's leadership abilities. What is unknown is the extent to which he actually knows what he is talking about. If his actions or his words are any indication there is no conclusive evidence one way or another that he passes his own test.

3). Mitt Romney, the turn-around artist, a person quite adept at turning a profit and able to turn around his convictions and beliefs on a dime. This is a man whose heart is as cold as an ice-cube, propagator of the 47 percent disposal citizenry theory of politics and public service. I actually thought at one point he was a compassionate conservative but that turns out to be just another politically expedient oxymoron.

Is there not one Republican leader who is willing to stand up and declare that the damage done to our government, our nation, our society, or our world by these self-indulgent elitist snobs is not worth the immediate gratification of political points scored for purely personal needs and desires for vindication, acceptance, or relevancy? We must stop perpetuating an unending campaign cycle of blame, recrimination, and hatred and set upon the process of healing, leading, and moving forward. We are all in this together. Politics should stop at the water's edge.

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