Wednesday, May 24, 2006

War of the Words

Now that we are on the brink of another nuclear confrontation in which only time will tell if it is as serious as what President Kennedy faced with Cuba in 1962, it is interesting to see how the war of words that accompanies today’s confrontations will play out. The New Yorker this week noted that the likes of Rush Limbaugh and his other know-nothing flame-throwers on right wing talk radio joined the Bush administration in dismissing the first letter in a quarter of a century from an Iranian head of state to the President of the United States.

Limbaugh and his ilk of course went further than the administration, comparing the letter to “the Democratic talking points.” This sly conflation between the despotic and somewhat mad ruler of Iran and the Democratic Party, which of course has been recklessly repeated on Fox News, is a perfect example of the substitution of rhetoric for informed argument. Once again, we see Limbaugh and his dittoheads in the far-right media refusing to engage the issues by resorting to a war of words instead. Far be it from Limbaugh to engage in a thoughtful examination of the grave danger posed when nuclear states refuse to talk. No, no, let’s demonize any rationale point of view on the issue that does not fit the Limbaugh party-line.

Fortunately, in 1962 we had a president who was willing to talk to his counterpart. Much of course has been made of Kennedy so-called out-bluffing Nikita Khrushchev, but the historical record is clear” Kennedy found out through an exchange of letters what Khrushchev actually wanted and gave it to him: removal of nuclear theater-range missiles from Turkey. We had the same missiles when I was a GI in Germany ten years later, but these were aimed at the border with East Germany, not at the Russian heartland as were our missiles in Turkey.

But I digress – the point here is that although no one yet knows entirely what to do about Iran’s nuclear program, history shows that Presidents who are willing to talk with their counterparts about life and death issues have served the interests of this country well. One thing certain – refusing to talk to Iran and demonizing those who urge a discourse is simply more of the recklessness that marks the current right-wing propaganda machine and current neocon political thinking. The prevailing war of words is deliberately and dishonestly designed to prevent those who hold knowledgeable and opposing points of view from having a voice in the matter.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Argument for Higher Education

NYU grads congregate at Washington Square

My wife and I had the opportunity to hear an argument last week that makes one understand the early importance this country put on higher education. Watching the 174th commencement of New York University, we had the honor of hearing Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy exclaim to a throng of purple robed graduates gathered in Greenwich Village’s historic Washington Square that the values of freedom are not passive values. In fact, he said, these cherished values wither and die unless those who live in freedom do their duty to act out those values throughout the rest of the world.

“This is not rocket science,” he thundered, as he spoke of the billions of hours wasted each year when African women “It falls on the women,” he noted) struggle to find fresh water for their children. “This can be fixed, and if we really believe in freedom, then it falls on all of us, but especially you, to do something about this.”

Arguing in a similar vein was student speaker Chinaka Hodge, an undergraduate from Oakland CA who opened her remarks in three languages and who observed, “Whether our momma fed us kim chee or black eyed peas or Gerber’s baby food, we all share similar values.” Ms. Hodge argued that unless we learn how to connect with each other, no matter our backgrounds, the very notion of freedom is imperiled both here at home and abroad.

To say that my skin tingled at the timbre of these remarks is an understatement. There are all kinds of ways to be civilized; there are all kinds of ways to share values. But sitting in a 175 year old setting today, one that is dedicated to the memory of our own first President and one that resonates with all that a college degree offers when it is outward centered such as those NYU and IPFW try to accomplish on behalf of their students, one certainly feels that the argument for a reflective and worldly education is a key to the continuance of freedom everywhere.