Sunday, June 24, 2007

Signed, sealed, delivered — we’re stuck

Stephanie Salter always says what I don't know how to say

This nation is daring, decent and ready for change.

— George W. Bush,
GOP Convention, Aug. 3, 2000

Terre Haute — There was a time when the recent news that Mr. Bush’s approval ratings have dropped into the lower 20th percentile would have prompted hope.

The numbers would have meant an America awake, fed up, no longer in the market for cleverly packaged platitudes and prevarication. The dismal ratings would have allowed a reasonable person to think that, at long last, our national nightmare might be over.

But that time of hope passed awhile ago. Eighty percent or 100 percent, we can only believe what we see:

Approval numbers apparently don’t matter — anymore than the number of Democrats in Congress matters or the number of dead U.S. troops matters or the inexact but immorally huge number of dead Iraqi civilians matters.

The truth doesn’t matter. The facts don’t matter. The lies don’t matter.

The billions of dollars wasted don’t matter. More than 750 I-don’t-have-to-follow-this-law presidential signing statements don’t matter. Alberto Gonzalez and the Constitution don’t matter. Abu Ghraib doesn’t matter. The “extraordinary rendition” trial of 26 CIA operatives (in absentia) in Italy doesn’t matter. Dick Cheney’s middle finger to the Information Security Oversight Office doesn’t matter.

We appear to be a people paralyzed.

Is it our fear? Our material comfort? Our unmatched ability to escape reality? Is it our ignorance of history? Our refusal to comprehend the negative as well as positive effects we have on the rest of the planet? All of the above?

We are like the driver of a car who’s accidentally gone into one of those parking lots with only two ways out: the gated cashier’s lane, which is un-manned, and the entrance, where tire-trashing spikes cover the pavement. We are seriously stuck.

Our opportunities are too great, our lives too short to waste this moment. So, tonight, we vow to our nation we will seize this moment of America’s promise. We will use these good times for great goals.

Decades or centuries from now, when historians with no ax to grind, no alibis to support, write about us in the Summer of 2007, what will they say?

They didn’t need a dictator, they oppressed themselves?

They didn’t take to the streets in protest, they went to Old Navy?

They let a small segment of the population exchange their sons and daughters for folded flags and broken hearts?

They couldn’t figure out what to do about Iraq so they watched Jon Stewart and laughed at their own impotence?

Yes, how darkly funny this country is today. If only we could disguise Iraqi children as stem cells, then they’d be safe.

If only U.S. troops were afforded embryo status, they would be covered by the vow of state legislatures and church congregations to “respect and protect life at every stage.”

If only Christians followed Christ’s instructions.

We call it “insanity,” but most of us watching it are sane and thus more than just spectators. Each day that we conduct business as usual, we participate. We enable. We collude. We perpetuate.

A generation shaped by Vietnam must remember the lessons of Vietnam: When America uses force in the world, the cause must be just, the goal must be clear and the victory must be overwhelming.

Nothing dilutes the contents of the cultural cauldron. The mixture is so dense and thick — so burned into the bottom and sides of the pot — no additional ingredient alters the soup.

Not the shame of Walter Reed, not 26,000 wounded, not 45,000 with post-traumatic stress disorder or an unemployment rate for Iraq War vets that is triple the U.S. average.

Not thousands of female Iraqi refugees in Syria, forced by new, profound poverty to sell their bodies in the back streets of Damascus just to buy food for their parents or children.

Not the revelations of dozens of dissenting generals, former White House aides or Senate hearings.

Throw them all in the mix, individually or in handfuls, it makes no difference. They disappear in hours, leaving no visible trace, no smell.

Back in the summer of 2000, the governor of Texas strode onto the national political stage in Philadelphia to several upbeat boomer songs, including Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered — I’m Yours.”

The people who’d signed, sealed and delivered him, who’d raised a record $85.7 million just getting him to Philly — $10 million at a single lunch on Aug. 2 — began to suspect they had created the most perfectly marketed political package in U.S. history.

But in their unguarded moments of grandiose projection, even they must have underestimated the power of that package, not only to survive but prevail — despite any opposition, any revelations, any approval ratings.

We resolve to be the party, not of repose, but of reform. We will write, not footnotes, but chapters, in the American story. We will add the work of our hands … and leave this nation greater than when we found it.

The chapters have been written. The handiwork has transformed us forever. For certain, “they” will leave this nation different from the one they found.

When they’ve gone, a tiny percentage of people may consider the country greater. That fraction of America will be dead wrong. Think it matters?

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or