THE IMMORALITY OF POLITICAL MORALITY
by Sy Schechtman
Hannah Arendt wrote a book about thirty years ago called “On the Banality Of Evil” which explained how the monumental human infamy that was the Holocaust was incrementally possible, bit by scurrilous bit with mind numbing atrocity, by crimes that stultified rational thinking. The unthinkable becoming common place, or even a bit boring--- but not so dreadful any more. This is certainly true to a some extent in daily life too, where the nagging reality of human imperfection and shortcoming makes us tolerant and perhaps too accepting of our brothers and sisters mini misdeeds, blurring the line at times of true good and evil. And many of us are sometimes caught in the web of this interpretive dilemma, some times emphasizing the positive and than the negative of the same general proposition. Not on a light hearted whim either. But on the shifting reality of the present situation, which may have changed appreciably since last we confronted the same general landscape. So we, the great body of voters, have not only words and avowals, promises and slogans, hopes and fantasies and whole perceptions of the candidates we have encountered in the last two marathon years of campaigning for the job of leader of the most powerful nation in the history of the world.
And now that the new fledgling but victorious leader waiting patiently in the wings, is doing the time honored but somewhat duplicitous seeming move away from his loyal base and its most liberal pretensions—Obama has the most liberal voting record of all --- toward the more moderate center of the political spectrum. Somewhat to the dismay of the gay marriage ultra left flank but very reassuring for the relatively large number of Californians who voted for propostion 8 on the recent referendum asserting that marriage has to be only a heterosexual union. And also the use of conservative minister Rick Warren to do the invocation at his forthcoming inauguration, who is not exactly thrilled with the same sex marriage thrust. So we still seem to get reassuring signals that the center will hold and that the President elect Obama who gloried initially in Change Change, Change! now realizes that he won the election perhaps only with the timely collapse and attendant panic of the financial world and now needs to go very slowly to heal and buck up our morale first. To change, that is, back to the reality of due diligence and hard work as the usual panacea when crisis time occurs. Or, sometimes, class, repeat after me, “the more things change, the more they remain the same”!!
The classic example of change, of course, was Nixon going to Communist China and completely aborting his life long political stance of anti communist rhetoric. He dramatically changed the course of American Asia politics from Sino American outright hostility to gradually improving culturally and economic ties. So much so that China is now the proud(?) possessor of at least many billions of United States Treasury bonds, which we hope will not now be tendered for payment! And we are now the recipient of much “made in China” merchandise. Only the lifelong anti communist convictions of an avowed Communist hater such as Nixon could have convinced the still large American bloc of anti communists that we should deal with Red China. To the mutual benefit of both countries. So far!!
Was it duplicitous or fortuitous that Nixon in effect opened up communist China to large scale interaction with the western world? Did Lyndon Johnson lie ----or exaggerate mightily-- to us about the Tonkin gulf incident in Viet Nam, about a purported attack by the North Vietnamese on our “security forces” who were aiding our South Vietnamese allies, and thus giving us congressional legal sanction to escalate greatly our military prescence there.? And almost just yesterday, were we all deceived by the non existent weapons of mass destruction (WMD) of our current foreign involvement in Iraq?. Or perhaps it is hopefully too soon to write off completely the seemingly disastrous blunder that Iraq appears to be. That some day our commercial and cultural presence will be an accepted part of the mix of a normal middle eastern Asian life. A society that is more comfortable with our western mode of life as we shall become with their approach. And the WMD obfuscation absorbed in the positive result of a US and Islamic détente, if not even positive commercial alliance, as with China today. (Hopefully, from my rhetoric to God’s ear!)
Positive duplicity also was well within our experience during Roosevelt’s great almost four term regime before and during Worl War II. Undeniablely the greatest president of the last century, coping with the great depression of the nineteen thirties and the second world war, FDR embraced the concept of the end justifying the means, at times with great positive results. While his many make work and economic stimulus projects, all with terse alphabetical titles, such as WPA, CCC, NRA,etc, were more hopeful than successful, and his attempt to add more justices to the Supreme Court, then derisively known as “Packing the Court”, was also a failure, his conduct of the massive Fascist alliance of Germany, Italy, and Japan in World War II, in concert with the redoubtable British under the great Winston Churchill, kept Western civilization intact and viable. But Roosevelt played somewhat loosely with the truth at times, notably violating international law by breeching our neutrality status before our official entry into the war before Pearl Harbor by using our submarines to secretly help convoy military supplies to England, mostly frustrating the German U boat gauntlet and their deadly torpedoes.
A very positive result which helped sustain our faltering future ally , England, until we finally had the right pretext-----The sneak attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor—to allow us to officially enter the Second World War—at first against Japan. Then Hitler aided Roosevelt’s very pro English position by promptly declaring war on the United States and thus giving us a de facto right to be a belligerent even though our country, now very anti Japanese, was still very neutral on our new European foes, nazi Germany and fascist Italy. Once officially “in” the war the world saw the greatest and most rapid mobilization ever; literally from a standing start as the draft of United States men and women within little more than a year accounted for over ten million people, the men at first using broom sticks as rifles to at least learn the manual of arms, before enough real rifles were available. In Hitler’s mostly brilliant and meteoric rise to power in almost all of Europe wide, his second greatest mistake was taking on communist Russia, that vast territory that had engulfed Napoleon a little over a hundred years before. His greatest mistake, however, was the blunder of allowing us into the fray by his unilateral declaration of war on the United States two days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor----although we had not committed and overt aggressive act--- and thus spurring the greatest military mobilization in history under FDR’s dynamic impetus.
A large negative, however, was FDR’s health at the time of his late in life third and fourth terms in office. Indeed, most of us, including myself, were never fully aware of the extent of his paralysis. Most of us were dimly aware of his partial paralysis due to poliomyelitis, but we never saw him in a wheel chair or walking, something in fact that he could not do. Besides sitting of standing immobile, we were never aware of how disabling his disease was. Or would have voted for him again if we knew. Or of the rather grim prognosis medically for his last few years in office. He did die early in his fourth term, shortly after the crucial Yalta conference. Few of us were aware of his vice presidential candidate and his capabilities. And this fellow was almost totally unaware of the crucial post war events and problems that were looming post world war II. That’s Harry Truman---that untutored, non college individual who was in Roosevelt’s place at some vital post war summit conferences. Providentially, and probably somewhat accidentally, Truman turned out to have confronted many very challenging decisions very successfully in the far east, but alas did not have the total overview of the European front, where the Allies and Stalin peace talks at Yalta and Potsdam were held and where more or less Russia extended her hegemony thru communist dominated eastern European countries all the way to the Rhine river. A strong and vigorous western democratic opponent would not have let that happen. Only 45 years later, with the fall of the wall containing the eastern satellite states and the implosion of the Soviet Union do we now see a prosperous and aspiring people building much more democratic institutions. All of this was certainly aided by Harry Truman, when he as able to attend to some of the festering western postwar western problems with the Marshall Plan, which pumped 17 billion dollars in rehabilitation aid into those western countries on the western side of the Rhine to aid their successful free market recovery. (Compare, perhaps to the 700 billion bailouts of today?)
Today we have our own somewhat unique implosion,----the credit aspects of our finance system are non functioning, and we have the noxious results of our “toxic assets” due to the “securitization” of improperly made mortgages to impoverished poor credit risk applicants approved by negligent banks and financiers and rating agencies and then sold world wide to respectable customers like Lehman Brothers and Bear Sterns under the mistaken assumption that there was iron clad federal insurance to protect them. This assumption was valid only up to certain point, however. These very low or even no interest initial mortgages, and even no down payment proved unsustainable as interest began rising a few years later and these financially fragile owners began abandoning their resplendent new homes as their value became less and less and the interest payments (which may have been negligible or non existent at the start) more of a burden as the current continually declining asset value of the home became less than the initial mortgage total. Thus we have an almost overwhelming number of foreclosures. And this dereliction at the base has risen up the financial chain, to the august issuers of Freddie and Fanny Mae, and AIG insurance, who been swamped, and suffocated with far too many claims for insurance protection, and now federal government takeovers have been necessary. And there are many, many spectacular distressed real estate deals around.
So, it has been wisely said that the devil can readily quote scriptures, the holy writ. Even Jesus at one point vehemently denounced the Pharisees, who are still considered a valuable source of rabbinic Judaism and Sunni and Shiite many times are at each others throat, still have rapport with most tenets of the Koran. And we await the judgment of history many times for validation of confusing current trends. Tricky Dicky Nixon( his enemies sobriquet) had the immensity of Watergate and his vitriolic anticommunism, but opening up China maybe be more consequential. Much distress is involved with our current recessionary woes and the obvious need to repair and probably re-regulate somewhat our shoddy capitalist system, but the banality of evil involved is not lethal, not of the Hitlerian Nazi malignant type, but merely human greed and envy which democratic discussion and punitive legislation where needed can suffice to bring us back to true justice. And prosperity! As our ancient rabbis taught, we humans are constantly conflicted by both the good and the evil constantly within us (the Yetzer Tov and the Yetzer Hara) and that man has free will and that the Lord is waiting expectantly in the wings for humanity to do the right. That the Yetzer Tov –the good-- will ultimately triumph.