Thursday, October 14, 2004

Flicker of sanity

The sanest remark of the campaign so far was when Kerry said we need to get to a point where "terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance." It would have been really sane if our government (I almost wrote "we"--hold that thought for a minute) had reacted to Sept. 11 with a "state of emergency" combined with a police action aimed at finding and punishing al Qaida. Can anyone imagine that that could have happened, even under President Gore? Probably not.

But as Tom Friedman agrees, Kerry is right to put it like this now.

Now about that "we": it's how we Americans refer to our government and its actions, and logically so, because our government begins in us: "we, the people." We are a democracy. The state speaks through us. This seems natural enough, although lately for me it's a stretch. I stumble over it. Where am I in the "we" who invaided Iraq? and tolerates torture in prisons?

In a discussion once with Catherine Lutz about her wonderful book Homefront, she or someone pointed out that in other countries whose democratic roots are more problematic, including any country that has ever had a monarchy--France, for example--the citizens don't necessarily have this conception. In France today, long after the Sun King, people refer to "the state." Despite their voting privileges, for the French their government is a separate thing, with a life and a will of its own.

I recommend Homefront to anyone who wants to understand why, in reality, "we" could not have done anything but declare war after Sept. 11. Describing how far (though how insidiously) the militarization of our country has gone, she asks, "Are we all military dependents?"

Kerry's remark was sane--and brave.

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