Water Man Spouts

Friday, July 18, 2008

"The Taking of Thought"

"The situation in Vietnam presents us with our most urgent problem today in the field of foreign affairs. But the Vietnam problem is only the most vivid expression of a deeper crisis in American foreign policy. The roots of this deeper crisis lie not in the malevolence of men but in the obsolescence of ideas.

"For we live in a time when the velocity of history is greater than ever before. The world has changed more in the last hundred years than it did in the thousand years preceding. The transformations wrought by science and technology have acquired a cumulative momentum and exponential effect. One consequence is that perceptions of reality become obsolete with new and disconcerting rapidity. This would be all right, if the way we perceive reality changed as reality itself changes. But, as we all know, it doesn’t. Our perceptions of reality are crystallized in a collection of stereotypes; and people become so fond of the stereotypes, so much at home with them, that they stop looking at actuality. In this way they protect themselves from the most painful of human necessities, which is, of course, the taking of thought.

"The rapidity with which reality outstrips our perception of reality is an underlying source of our troubles with foreign policy. I do not suggest that, if our perceptions were kept up to date, this would solve all of our problems, because many of the great problems of the world are in their nature insoluble. But I am sure that we cannot make much sense at all in the world as long as we continue to base policy on anachronism. We must be forever vigilant to prevent transient strategies from turning into cherished and permanent verities.

"Thus the ideas which dominate our foreign policy today were largely shaped by a very different world – a world threatened by massive, unitary, centralized movements of military aggression and social fanaticism: Adolf Hitler and Nazism in the thirties, Josef Stalin and Communism in the forties and early fifties. These ideas were admirably suited for this world and admirably achieved their objectives. They reflected a great and challenging time in world history, and the men who grew up in that time and acquired those ideas quite naturally find it hard to relinquish them. Yet the world itself has changed drastically – and this fact surely demands the review, if not the revision, of the presuppositions of our policy."
--Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.; The Bitter Heritage; March 8, 1967.

The 2008 presidential election contest between John McCain and Brack Obama provides a stark contrast between the "old" and the "new." No election since 1960’s Kennedy vs Nixon has presented the nation with such an obvious choice between the stale policies of the republican party, and the democratic party’s ability to lead us into a New Frontier.

The American public is beginning to recognize the differences between the two candidates as we move towards the national conventions. John McCain comes across as a captive of the Bush-Cheney failed policies, who advocates continuing the war of occupation in Iraq for "a hundred, maybe a thousand years," and "more wars, my friends."

His strongest campaign tactic will be commercials – which have already started – that attempt to portray him in a manner that the candidate himself can not live up to in his personal appearances. At the time that Schlesinger was saying the country needed to change its way of thinking, there were commercials showing the "new Nixon." Yet no single question better summed up Nixon’s career than "would you buy a used car from this man?"

Our goal as grass roots activists is to ask the country if they would buy a used candidate from the republican party?

In 1960, history was made when the public saw John Kennedy debating Richard Nixon. Kennedy looked young, confident, attractive, and prepared to lead this country into the future. Nixon looked unattractive, hesitant, and untrustworthy.

This fall, when Barack Obama participates in the presidential debates with John McCain, there will be similar images. Our job during the summer months is to prepare the public for seeing the differences between the two candidates. We know that the public is thirsty for change: we need to keep presenting Obama as a fresh, cool, clear glass of sparkling water, and John McCain as an old, stale drink in a dirty republican cup.


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