Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – August 27, 2010

The last weekend in the month of August has arrived and in this era of the 24 hour news cycle it is clear that there is something happening here, there and everywhere all of the time. This past week is no exception to this nerve-shredding rule:

The Son Also Rises……
Having written two novels, I have wrestled with editors and my literary agent over what flights of fancy are implausible, even within the realm of fiction. And then I follow the news and realize that truth will always be stranger than fiction.

It was 22 years ago that Dan Quayle was elected Vice President of the United States and continued his successful quest to be perceived as some sort of national joke. His lack of knowledge of even elementary facts, his deer in the headlights look at press conferences, his public failure at spelling “potato” in front of a first grade class……the list goes on. Thankfully President George Herbert Walker Bush was a healthy man and, at the end of his one term, Dan Quayle faded into the obscurity that he (and we) so richly deserved.

And now? Someone named Benjamin Quayle (there’s that name again) appears in a congressional race in Arizona. And this someone is the son of Dan Quayle. And Benjamin Quayle proves that stupidity can be inherited as he took inanity to a new low in winning the Republican primary.

His campaign slogan is eight words (by his count), “Barack Obama is the worst President in history”. It should be noted that in 19 months President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize, appointed two women to the Supreme Court, passed the most comprehensive health care legislation in American history and brought the country back from the precipice of financial ruin.

The invisibility of James Buchanan, the corruption of Warren G. Harding and the dogged persistence of George W. Bush to steal a presidential election, deceive this country into a war in Iraq that should never have been waged and nearly collapsing the national economy all come to mind when I think of worst presidents.

Clearly Benjamin Quayle is as good at comparative history as his father was at spelling.

Mano a Mano?
This week the outgoing commandant of the United States Marines, General James Conway, stated that “an overwhelming majority (of Marines) would like not be roomed with a person who is openly homosexual”. A stunning statement in a year of stunning statements, although to his credit, General Conway opined that Marines were “pretty macho”, inferring that since they are willing to fight and die for their country they could probably summon the courage to share a dormitory with someone with a different sexual preference.

One wonders if General Conway is confusing cross-dressing with homosexuality as it is not clear how someone is “openly homosexual” during the course of performing military duties and tasks. I shudder to think that this country is being protected by macho Marines who would cringe at being in the same dormitory with someone with a different gender practice, keeping in mind that sexual activity – heterosexual or homosexual – is prohibited conduct in military dormitories.

And, this statement should be taken within the context of Defense Secretary Robert Gates having ordered a survey of active duty and reserve troops regarding a proposed change in policy that will permit gay men and women to serve in the military without having to misrepresent or lie about their gender preference. The new policy would be, in effect, the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

And once again we are witness to the determination of the rights of a minority by pursuant to the perceived will of the majority. The very first Secretary of Defense was James Forrestal, who appointed in 1947. In 1948 Secretary Forrestal was called upon to carry out President Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9841 which eliminated racial segregation in the military.

Even a dimly informed student of American history (Benjamin Quayle anyone?) knows that in 1948 segregation was the law of much of this land known as the United States. Lynching of black Americans was commonplace and any “survey” of the military of the American public or the military would have resulted in a resounding roar of disapproval of such a policy. But President Truman did what was right.

Decisions of morality or constitutionality cannot be subject to a voice vote, because the naysayers will always be the loudest ones and the voice of justice may be muted if not extinguished.

We should wish General Conway all the best for his years of service to this country. We can only hope that, whatever the results of Secretary Gates’ survey, this Administration will do the right thing when it comes to the rights of gay men and women in the military.

It Hurts So Bad
So President and Mrs. Obama went out to dinner during their vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. So Michelle Obama wore a colorful print shift. As is the case with her every public moment, photographs of her latest attire flew around the internet. And then the knives came out – again.

On some level I can understand that some people are compelled to give voice to their inner fashionista and let the world know their opinion on every garment worn by every person of note. I can even understand that some people might care.

What I cannot understand or countenance is the venom and anger and pure vitriol directed at the First Lady because of her choice of clothing. I am forced to think that the source of the venom and anger and vitriol has nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with hatred and envy and ignorance. And that is truly a sad commentary on an aspect of what passes for public discourse in these United States.

Have a great weekend!

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