Friday, December 16, 2005

Parting Shots From My Brittle Bow:

Reflections On American Politics And Life
(Paperback) by Eugene J. McCarthy

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On December 10, 2005, Eugene McCarthy, the man who led an insurgent campaign against the Vietnam War died. He was 89.

McCarthy led a passionate movement that showed the established order and "conventional wisdom" (as in ineptitude) of Washington D.C. could be overthrown by a national movement of Americans, particularly young people, who desired to take back their country from the precipice of disaster. The end of the Vietnam War began with McCarthy's 1968 presidential campaign that forced Lyndon Johnson not to seek another term in office.

But McCarthy himself was not a fiery personality, like Howard Dean. He was a thoughtful, reflective Minnesota senator who was cerebral, contemplative and poetic. He was disdainful of the bombastic pretense and egotism of most national political figures, but felt a calling to be the pied piper for peace and rational, compassionate public policy.

He appealed to the best in America in its historical struggle between being the shining exemplar of a compassionate democracy as compared to being the toughest bully on the block.

John Nichols, of the Nation Magazine, recently wrote of McCarthy:

Weeks after Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, McCarthy dismissed the endeavor as "a faith-based war" but he warned that its consequences would be agonizingly real for America. Indeed, he suggested, there was already evidence of those consequences to be found in a loss of liberty about which observers of the American experiment had long warned.

Referring to the Patriot Act and related assaults on domestic liberties, the former senator explained that, "de Tocqueville said you'll find you'll lose the freedoms you're supposed to be defending by setting up your defenses against losing them, and that's what's involved in the stuff that Bush is doing. We haven't lost any of our liberties to the Iraqis yet, but we've had our own liberties curtailed."

It remains true that America has suffered from a lack of poetry in our politics, but it is surely also true that we have suffered from a slow disconnection with the best of our values and traditions. With McCarthy's death, that disconnect grows a little more severe, and America's circumstance a tad more perilous.

Most importantly, Nichols notes, "But, at the most fundamental level, all that Eugene McCarthy tried to do during his political lifetime -- with an unfortunate lack of success -- was drag America back to the best of its values."

We couldn't agree more. And in the ultimate of ironies, the most looming symbol of anti-war activism in the last 50 years was actually a conservative, in that his principles were founded in the American Constitution and the vision of an embracing democracy. That is not a radical position; it's the ultimate conservative position, because it returns us to the roots of the nation's founding.

The neo-cons would have us return to the era of King George, preceding the revolution. They've accomplished that, haven't they?

"Parting Shot from My Brittle Brow" will introduce a reader to the full range of Eugene McCarthy's writings. McCarthy is at once brilliant in his perception of public policy, sardonic in his treatment of buffoonish politicians, and poetic in his appreciation of life's gifts.

In the midst of an unresolved debate over the ill-fated war in Iraq, it is a good time to read and reflect on a man who galvanized an army for peace.

Despite the Busheviks, particularly Rumsfeld and Cheney, who said that our departure from Vietnam would lead to a Communist takeover of Southeast Asia, today Vietnam is our trading partner, has a growing open economy, and is moving toward democracy. These were the fruits of ending an ill-begotten war.

Much is owed to Eugene McCarthy by so many.

This collection was released in 2004 by Fulcrum Publishing.

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