Thursday, June 30, 2005

How We Could Believe the President

Department of Wild Schemes

I did not watch the President's speech on Iraq because I didn't expect him to say anything new. I was also a little embarrassed that he had to make the speech at all. I understand that it was one of his best efforts and had no immediate political impact. Maybe it will at least show that he knows the people are worried and halt his slide in the polls.

I am disappointed that the American people are waffling here. Surely few among them expected this war to be easy. Now that we are getting a chance to see the hard core of evil in the enemy's heart, we should be all that much more determined to protect the Iraqi people, to see this thing through. I’ve got to tell you, I don’t want to see the helicopters taking off from the embassy, overflowing with desperate people trying to avoid the coming bloodbath. Wake up! No matter how well we do on the battlefield, faint hearts at home can lose this thing.

People that think we are as morally culpable as the insurgents have succumbed to paranoia and conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories tend to be the province of unconnected people, people who have no power and no intercessory connection to power, people who live in the echo chamber, surrounded by those who speak only the correct words. Paranoia is the mental state associated with lack of information. When you see the world pass you by, when actions of others make no sense within your worldview, that's when paranoia creeps in. When others are inside your OODA loop and you don’t know whether you can trust them, that’s when it strikes deep.

It comes back to the Tyranny of Bandwidth. The partisan channel stuffing has separated us from our leaders. There are reasons that the Founders made this a Republic rather than a Democracy. The government must be representative, knowledgeable and empowered to act, but it’s not working any longer. Today the government can’t afford to govern. They are forced into living for the polls, conforming to the l.c.d. of conventional wisdom. The people, without meaning to, are taking the choices away one by one. No government can pursue an agenda because we don’t trust the government, and partisans prefer it that way. Better no progress than allowing your opponent to take credit. You can’t talk about Social Security, because it’s the Third Rail. You can’t talk about healthcare, because Harry and Louise will object. You can’t talk about schools, or subsidies, or foreign aid. You can, however, advocate creationist teaching and flag-burning amendments because that stuff appeals to the popular sentiment. In summary, you can’t make a strategic decision without being inundated by second-guessers and political cutthroats.

My proposal to address this problem is to establish a Shadow Congress whose sole purpose is to listen to the President and Congress and report to the people on what it all means. The members, required to have Top Secret clearance, would also have to take an oath to pursue no other elected office and to hold all details and secrets confidential. They would have no authority to propose legislation or subpoena witnesses. They would be simply a repository of trust, kind of like judges, but with more scope and a mandate to apply common sense to political problems. If the President or Congress wished to convince the American people of some strategy, initiative or proposal they could explain it in detail to appropriate committees of the Shadow Congress. The Shadow Congress would then be empowered to release a statement to the People as to whether the reasoning behind the proposal would be considered credible and ethical to the average citizen, assuming the citizen were to acquire the necessary background. They would also be empowered to comment, as a group, on the veracity of public statements made by any member of the Congress or Executive. Think of it as a permanent blue ribbon committee, a focus group with clout.

The President, in his current quandary, could address his problem to the Shadow Congress, explaining his strategy to a group that could understand it and demonstrating progress without fear of leaking state secrets. I believe that the Public would be satisfied, for the most part, to know that trusted representatives (as opposed to Congress) accepted the President’s plans and felt that his assessment of progress was reasonable.

6/30/2005 11:34 PM

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