September 14, 2003

If It’s True Love Let’s Be Honest

In the 1970 tear-jerker Love Story, Ali McGraw’s character Jenny Cavilleri emotes “Love means never having to say your sorry.” It became the “Have a good day!” catchall phrase of the new decade. Crocodile tears were indiscriminately shed everywhere by everyone.

Many have tried to connect love with politics. But whether it’s love, politics, or love of politics that drive President Bush to ask us for more money to bring democracy to Iraq, should his actions be held to the standard set by Cavilleri? Having been married for ten years, I know that’s not very realistic. Should he have to say “I’m sorry” for miscalculating his foreign policies? Washington Post columnist Michael Kinsley thinks so.

Kinsley: President Bush will get his $87 billion for a year’s worth of victory in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he will have to endure a lot of nyah-nyah-nyah and I-told-you-so along the way. He could have avoided all this irritation — and he is just the kind of man to find it incredibly irritating — with two little words in his TV address last Sunday evening: “I’m sorry.”

Kinsley asks: “Why do politicians so rarely apologize?” He thinks they have learn to “lie-by-reflex.” The truth, he feels, is messy and uncontrollable. Lying, on the other hand, can be “designed by committee… Anyone can tell the truth. Crafting a good lie is a job for professionals.”

Perhaps this is the root of our mistrust of politicians and government. We want to believe them. Deeply. We want to trust them, especially when there is potential sacrifice (of our daughters, sons, and our pocketbooks). But they just don’t understand. If President Bush and I were a couple, we’d be in marriage counseling. Failure to communicate! Failure to trust. Unrequited promises. I don’t confuse the love of my country with this affair. This is not the love story I envision.

Compounding this simple need to tell the truth is a more problematic issue. Where will he get the $87 billion? He is convinced the tax cut he just gave us will fuel an economic jumpstart. It did just buy us a new dishwasher. But how will that result in the billions needed for the Middle East? Bush is not even considering rolling back this tax cut or (shudder the thought) suggest a tax hike to foot the bill. I’d like a clear and honest answer to that Mr. President.

Apparently, I’m not alone. In a recent Washington Post-ABC news poll, 60% of the American public is against giving the Administration an open hand in Iraqi and Afghani military spending. While support for Bush’s foreign policy remains high (although it has dropped a little), the public clearly understands the connection between increased military spending and domestic economic recovery. Perhaps better than the Administration.

Kinsey: “While apologizing to the citizenry, Bush could win even more points, at almost no cost, by apologizing specifically to his predecessor. Bush ridiculed Clinton’s efforts to follow up military interventions with “nation building.” Believe it or not, this was a pejorative term, implying unrealistic ambitions. Now Bush talks about turning Iraq into a Jeffersonian democracy.

“And if Bush wants credit for a Gold-Star Triple-Whammy Zirconium-Studded apology, he should apologize to his father, who stopped the Persian Gulf War at the Iraqi border. Armchair Freudians believe that in going to Baghdad and toppling Hussein, George II was playing Oedipal tennis with George I. If so, junior has lost. The elder Bush’s most notorious decision as president looks better every day. And not just because of the $87 billion.”

Mr. Bush, quit pandering to our sense of patriotism and love for the ideological bedrock our country sits on. That isn’t real love. Let’s openly discuss the merits of exporting our democratic ideals around the world and its cost. As with romantic love, it takes many forms.

More and more, the President’s words feel like typical political deflection, spin, and the “sins of the father.” This relationship is as unreal as trying to live by Love Story’s most famous line. Let’s be honest, true love does mean having to say your sorry. And much, much more.

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