kw: book reviews, nonfiction, politics, sociology, polemics
The man who made "misery index" a household term has become one of the most prolific political writers of his generation. In Jimmy Carter's twentieth book, Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis, he agglomerates around a dozen of his earlier themes into a polemic that will no doubt give plenty more ammunition to the anti-conservative candidates running for election, now just four weeks distant.
Early in the book, the author states, "As a Southern moderate and former career naval officer, I espoused a conservative fiscal policy and a strong defense." A paragraph later he refers obliquely to the animosity against him by Ted Kennedy. Carter is indeed moderate, even conservative, compared to Senator K, and any defense is "strong" by comparison to what Ted would do. But the skyrocketing misery index of the Carter years, and the nose-thumbing the Iranians engaged in until just prior to Reagan's inauguration, give the lie to both claims by any objective measure.
This is not to say that Jimmy Carter is always wrong. He is right the way any gadfly is right: one-sided truth is often better than no truth at all, but acting on it is compellingly risky. He proudly quotes Jefferson's "Not a drop of blood on my watch" statement. He ought to be shamed that a few drops of foreign blood that ought to have been shed were left for later presidents to take care of, at much greater cost.
In two things I agree with him, with at most a tiny grain of salt. Firstly, it is visibly true that the rightmost wing of the Republican Party has been subjugated to the "religious right", to the "fundamentalists" of the most procrustean sort. They truly wish to make the U.S. a theocracy, with them in charge of course. We would then become a Christian version of Iran or the Talibanic Afghanistan. By the way, if you know the "rules" in force in many "conservative" congregations, the destructive subjugation of women would be just as severe.
Secondly, I am an environmentalist, and I am almost wholly at odds with the Rush Limbaugh/Sean Hannity/whoever else position on these matters. We don't need the ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) oil nearly as much as we need an unspoiled ANWR; the Bush White House is grossly negligent to discard the Kyoto agreement, stronger CAFE mileage standards, and proposed improvements to the Clean Air and -Water acts; and human-caused Global Warming is now an established fact, such that the only remaining uncertainty is in how much extra warming our CO2 emissions will cause. Within the next two or three decades, several Micronesian island nations will most certainly vanish beneath the high tide line. It is less certain how much of Florida and other low-lying coastal regions will follow, and how quickly.
It is unlikely that Orlando (current elevation 31 m) will become a coastal city within this 21st Century, but not impossible. It is much more likely that Cape Canaveral (3 m or so) will vanish by 2040. The best estimate we have of the amount of warming, and sea-level rise, that would occur without our CO2 interfering, is a degree Fahrenheit, and one meter by 2040 (not three). That's enough to endanger some Micronesian islands, but many fewer than we now expect.
On other issues, Carter seems to me to be of the "negotiate at all costs" school. It never occurs to him that we need to actually fight against the Islamic radicals who have stated clearly, over and over and over, that they will not stop while American culture or American power exist; that they believe God rewards them for killing infidels, especially Americans; and that no law is valid but Shari'a (however it is spelled or accented).
I'd say, "Dr. Carter, watch any old Western, any old Cowboys-n-Indians shoot-em-up. Try identifying with the oft-betrayed Indians. Imagine you and they are Infidels trying to negotiate with guys on horseback who have all the swords and rifles, whose favorite saying is, 'The only good Infidel is a dead Infidel.' Every movie ends with all the Indians dead and all the Cowboys whooping it up in celebration. Can you really talk to these guys? Will they honor treaties and promises any better than your (and some of my) ancestors did the thousands of broken 'Indian' treaties of the 1800s?" While I have ancestors who came to America aboard the Mayflower, I also have a few who probably met the boat. They soon wished they'd burned it in harbor!
I don't like the war in Iraq. I don't like the war in Afghanistan, either (yes, it's still going on). I don't like war at all. Neither do I like surgery, but it has saved my life, twice. I don't like war, but I prefer it to the alternative. One more swipe. Carter states that Americans killed 100,000 Iraqi civilians. Wrong. We did kill about 50,000 Iraqi troops in combat. We did also kill some smaller number of civilians, the euphemistically-termed "collateral damage." But terrorists, some from Iraq but many more who have entered Iraq during and after the war (the insurgents), have certainly killed well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians. It is these we war against now, in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
Sad to say, it is blind "negotiate at any cost" folk like Jimmy Carter than we also must battle at home, if we are to retain any freedom worth living for in America and the West.