There is no doubt that words are vitally important. Even though the media's obsession with the minute detail of individual words plays a major role in making the presidential campaign season feel even longer than it already painfully is. Already we have the press raptors soaring around Hillary waiting for her to slip and actually admit that her senate vote to initiate the Iraq war may have been wrong. Obama is learning quickly about the tricky nature of trying to support troops in a war he opposes (a lesson I learned with less significant consequence in this post on Think Worm).
Now the congress is in the midst of debating a 97-word non-binding resolution about the Iraq war. Even with it's brevity, pains were taken to express support for the work of the soldiers before calling for an end of that effort. I think that the resolution is a bit like having one's cake and eating it too, but at least it is an opportunity for every single representative to have his or her "hour in the shower" or at least five minutes at the microphone. With the obsession over words and the minutia of meaning, one would think that all the politicians would at least feign interest in hearing what comes of this debate. I wish that they were leading up to a vote on something that had some teeth, but I still think that the words at least tell us something about where the debate stands and where it might go. In other words, for better or for worse it is a start.
That is why I'm so disturbed and perturbed by the president's comments about this debate. He said
"I've got a lot to do, I'm not sure exactly what hours they'll be debating, but I've got a pretty full day tomorrow. I mean, it's not as if the world stops when the Congress does their duty."
"I already know what the debate is. I hear a lot of opinions, and a lot of people don't believe we can succeed in Iraq and therefore, I presume, want to get out."
Mr. President, an important part of your job is listening. The work of democracy fails when voices are ignored. Your not listening will not silence the voices, but your more than dismissive, indeed it is condescending, attitude forces the political debate to get more agitated, the volume must be increased. The virtue of patience I can applaud, but this seems a lot closer to stubbornness.
Non-binding resolutions may seem to be worth less than the paper they are written on, but they are at least a record of opinion. With any grace, it can also be the beginning of meaningful political dialogue that will lead to change. So Mr. President, please take your fingers out of your ears...
Here are the words of Obama, first from the speech:
"We ended up launching a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged -- and to which we now have spent $400 billion and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted."
And then the follow-up explanation:
"I was actually upset with myself. Their sacrifices are never wasted; that was sort of a slip of the tongue as I was speaking. The sacrifices they have made are unbelievable. What I meant to say was those sacrifices have not been honored by the same attention to strategy, diplomacy and honesty on the part of civilian leadership."
In Obama's words I think I hear what he intends to say and I, for one, don't hear an insult of the troops. If anything, I hear him grieving for the senseless loss of life, compounded by the dedication, loyalty and patriotism of those who died. We can choose to pick apart words to spin for meaning that we want to hear (or more likely just use against the speaker), or we can listen with open minds and try to find where we might be close in thought and where the clear distinctions are.
On a side note, I found these quotes on the blog Engaging Your World. If Pastor Tom still allowed comments on his blog, I would have commented on his flippant, broad-brushed categorization of liberals by using the term "kool-aid drinkers." On top of that, the dangerous logic that the commander-in-chief cannot be questioned during a time of war deserves comment as well. I very well may post on the subject next. You might want to read it for yourself.