Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I got to see Madeline Albright!

It's been a big day, all day long.

Just as it was beginning, I reflexively turned on MSNBC as I made my breakfast this morning (it's all so much muscle memory now -- throw a half a bagel into the toaster oven and flip on the TV to hear the day's headlines as I cut thin slices of onion and tomato to put on the bagel with the cream cheese). I'd forgotten that MSNBC would be rerunning the NBC coverage of the 9/11 attacks from 6 years ago, but as soon as I heard Katie Couric's voice, it came back to me, and I reached for the remote. It was bad enough to live through it all the first time, so I had no intention of watching it again. But I didn't get to the remote right away and in that moment, something pinged me and I started listening. I didn't sit down and watch, as I really needed to hurry up and enter into the day, but I left it on and caught tidbits here and there each time I passed the TV all morning -- on my way out for a quick bike ride, while I dripped off after a shower, as I checked my email, and so on.

It was engaging in a way I didn't expect to be listening to coverage from that day, knowing now, as I do, things that I could not even imagine six years ago.

This comment from one of the talking heads really struck me: "This is a declaration of war by terrorists against America."

Who (besides Dick Cheney), could have imagined that we would respond to that declaration, not by attacking the terrorists who made it, but by wagging our finger at Osama bin Laden and then utterly destroying a country that had nothing to do with 9/11?

I saw a headline on Slate.com today that said "Six years after 9/11, we're still not thinking strategically." I think this is true. We're still, perhaps even more than ever, thinking politically. My post from earlier today highlights exactly this problem -- even while this country has been dealing with such serious matters as terrorism, the escalating health care crisis, funding of education, and other such issues, the Republican party chose to focus on homosexuality in the last big election year.

And the Democrats haven't been faring any better. Those of us down here in the precincts put our blood, sweat and tears into taking back the Congress in the last election, and we delivered. What did we get in return? Capitulation.

Both the House and Senate have passed bills to provide health insurance to our nation's children. The Decider has vowed to veto the legislation. And how did the Democratic leadership respond? As usual, we're still waiting for them to do do something. Anything.

We wait, and we wait and wait and these gilded leaders play silly political games. And they're doing it very badly because time and time again, they some up short. And that maybe isn't a big deal for them, because at the end of the day, they get to go to their warm homes, which have electricity and probably won't get bombed, and by and large, their children haven't been sent off to fight the unnecessary war they got us into, and if they get sick they can see a doctor because members of Congress get really awesome health care. So maybe they manage not to think about the fact that while they're playing their silly games, men and women and children are dying as a result of their failures.

But back to my busy day. It featured a physician, a politician and a diplomat.

First, at the JFK luncheon, Brent Staton, M.D. led a very engaging discussion about the S-CHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program), urging us to support the program, and arming us with information to counter the misinformation our local press has been promoting.

Then, in the afternoon, I went to a Berke campaign event at the Bessie Smith Hall, where I took a lot of photos, got to chat with a some people I haven't seen much of lately, and ate some yummy BBQ. The turnout was impressive and the energy was high.

And then I raced over to the UTC Fine Arts Center just in time to catch Madeline Albright at the George T. Hunter Lecture Series (sorry, no photo -- cameras were not allowed!). She was brilliant, and at times funny (at one point she claimed the Serbs called her "elderly, but dangerous") and serious (the real axis of evil? Poverty, Ignorance and Disease).* In the Q&A after her prepared remarks, she was asked about the Iraq War, and how she would handle the current situation. She started her response by saying, "first, let me make very clear that if I had been Secretary of State at the time, we would not have gone to war with Iraq." She went on to acknowledge that the problems we are now trying to fix in Iraq are all of our own making, and that we need to figure out a way of extricating ourselves without leaving the country in chaos, which unfortunately probably means a slow exit.

And with that, I felt that my day had somehow morphed into one of those old movie devices to show the passage of time by quickly moving through the pages of a calendar (old fashioned fX!). I started out the morning six years back, but somehow by the end of the day, I found myself back in the present, only this time, I had a brilliant diplomat to help make some sense of all that's transpired. And really, if we could find a few Madeline Albright-types and send them to Washington in place of the zeros we've got running things now, we might manage to find a way out of the mess we've gotten ourselves into.

Maybe that should be our focus in the upcoming elections -- not hating homosexuals or seeing who can act the toughest when talking about bin Laden, or who hates abortion the most -- but who is the smartest candidate, the one most capable of practicing what Albright called "international civics" -- someone who can bring intelligence, curiosity and multi-dimensional thinking back into the process, along with the diplomatic skills that might put America back into a conversation with the world's other leaders.

UPDATE: more on Ms. Albright's visit here

*Really, it's just a coincidence that my daughter and I happened to comment on the same two features in her speech. It kind of spooked me, after I wrote this, to go there and see what she wrote. GMTA!

1 comment:

Spike said...

See? I knew you'd come up with something much more indepth than I would, so its totally okay I got to the internet before you did!