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Don't call it a comeback!

Now that my PowerBook is back in business, expect regular posting to resume imminently. 
All content above was posted on May 22, 2008

The chains that bind us

I’m not the only one to bring this up: since his landmark speech on St. Patrick’s Day, Barack Obama has been curiously absent from the public debate. I’m not saying that he’s been literally absent, but since that speech five weeks ago, Hillary Clinton and her surrogates have been relentlessly driving the debate, and even though the debate is, in essence, about him, he seems to stand apart from the debate, as if he weren’t in the room at all. 

Which brings me to this point: the debate we’ve been having these last few weeks, in all its fetid glory, is about our original sin, the one which compelled him to speak at Independence Hall: race. 

Let’s be utterly clear — the difference in policy between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is like the difference between sky blue and royal blue — in the end, it’s still blue.   

 What Hillary is saying implicity, and others explicitly, is that America isn’t ready for a black President. To which my response is:

If not now, then when? 

I’m serious! We’ve had two black Secretaries of State, three black Governors (one of them now runs Hillary’s home state), two black Senators, and numerous black Representatives. If America found itself ready for all of them, wouldn’t it stand to follow that America is ready to elect a black President?

I think — and I know this is going to ruffle a lot of feathers — that the problem lies not in “America”; the problem lies in ourselves. Let’s be honest with one another, for once, and say that the problem isn’t that “America” won’t vote for a black man; it’s that we won’t vote for a black man for the highest office in the land, no matter how talented or accomplished that man may be. 

Let me be even more brutally honest: my generation doesn’t seem to have much of a problem casting their votes for a man whose story is so quintessentially American. The vast majority of the people who say that they aren’t ready to vote for a black man are my parents’ age. It is a singular tragedy that the same people who risked their lives and fortunes to make certain that all could partake of the promise of American life are failing in this crucible.

It is ineffably sad that, regardless of the fact that this man has managed to transcend the circumstances of his birth and life, so many are willingly refusing to transcend the common threads of our history.

Think of it — if this man, who is half white, who studied at the best schools, who turned his back on the riches of this world to serve his fellow man, if this man cannot be elected, then who can? 

Is the fault with him, or with ourselves?  

This is the question that I ask all those who’ve mentored me.

How can we hold the great truths of our country and our party to be self-evident, and then tell a full fifth of our people that they must constantly await their full arrival as leaders of our people? 

How can I justify that to my friends, and yes, even the people that I’m mentoring in turn?

I cannot. I dare not. And as much as I would like to excuse those who’d rather have that cup pass from their lips, I cannot. We have not come this far to falter this close to the finish line. 

One of my favorite passages of political writing is this:

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

This was Lincoln, writing 146 years ago. The next day, he freed the slaves.

This time, we have no one to emancipate us from the political dogmas of our past but ourselves. Then, as now, we must disenthrall ourselves from the political chains that bind us, and in so doing, save ourselves and the country we love.

Any leader that says, implicitly or explicitly, that we must remain pledged to those dogmas isn’t worthy of the title, and isn’t worthy of our support. 

All content above was posted on April 27, 2008

Below this post, you’ll see a video taken by a soldier’s father, depicting living conditions for returning soldiers so repulsive, so heinous, that they make me want to retch. 

My friends Brandon & Spencer have written their takes here and here. Unlike Walter Reed, these soldiers aren’t wounded warriors, dependent on the care of others; they are able-bodied men, who are struggling manfully to make do with what they were given. 

These men just got back from war — from war — and this is the best we can do? It boggles the mind that we can spend, as Brandon wrote,three quarters of a billion dollars to build the world’s largest embassy in Iraq, and these men, just delivered from the charnel house, must abide conditions no less dreadful, in some ways, than those they left behind. You expect that in Kandahar; you don’t expect it Fayetteville. 

Here’s the thing, though: if you think this is the exception, it’s not. Barracks like this exist in most military installations. We had them in Fort Carson, CO, in Fort Hood, TX, and in Fort Sill, OK; and I’m sure I could find other places as well — those were just the installations that I’m familiar with from my time in the service.

The accompanying article says that Sen. Dole will look into it; that’s too little, too late. There’s nothing to look at. Do or do not; but “looking into it” is the kind of pusillanimous BS that pretends at action because you have some vestigial shred of shame left.  

I wrote earlier about how so many returning soldiers (including me, and I’m five years removed from Iraq and a year removed from service) are angry and saddened. This — watching men that put their lives on the line have to deal with, literally, crap — is part of what I’m talking about. 

Sure, there’ll be some outrage expressed, and, sure, these soldiers will, eventually be cared for. That’s not the point; the point is that there’s a whole generation of men and women for whom this kind of existence, in ways both metaphoric and literal, is all too common. An existence we experience every day, led there by a tissue of lies, and maintained by a latticework of fiction. 

We have failed one another as humans if this doesn’t stir our consciences, and move us to action. It is a signal tragedy that, four decades after my parents’ generation swore, “Never again”, the refrain is, instead, “Once again”.

It is that moral abdication and avoidance of responsibility that is really reflected in that video below — any responsible person would have seen to it that returning soldiers would have been housed in a clean barracks, instead of a septic tank masquerading as one. And the fact that there are one, two, many Fort Bragg’s is a stain upon our national character. Let’s not dare to say we “support” the troops until we actually support the troops with something more than a hood ornament and a pack of empty words. 

All content above was posted on April 25, 2008

A soldier in the 82nd Infantry Division (Airborne) tries to drain a bathroom sink as sewage and human excrement floods the floor below him. The bathroom in question is located in a barracks housing returning soldiers from Afghanistan. 

(Video by Edward Frawley, father of SGT Jeff Frawley. Read the story here.) 


The Odierno Way

So, it’s official — GEN David Petraeus is moving (upward?) to command CENTCOM (U.S. Central Command) where he’ll be responsible for the overall strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. This despite the fact that the vast majority of his experience lies in Iraq, not Afghanistan, and the general non-true-believer consensus is that the fight in Afghanistan is where the focus of our operations will be.

Petraeus is a fairly brilliant guy, though, so I think the jury’s out on whether this will be harmful to our efforts in Afghanistan.

It’s the second part of that equation that I’m going to concern myself with here, and it’s this:

GEN Ray Odierno is going to be named Army vice chief of staff, and commander of Multinational Force-Iraq (MNF-I). Yes, that’s right: GEN Odierno’s taking over for GEN Petraeus. My eyes goggled when I saw that, because I served with GEN Odierno five years ago in Iraq, albeit several cake layers down in the muck, but that’s not the only reason.

There’s any number of reasons to be worried about the ascension of GEN Odierno to that post, but two come immediately to mind.

First, the man’s already done over a year in country serving under GEN Petraeus. Traditionally, what happens in the Army is that you rotate personnel between field and staff assignments, so that you don’t get stuck in a rut, and so that a fresh pair of eyes can look at your command decisions and reinforce the smart ones and (quietly) shelf the dumb ones. You get a break, the mission moves forward in a successful direction, everyone’s happy.

That’s not what’s happening here. Out of several dozen three- and four-star generals, are we to be told that Ray Odierno’s the only qualified guy to be running MNF-I? Really? I find that a bit specious.

That’s not the only reason to be concerned, though. You see, Ray Odierno has a bit of a reputation. Here’s what I want you to do: the next time you’re at a bookstore or library, pick up a copy of Tom Ricks’ Fiasco. Go to the index and look up Ray Odierno (when you do this and look for your name, it’s called a “Washington Read”, by the way. Now you know). Read all the passages where his name comes up.

What becomes fairly clear is that the man has one approach and only one approach to fighting the war in Iraq, and that is to be as forceful and hammer-like as humanly possible. You know it because you read it in the book; I know it because I lived it.

When I was in Iraq, my division, the 4th Infantry (M), had a well-earned reputation for being the roughest, toughest division in the country. We didn’t take any guff, and we approached the war the same way Sean Connery approached Capone’s thugs in The Untouchables: the Iraqis brought a mortar attack, we brought an artillery barrage; they put one of ours in the hospital, we put one of theirs in the morgue.

During my tour there, two of GEN Odierno’s commanders were reprimanded for excessive force. I served with one of them — he was my battalion commander. I can’t speak for the other one*, as I didn’t serve with him, but I can speak for mine.

My battalion commander, LTC S—-, was, by any consideration, a phenomenal man. He was a Heisman Trophy candidate and led West Point to its first bowl game victory in a couple of decades. He finished near the top of his class, and up until going to Iraq, well on his way to becoming a general officer.

Up until the day, that is, when a friend of ours died during a mortar attack.

I’m not going to go into more detail here (because it’s tangential), and I’m not going to excuse what he did afterwards. But what he did, he did because Ray Odierno encouraged it in word and in deed, and when the crap hit the fan, Ray Odierno essentially hung him out to dry, and wrecked his career, and that of others. He may not have a choice, but that’s no defense, and certainly no consolation.

I don’t have to go to war again, thankfully. If I had to, though, I wouldn’t hesitate, so long as it was with my old battalion commander. I can’t say the same about Ray Odierno.

Ray Odierno’s about to command a situation that demands every kind of attention save for the only kind he knows to provide. If the Senate’s smart, they’ll confirm Petraeus and demand anybody but Odierno command MNF-I.

*Huh — turns out the other one, COL Allen West (who famously shot his service sidearm next to a detainee’s head during an interrogation, thus earning him a one-way ticket out of command) is running for Congress as a Republican. Go figure! I’m now rooting for him to win, on the principle that if he does, the next House hearing with him and GEN Odierno (who also hung him out to dry) will be hillariously tense. As I said, I can’t speak to COL West, but I know if my battalion commander, LTC S—-, were in Congress and GEN Odierno were there… 

All content above was posted on April 23, 2008

The Twenty Percent

I’m looking at a blank screen, and the cursor’s blinking. Why is that?

I’m looking at a blank screen, with this blinking cursor, because I’m looking at the deep end of the pool, and, like any deep end, it’s just a tiny bit scary. I’ll be the first one to tell you that what you’re about to read is long and digressive, so make yourself at home.

What brought this on, you ask? Very simple. Kate Sheppard at TAPPED notes that a RAND study just showed that something like 20% of all returning servicemembers from Iraq and Afghanistan (some 300,000 men and women) suffer from depression or PTSD.

Back already? Great, because now you need to take a seat. Make yourself comfortable, because I’m about to make those numbers just a bit more real for you.

You see that sidebar over there — the one that has my biography? Take a quick glance. I’m a veteran. And not just any veteran — I’m a veteran of the Iraq War.

That 20% — that returning fifth, you could say, that is afflicted with depression? I’m part of it.

The unexamined life is not worth living, a wise man once said. Part of the reason why I decided to pick up writing again, after so much time away from it (well on three-and-a-half years, really, since I wrote consistently) is because I decided that I had something to say once more.

If I’m going to live a public life in this blog, though, then, to the degree that I can, I need to tie my life, such as it is, to the larger issues of the day.

Think of it this way — we’re spending $720 million a day in Iraq. That number is incomprehensible to you and to me. Hell, I’m not going to likely see $720 million in my lifetime, even if I lived it twice over, and neither are you, most likely.

What if, though, I were to tell you, that for the cost of what we spend in 17 hours in Iraq — $510 million — we could pay for full-tuition scholarships for every single servicemember who’s served in active-duty since 9-11?

I’m serious — full tuition! I mean, you still have to pay room & board, but still. Can you conceive of that? And that’s just with what we spend there in less than a day.

Now, you see that 20% figure of depressed soldiers, and you think, wow, that’s a lot. Lot of sad faces there, lots of sad guys. Unless you know someone who’s served in uniform, let alone over there, there’s not much more you can say, really — it’s kind of an abstract thing, out there with other things that you really can’t quantify.

Me telling you that I’m one of that afflicted fifth — that changes things, though, even if only a little bit. Maybe you’ve been reading my stuff, maybe you’ve been exchanging emails with me, heck, maybe we’ve met somewhere along the trail in person — and so now that changes things, because that number becomes just a tiny bit more real for you.

But still, you’re thinking, depression, really, what’s that? I mean, really, so you’re a little sad now and then, but, really, what’s the big deal, man? Buck up! Here, take a little pill — the Zoloft/Effexor/Prozac/Paxil will make the blues go way! Put a smile on your face, and a spring in your step!

To which my response is:

Ever been depressed? I’m not talking about “feeling down” or “having the blues”…I’m talking about being depressed. If you have, then you know what I’m talking about.

If not, I’m about to tell you — but after you read this, you need to get the book Darkness Visible, by William Styron. Styron, who was a phenomenal writer (he wrote Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner, among other works) wrote what I think is one of the most eloquent disquisitions on the nature of depression ever, and what I’m about to write borrows a bit from that.

Depression is such a wimpy word for the condition. It sucks, it blows, and it does it such a great disservice. Were it up to me (and Bill Styron) I wouldn’t call it that. I’d call it something else:


Because that’s what it is. It’s a freakin’ brainstorm. When you’re depressed, your brain, in some ways, simply ceases to function. You feel like you’re moving through the most impenetrable miasma.

The most simple, basic functions of day-to-day life are rendered as monumental a task as climbing Mt. McKinley. Rising from bed, eating a meal — all these tasks are made well-nigh impossible when laboring under the throes of depression. Oh yeah, when I feel depressed I go on a long drive to the countryside. Sometimes I even clean and declutter my pad. Armed with the best vacuum for stairs, which also doubles as the best vacuum for pet hair, I watch the vacuum suck up all the dust and dirt and that calms me down. Yep. That works for me.

Now, that’s just one side of the coin. Really, it is. And I’m about to tell you the other side of the coin that me and other veterans deal with.

I asked you earlier if you’d been out and about. Been to the mall lately? I work in one, so I might have seen you. Or, take this — have you turned on the TV lately? Watched the evening news?

Great, now tell me this: how many minutes and seconds of Iraq coverage did you see?

You wouldn’t be wrong if you said 90 seconds, or two minutes — if that.

Now, imagine you’re getting on a plane.

You’re on that plane, and you’ve got your kit with you. You spend 18-20 hours on that plane, and all you can think is, I’m coming home. I’m coming home. I’m coming the fuck home. I’m coming home!

Then you start thinking about the kind of welcome that you’re going to get, and the things that you’re going to do. You’re going to get your party on, you’re going to buy this, you’re going to buy that (because there’s nothing to really spend your money on in Iraq, so you have a decent amount saved up, if you’re smart).

You think about the food you’re going to eat — I’m gonna eat some Chinese, some Mexican, man, I want some Taco Bell now! — you think about the beer you’re going to drink.

You think about 10,000 things, and all these thoughts are racing through your mind. And they’re only amped by the things that your platoon sergeant is telling you, the things that your first sergeant is telling you, hell, the things that you and your friends are telling each other!

Mostly, though, you’re just happy you’re on that damn airplane. You might take a moment to think about the guys that died over there — Lopez, Santiago, Jones, Wang, and all the rest — but mostly, you’re just glad you made it.

You get off the plane, you hurry through your inprocessing at the station, and then, just like that, you’re free on a four-day pass.

And then…and then…and then, nothing, fool. You’ve got no family to greet you home, ‘cause you’re single, man.

You might have had a girlfriend when you left, but somewhere along the way, she ditched you, maybe because there’s really no glamour in having a boyfriend who’s a soldier, but, really, mostly it’s because you weren’t around and you were gone for a year, and hell, there’s no guarantee that you were going to come back anyway — so she ditched your ass for someone who was at least there and willing to listen to her. I mean, being an Army girlfriend is tough — you don’t know anything about anything, and if anything happens to you, you’re not likely to find out until way after the fact.

Your mom and dad might be there, but then again, unless they live near Killeen or Colorado Springs or Lawton or, indeed, any of the other dusty, solitary garrison towns (the Springs being a rare exception) that house our military bases, they may not be there to welcome you home.

So it’s like that — you’re all alone. But, hey, at least you made it home!

So you go to your barracks room, dump your stuff, then you head to the PX so you can get some civilian clothes to go out on the town.

You shower. You eat. Then, you go out.

And…and…and nothing. You head to the mall, for lack of something better to do, and you see the people milling around — and it’s like nothing ever changed. If you didn’t tell them, they wouldn’t know you’re a soldier, they wouldn’t know we’re at war, and they wouldn’t know that you just got back.

Don’t get me wrong — they’re not ungrateful. They’ll thank you, they’ll congratulate you…and then, they’ll go on their lives and you’ll go on with yours.

Except for this: the whole time you were in Ar Ramadi or Balad or Tuz Khurmatu, your platoon leader and your company commander and various VIPs were telling you that you were the only thing standing between America and the massed hordes of Osama bin Laden. We were fighting them in some godforsaken shithole in Ad Dawr because the other option was kicking their ass in Aurora or Hilliard or Prestonsburg.

Or you were helping the Iraqis win their freedom — fuck it, we’re making their livesbetter — see that kid, over there, Jalal? We hooked his family up…kid had a cleft palate, we helped rebuild his dad’s car garage so he could fix old beaters up. We did some good, we did!

But none of this matters to the folks out at Nordstrom’s or JCPenney’s or Bed, Bath & Beyond. They’re just regular folks, they just want to do their thing.

You turn on the news…nothing. The very thing that was at the center of your life for a whole year…you might see it get 90 seconds in the regular news. And when I say a whole year — I mean it: I lived my life day to day. I was grateful to see the dawn — the end of my tour snuck up on my ass like a thief in the night. There’s really no way to describe the centrality of existence to someone who hasn’t been there.

Given all that…how would you react? How would you feel? What kind of emotions would be roiling inside you?

Some guys get pissed. I’m not talking regular angry — I’m talking pissed, like Incredible Hulk you-wouldn’t-want-to-see-me-when-I’m-angry. I was one of those guys. Hell, I’m still one of those guys, though a lot less now than I was four years ago, when I got back.

You see pictures of me from back then — even my smile looks, really, frighteningly, like a snarl. A look into my eyes reveals a glimpse into a world where death walked in the afternoon, or morning, or really, any time he damn well felt like walking. A glance at the words that I wrote reveals the tension of a man trying maximally to keep the shards of his world from falling apart.

And then…and then, they did. All came undone.

My marriage fell apart. It fell apart as I unleashed the hurricane strength of my anger and indignation upon my wife. My wife, who had had the simple common decency to stand by me while I was gone and try, superhumanly, to care for me once I returned, was no match for the fury that I felt at having had to quietly withstand the dead simple savagery of war in a distant land, only to find that people back home simply didn’t give a good goddamn whether I lived or whether I died.

One night, after finding out that instead of spending a well-earned weekend with her, I would have to once more take up duty on post, I lost it. I became so titanically enraged that she thought I would either do harm to her or to myself…and that ended up being the final straw.

One month later, she packed up her things, and just like that, she was gone. I have only seen her once since, while she was traveling to another job. She spent the night at my apartment, sleeping on my couch as I slumbered in my bed, only friends, nothing more.

I got cancer for the first time. Slowly, the headaches and slurred speech that led some to think that I was either malingering or drinking too much became cause for concern for more than one person when I started stumbling at work, and forgetting the names of the men that I served with.

I got an MRI, which revealed four small tumors in my brain. These were promptly excised and obliterated by a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. The MRIs that I took also served, a year later, to piece together the fact that what was causing the vast majority of the symptoms wasn’t my cancer, but rather multiple sclerosis.

Things got so bad that, for Thanksgiving dinner that year I had three hot dogs. That’s it. Seriously. I’m not kidding! Before you think that was something that I was reduced to, it wasn’t.

What it was was that I was so depressed that I didn’t want to spend Thanksgiving with anyone…it’s a holiday that you supposed to spend with family, and mine was shattered beyond repair. And for my birthday, a week later, I received not a single gift.

I’m digressing now…you get the picture. And lest you think that this is all in the past, it’s not.

I’m still dealing with the bottomless well of my despair and my disillusion — every day. I’ve lost one job because of it, and it’s kept me from going back to school and finishing my degree, because I find it inordinately difficult to harness my will and deal with the drudgery of school. I’ve gone in debt to friends, and found it ineffably difficult to maintain deep relationships with people, because I wonder of what they would think if they knew the shadow that labored behind my brilliant smile and the warm clasp of my hand.

There have been days — hell, there have been weeks — when I sat at my desk after a hard day’s labor, and wondered why the the hell I was still around, why the hell I even bothered. It’s so simple, really…you pick up the instrument, and you push, and just like that, it all blinks out. No more pain, no more sorrow. I stare into that abyss, and I wonder, what if? What if I were to take just one more step…would anything really change? Would it really make a difference, one way or the other?

Let’s go…just one…more…step.

And then, I think, there’s a reason why I’m here and not, say, Lopez or Mulligan or Minh. There’s a reason why I’m writing this, and you’re reading this, and it has nothing to do with the politics of this war.

In the end, it really doesn’t matter with me now. It really doesn’t, because, if in the end, you walk away from reading this and that tormented fifth now has a face and a name and a smile and a tear on it, then that’s all right, because it means that we’ve seen each other at the end.

Two roads diverged on a wood, and I —
  I took the one less traveled by,
  And that has made all the difference.


In the end, that’s the difference. And so, at last, I’m not afraid anymore, and I’m happy — if only for a small while — at last.

All content above was posted on April 21, 2008

Writing has been light lately, mostly because I’m reading two books for review, and neither is what you’d call a light read. 

While I’m here, though, I wanted to point you to my pal Ezra’s brief post on dating. It’s not much of an essay (I agree with his take on Forgetting Sarah Marshall), and it links over to this n + 1 essay that I somewhat agree with, despite the slight unreality of it (you’re only likely to spend $100 on dinner in say, NYC or DC — here in Denver, you’re looking at about $35-$50). 

I think both folks slightly miss the point though. The reason dating isn’t fun is because it’s a lot like a job interview — you’re applying for the position of someone’s significant other. 

I think this is part of the reason why I haven’t really bothered dating or even really seeing someone since I broke up with my wife. And it’s not because I wouldn’t like to — I would, but really, what’s the point?*

The way dating is set up in our society, it’s a high-risk, low-yield scenario, for both women and men — I don’t think I need to go into detail about that. 

It’s a wonder we get on in the ways in which we do!

Lest you think that I’m kidding, I was hosting a party last Wednesday. As I was circulating among my guests, I ran into a very pretty woman who wanted to ask a guy at our party out. I immediately told her to go ask him — but instead, she dithered around and did anything but. As it turned out, the guy in question was gay, so the point was mooted, but still. 

This isn’t an uncommon occurrence. It happens all the time. And it’s not the world’s greatest problem, but still…

UPDATE: I removed a graf that badly mangled what I was trying to say, and came off sounding more than a bit chauvinistic.

What I was trying to say is that if you’re a woman, and you ask a guy out — that’s not being “easy” or anything like that. Totally the opposite — do this more! Please! Thanks to my friend K for pointing this out.

* Before you all jump to conclusions, I’m not miserable about this — that’s not why I’m writing this. Dating sucks, that’s all, and the subject’s come up in a lot of conversations lately, which led to this brief essay.

As for me, I’m a generally busy guy, and in my experience, dating has involved trying to divine what the person sitting across the table from me is thinking — which blows, in and of itself, because while I’ve been given many gifts, mind-reading isn’t one of them. I have time for lots of stuff, but that isn’t one of them, and neither is pointless small talk (that’s what elevators are for). 

So I don’t date. I figure, if someone wants to get to know me (the ostensible point of dating) they know where to find me (usually at some political thing or another) and how to get a hold of me (the email on the sidebar is a good bet!). :-).

Finally, if you have any response — or funny dating horror stories! — let me know, and I’ll sling them up here. Drop me a line.  

All content above was posted on April 19, 2008

"A Different Understanding With the President"

The first installment in a four-part Washington Post series about the power of the Vice Presidency under Dick Cheney is out — and, man, is it a doozy. 

In short: the Vice Presidency under Cheney is a political black hole — everything goes in, nothing comes out. 

All content above was posted on April 14, 2008
* PhotoAlt 

Sad to say, Too Hot For TNR is dead. It had to happen, if only because it means we get to enjoy a stronger, faster, better Spencer Ackerman at Think Progress. We can do this!

Introducing…Attackerman! Click on the picture to visit him and get ready to enjoy some of the best investigative journalism on national security around. 

All content above was posted on April 13, 2008

"The Misguided Privilege of Feeling Insulted"

“And that’s their right. Americans have had the presidency they deserved these past four years; the war they voted to continue; the debt they voted to increase; the incompetence they decided to reward. They also get to pick who comes next. If they want more of the same, they know who to vote for.”Andrew Sullivan, 4/12/08  

You’ve probably heard by now that Barack Obama, speaking in San Francisco at a fundraiser, supposedly insulted millions of humble, salt-of-the-earth Americans by pointing out that because politicians have promised them the sun, moon and stars, and failed to deliver — over and over again — these voters have become disillusioned, indeed, bitter, and have taken refuge in their faith and social traditions. 

I can’t believe we’re discussing this! Really? Really? We’re half a decade into a war that has killed off many of my friends and wounded my family in ways covert and overt and we’re spending time on this

You…have…to…be…kidding me. Seriously.

The thing is, I don’t fault those folks who might get their dander up because of something Obama might have said off-the-cuff. I know what that’s like, having done it myself on more than one occasion.

Thing is, they’re only really going to feel insulted if you tell them they should be.

You see, unlike Andrew Sullivan (with whom I rarely agree) and unlike some others, I tend to think highly of the people I share this country with, as does Barack Obama.

See, here’s the thing. I may have been born in Puerto Rico, but I grew up in Ohio.

I spent my childhood with the people he’s supposedly insulting and calling bitter. I went to school with them. I married into a family of people like that — fine, upstanding people. I served with people like that in the Army, bled and toiled and, yes, mourned and celebrated alongside them; and I work with people like that now. 

They’re not going to be insulted by what Obama said unless you tell them they were insulted. And it’s an insult to anyone’s intelligence — most of all, their intelligence — to say that what Obama said in a private fundraiser is an insult to them

You know what’s an even greater insult to them — hell, to me, because I am those folks? 

Putting our lives on the line to fight a war that we never should have fought.

Keeping our lives on that line for no greater reason than…well, there’s no reason, really, just some sad and twisted contrivance that passes for a policy.

Choosing to adopt a law that makes it harder for folks to get financial relief when placed in hardship by factors beyond their control. My parents went bankrupt when my stepfather lost his job during the first Bush recession — did this make them less upstanding citizens? 

Waiting not once, not twice, but three times to notice that American homeowners were in trouble and spell out a plan to help them out — and still failing to do so.

I could go on — flag amendment? torture? — but my point is clear. To pretend to be some sort of champion, some sort of tribune for me, my friends and our interests when time and again these folks have acted against those interests is, in itself, an insult to our intelligence and our integrity.

Whom do these folks take us for? Seriously? Really? 

Unlike Andrew, four years ago, I don’t think the choice was this clear.  I don’t think folks got the President and government they deserved; I think they got bamboozled, even then. 

This time, though…this time, the choice is clear. Crystal clear.

We can choose to dine and pretend to fill our hunger for leadership on the mythical bird of our misbegotten haughtiness — or we can recognize that no real leader worthy of the name defines themselves by keeping us apart; the only real leaders are those that bring us together as one, and only one person seeks to do that.