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Private Eye | Middlin’ Grade: The Morality of War



I didn’t have anything else to do today except vote, so I made up a new old adage. It goes, “First-rate citizens elect first-rate candidates; second-rate citizens elect third-rate candidates.” Anyone who studies adages, political or otherwise, either knows I didn’t make that up at all or that it is a twist on a similar adage. I don’t know if I made it up. I’ve just never heard it before. However, I did a newspaper Cyptoquote once and the hidden quote was nearly the same as above—but it related to teachers, I think. I just twisted it a bit.

I know what you’re thinking. You think I twisted the old saw that goes, “A students become teachers. B students end up working for C students.” For the record, I was at varying times an A, B and C student. I also was a failing student and still humbly carry about 27 hours of failure on my University of Utah transcripts. I don’t think I ever told my parents about that, but I suspect they knew something was screwed up. After all, I began my college career as a sophomore and, a mere seven years later, I graduated with perhaps two hours of classwork over the required minimum. By my graduation in 1979, I was attending college with kids who were in grade school when I started in 1972.

It was during that period I began to realize firsthand the merits of a C grade. I just didn’t know how to apply that knowledge in the same way some old high school classmates already had by starting their own small businesses. You know, like the kid who everyone teased because he had to sweep the floors after school? The one who couldn’t spell “janitorial,” but who founded a successful janitorial business anyway? I’d bet if you looked, Utah’s great army of multilevel marketers is comprised of B students—the ones not smart enough figure it out with the innovative As and also not wise enough to see a ground-level opportunity with the risk-taking Cs.

But that only applies in the second adage. For in the first adage—my new old one—if we’re not all As, we all lose. No good can come from being a second-rate, middlin’ citizen. A second-rate citizenry allows its leaders to send its kids to fight an unwelcome war; to bury the country in debt; to deny children basic health care; to allow the U.S. dollar to crash against foreign currencies; to underpay schoolteachers, police and firemen; and to stand by as our highway infrastructure falls to pieces. A middlin’ citizenry fills legislative statehouses countrywide with far too many special-interest legislators who regularly use their seats of influence for personal, long range gain.

Neither party has the upper hand in electing only the pure of heart and the most noble among us. Both parties get their candidates elected the same way, after all, by scaring the living daylights out of people. As well, both parties know there are only a handful of issues they need to talk about to get a candidate elected. A candidate who stays on point on abortion, gays, gun ownership, illegal immigration and school prayer (aka separation of church and state, God, atheism, etc.) doesn’t have to worry if he or she can find Iraq on a map or how to balance a budget. Candidates loudly make their positions known on those issues while blathering about nearly everything else. When they toss in the terrible insult of calling their opponent a stinking liberal or a conservative fascist, they’ve added all the dialogue a second-rate citizenry needs.

Best is when an issue arises that requires a depth of knowledge or discussion, a smart elected official can just get out of the way and watch the second-rate debate about it from afar. Like George W. Bush and the Iraq war. His popularity is at a record low. Public support for the war is dropping faster than a smart bomb. U.S. casualties are at a record high. Yet the war drags on. Small wonder.

“Our kids are dying in an immoral war,” shouts the left. “He’s a moral man,” shouts the right. “Moral? Is torture moral? Women and children dying is moral?” retorts the left. “Like Clinton was moral? You think killing Iraqi kids is immoral but you let all those Carter and Clinton judges continue the killing of unborn American babies in the womb?” retorts the right, and the debate is no longer about Iraq but abortion. Enter into a discussion about any other serious topic and, besides abortion, you’ll soon find yourself talking about—again—gun control, school prayer, illegal immigration or gays. Our second-rate citizenry is patient with hardly anything else. Which explains why Democrats are soft on getting us out of Iraq—it won’t get them elected.

Both sides point to the dumb elected officials on the other side. Both are scared to high heaven that they may one day lose an effective electorate sacred cow—abortion, guns, immigration, prayer or gays. In every election I’ve ever voted in, a candidate’s stand on gays or abortion was an issue. Pretty much the same for the others.

I’d suggest it’s time for a national timeout on those issues. But no elected official will call for one. Even if he or she possesses a third-class mind, he or she is smart enough to know he or she is too dumb to talk about anything else. Without those issues, he or she would be out of office. And what could possibly be more important than that?