Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dear President-Elect Obama:

Meters swum today: 1700
Playing in the background: An episode of Ghost Hunters

Hey, congratulations, guy. You're going to be the leader of the free world. I know you're gonna get advice from everyone and God, but hey, it's never been like me to keep my mouth shut when I have something to say. So here it is, Jenz Advice For About-To-Be Presidents About How Not To Screw Up. And I'm not charging you a cent (though if there's a line item in the budget about encouraging Buddhism in the Bible Belt, I have my grant application all ready. Just ask me.)

First and foremost, get good advice. A President has a pretty thankless job sometimes - blamed for all the problems in the known universe, laughed at by editorial cartoonists, and not even paid all that well, when you consider what upper level managers are paid by private corporations. You get an even bigger mess to clean up, coming in on the heels of the worst Presidency in history and inheriting a country in a sorry financial pickle. So it can't possibly hurt to hedge your bets. While you're hiring your economists and your military guys and your historians and your various political honchos, get on the horn and find yourself a good professor of social psychology or anthropology, or better yet, one of each. Then, when you make what seems like an intelligent suggestion and all hell breaks loose (like Jimmy Carter suggesting to the German ambassador that they lower their interest rates to drive up inflation, say) you can get an answer that makes sense. My sister majored in anthropology and applied sociolinguistics, whatever that is, and I can't count the number of times I've called her up and said, "Okay, this happened at work, and I did this, and that was clearly the wrong thing to do, what would have been the correct thing?" You'll need folks like this. You might need a real clinical psychologist, too, and it can't hurt to have a meditation teacher around. Give me a ring if you want recommendations, I has 'em.

Secondly, keep your nose clean. I know that sounds like common sense, but it's amazing how rare common sense actually is. Get caught doing anything that even looks like it might be illegal and that'll be all anybody talks about for six months. Nixon didn't get in trouble for organizing the Watergate break-in; he got in trouble for trying to cover it up. Clinton didn't get in trouble for fooling around with a young intern; he got in trouble for lying about it under oath. You can avoid the whole mess by just doing the right thing, because it is right. It isn't as much fun but it's a lot easier for everybody. Oh, and on the subject of interns, you might wanna just avoid them like the plague. If you can't do that, at least arrange to not be alone with one of them. Two's company but three's the rule. Well, I think it's a good rule.

Thirdly, don't run off and do something, even if you think you're really good at it, if it's not what the country actually needs. Examples abound, but again, Jimmy Carter and foreign policy, George Bush (senior) and starting a war in the Middle East, Ronald Reagan and economics, and George Bush (junior) - pretty much everything since 2002, except armadillo hunting.

Fourth item: Stick to your guns. I can clearly remember the day Bill Clinton started to lose his luster. He'd announced that he was signing an executive order to stop the military from sacking all of its happy people. All of Congress erupted in a storm and demanded that the matter be brought to a vote, because happy people have no place in the nation's military. In one of the many interviews that followed, Bill said, "Well, we don't want to be seen as condoning somebody's lifestyle." Soon after this he caved and gave us the utterly disastrous "Don't Ask Don't Tell" rule. What should Bill have done? Signed the damn order. Why? Because he said he was going to sign the order. And because it was the right thing to do. Would Congress have had a fit? Absolutely. Would it have voted to nullify the order and restore the old "When Bored, Look For Happy Witches And Sack 'Em" policy? Quite probably. But that's not the point. If Bill had signed the order, then been overruled by Congress, he would have looked like the good guy. This has nothing to do with whether or not happy people should serve in the military and everything to do with doing what you say you're going to do. The second Bill made that remark about condoning lifestyles, he was starting to backpedal. We all saw it. It was embarrassing, and we started to lose faith in the guy.

Fifth and finally, get real about the national budget. This is a personal preference, but I'm gonna suggest it anyway. Look, we all grew up asking our folks for expensive toys. We all got told, "No, honey, we can't afford that" once in a while. There's not a thing wrong with standing up, addressing the nation and saying, "No, honey, we can't afford that" war with Iran, that Guantanamo prison, that bailout for the financial industry, that sending all the good jobs overseas thing. Everything costs something, and some things cost too much in terms of money, time, or friends in the international community. We get it. We're not toddlers, even though we act like it sometimes. Tell us the truth and we'll respect you. I promise.

That's about all I have to say. Again, I have some personal preferences (close Guantanamo Bay! Civilian trials for everyone still held there! War crimes trials for everyone who worked there all the way up to Donald Rumsfeld! Declassify Area 51 and show us all the cool reverse-engineered UFOs they've been building out there! Shut down the secret CIA prisons overseas! Apologize to Iran for 1953, and to pretty much all of Central America for the entire 1980s! Quit pissing off the French! Tell Vladimir Putin to get over himself!) but I'll save those for another time. Good luck, Godspeed, and om mani padme hum, dude.

Very truly yours, Jen.


David Isaak said...

Have to disagree on Gulf War I. There weren't two sides to that story. It was a simple act of conquest, and it was right of the UN to act and drive Iraq out of Kuwait. Note that I said it was right of the UN to act. The alliance was led by the US, but it was authorized by the United Nations.

It actually garnered us a great deal of goodwill around the world. That is, until we decided to set up shop permanently in the region...

Totally agree with you about Clinton, though. That was the first time he broke a promise and turned on the people who put him in office. Most of what he did in office was taken straight from the Republican agenda.

To this day, I don't understand why the Republicans hate him.

Jen Ster said...

Even I have cautiously come around to being somewhat less opposed to the first Gulf War. Anything sanctioned by the U.N. is generally worth doing. My quibble is the way George Sr. handled it. Yes, by all means, let's bomb Iraq into the Stone Age and leave them at the mercy of the same whacko who got them into this mess in the first place. That makes perfect sense.

Seriously, if he'd just gone in and finished the job he could have saved us a lot of trouble. I think we need to get real about what we can afford as far as having all these military actions (and military bases, for that matter) all around the world. Britain closed a bunch of their outposts to save money and nobody bombed them into the Stone Age.

I think the Republicans hate Clinton because the Democrats like him. Oh, and because he got all the pretty girls.

David Isaak said...

I totally agree that they should have deposed Saddam while they were at it, and let somebody a touch more sensible (which would be like almost anybody) replace him.

Instead of storming in more than a decade later with most of the countries in the region opposed to our action, deposing Saddam, removing the entire governmental system and police apparauts, and dismantling the Army and sending all the soldiers home--unemployed and with their guns.

Someone somewhere has fucked up as badly as the Bush Administration did in Iraq. But I bet whoever it was had better excuses.