Friday, May 1, 2009

"Smiles for Smirks"

I love The Huffington Post. I really do. Where else can you find a writer like Tish Durkin, giving one of the most honest, heart-felt pieces about the Iraq War that I've ever read from either side of that issue, and also actor, director, reporter, activist, and all-around resume-padder Sean Penn, giving us... well... this:

Once again the simple-minded media and its pundits are confused about the nature of Americanism and language.
Somehow, I get the feeling he's not talking about media coverage of the Tea Party protests.
When President Obama today inferred consideration of holding former administration officials accountable to law, he was immediately accused of violating his belief that we should "look forward."
Sean seems to have missed that up until that point, President Obama and the others in his administration had been pretty consistent about keeping the door closed on any prosecution of anyone in the previous administration. And for good reason, too. But then President Obama "inferred consideration of" prosecuting government lawyers for writing a legal opinion that the current Attorney General, Eric Holder, happens to disagree with. When you go from reportedly saying "I banned all this. This chapter is over. What we don't need now is to become a sort of feeding frenzy where we go back and re-litigate all this" to opening the door to just that kind of feeding frenzy, you need some seriously non-Euclidean intellectual geometry to fit that shift into the directional category of "looking forward."
Had President Ford "looked forward" in his decision as to whether or not to hold Nixon accountable, he perhaps would have seen the Bush administration abuse of power coming and chosen to be genuinely tough on crime -- you know, "tough on crime" -- sending Nixon to jail and deterring this recent avalanche of abuse.
And had President Truman not decided to allow FDR to die before the end of World War II rather than be held accountable for putting tens of thousands of Japanese Americans into camps, maybe "Buck Stops Here" Harry would have foreseen Bill Clinton lying under oath and deterred that from happening, too. Isn't idiocy fun?
Further, the criticisms of President Obama's warm greeting toward President Chavez of Venezuela have been the posturing of our nation's most bitter and humanly impotent voices.
Well, Sean certainly has me pegged. But seriously, I wonder if Sean is also so forgiving about other warm, diplomatic greetings given by American officials to other dictators. Like this one:

Though it's hard to tell even in the video, I believe Donald Rumsfeld was smiling during this handshake as well. So maybe Sean does have a point about the power of smiles and warm relations to bring about positive change in bad regimes.
Why is anyone listening to former Vice President Cheney? He's the one person alive proven wrong on virtually every topic.

You're telling me! The Vice President voted against the Persian Gulf War back in 1991 and, if I recall correctly, predicted thousands upon thousands of American casualties that never occurred. More recently, he called for Iraq to be partitioned into three autonomous provinces "like our Articles of Confederation," which were so successful here in America that we rushed to replace them with the Constitution. He opposed the "tragic mistake" of the Surge in Iraq ("The president and others who support the surge have it exactly backwards."), which even President Obama now admits was successful. He throws out a gratuitous ethnic stereotype when the cameras are rolling, and he's been called "the most famous political plagiarist of our time." He said part of a what a leader does is to "demonstrate that he or she knows what they're talking about," then immediately gave the example of the stock market crash in 1929 -- you know, when FDR (who wasn't president at the time) went on television (which no amount of non-Euclidean intellectual geometry can show was in widespread use at the time) to calm the American people. He's also said that the problem with his gaffes is that "they're usually true." It really is like having Rainman as the Vice President. Or a Vice President who thinks he's the Surgeon General.

Oh, wait. I'm sorry. When Sean wrote "Vice President" and "the one person alive proven wrong on virtually every topic," I just assumed he was talking about Vice President Biden. My bad.

No one should listen to Vice President Cheney. Ever. Just like Sean Penn says.

They should listen to Vice President Biden instead.

Then there's Newt Gingrich, who commented on the Chavez greeting as being approached wrong.
My goodness, the bitterness of that criticism really oozes straight through the pixels of my monitor.
He suggested that the meeting itself may not be improper, but that it should have been handled with a cold demeanor. This is a pattern of bad acting advice from bad actors. (All wimps think playing a tough guy is done in one-note coldness.)
And Sean Penn knows about playing a "tough guy." Just ask Madonna.

Then again, I shouldn't be too hard on Sean, at least not here. I spent enough time in Tinseltown myself that I can actually see why he would believe this.

Sean Penn is a creature of Hollywood, after all. And Hollywood runs on personal relationships. Meetings and negotiations tend to involve a star -- say, Sean Penn -- meeting with high-powered execs about a potential new project. They shake hands. They smile. Sean tells them how much he respects their previous work. They tell him how much they want to be in "the Sean Penn business." Everybody gets along, and everybody plays happy, and Sean gets a new role and a payday or maybe even a new film to direct. (And I will happily say that I thought his portion of 11'9"01 was absolutely brilliant.) So no wonder Sean thinks that international diplomacy with rogue nations that fund terrorist groups can be handled in the same way as dealing with a Hollywood exec who would also stab you in the back at the first opportunity. Because at its core, Hollywood essentially is Washington, just with better-looking liars.

What Sean forgets, though, is that after he leaves, his predatory shark of an agent comes in and does the real negotiating. And there are fewer (if any) smiles then.

With a friend, or an enemy, our president will gain greater strategic position with a smile.
You know, "strategic position." Like we got with this guy under a previous administration:

And we all know how well that one worked out...
I know President Chavez well. Whether or not one agrees with all his policies, what is certainly true of Chavez is that he is a warm and friendly man with a robust sense of humor (who daily risks his own life for his country in ways Dick Cheney could never imagine).
True, Dick Cheney never served in the military, and Hugo Chavez did.

Then again, Dick Cheney also never led five army units in a warm and friendly coup d'etat against the elected government of his own nation. Or took an opposition television station off the air and replaced it with another whose programming would "better reflect the socialist revolution he has pledged to lead." Or taken such control of the economy that Venezuela has shortages of basic food items like bread and milk (though I can't say that our country is heading down the right track in this area, either). And I'll admit, having FARC terrrorists depending on you for at least part of their funding is probably much more dangerous for Hugo Chavez now that the price of oil has collapsed. I'd wager that's an even worse position to be in than telling Tony Soprano your envelope is going to be "a little light" this week.
To treat such a man coldly is akin to spitting on him. As a country we've done enough of that. Say what you will, but it has only resulted in the self-celebration of our smirking spitters, while costing us international respect, American lives, and left wounds in the hands of our children's future.
And how much more quickly would apartheid have ended if we had only treated the various presidents of South Africa with good humor and no spitting? Because when you smile, the world smiles with you. And you receive great things from the rest of the world in return. Like tens of thousands more NATO combat troops to share the common burden of the "good war" in Afghanistan, not just a few thousand temporary military trainers and police to provide security during the upcoming election. Or an immediate, unanimous UN Security Council resolution condemning that North Korean missile launch, not just a statement more than a week after the fact that not everyone agrees is legally binding.

Even better, you also get a free book.
The Cheneys, down to the O'Reillys and Hannitys and Limbaughs, effectively hate the principles upon which we were founded. They are among the greatest cowards in all of American history.
Because broadcasters like O'Reilly, Hannity, and Limbaugh, all of whom cowardly debate people they disagree with politically on a regular basis in front of millions of listeners and viewers, effectively hate the First Amendment. Isn't idiocy fun?
I applaud an American President who's tough smile.
Okay, Sean, it's Pop Quiz time. Question: Which of the following presidential smiles convinced Libyan strongman and lover of female bodyguards Muammer Khaddafi to give up his WMD programs?

A) This one:

B) This one:

(Hint: A smile works best when the person you're smiling at knows you're willing to back up your words with a big stick, if necessary. Even if that stick is nothing more than a "cold" handshake and a returned book.)