Monday, August 11, 2008

Do They Think We're Children? Aren't We?

It is hard to think of two more different elections than the Kadima Party primary and the American presidential election, which is why the parallels in insurgent rhetoric are so fascinating.

Both Shaul Mofaz, who is running against Kadima favorite Tzipi Livni, and Labor leader Ehud Barak--not actually running against her, but positioning himself to form the next government--are telling voters that they are fit to command because of their military backgrounds. This is, in case you haven't noticed, what John McCain is saying. Polls suggest the rhetoric is working.

Ironically, the Winograd Commission condemned Ehud Olmert's whole "political echelon," with the notable exception of Livni, for not challenging the military's strategic narrow-mindedness in the second Lebanon war. Most Americans agree that McCain's enthusiasm for the Iraq war was hardly to his credit. But irony, too, is for sissies. Mofaz and Barak are saying we need a military leader at the head of the government, presumably to coordinate with military leaders, while McCain's fitness to lead seems a function of his claim to know "how to win" (well, survive) wars started in a reckless unleashing of imperial force.

The problem is that this impulse to trust leaders who seem--how did Michael Corleone put it?--"strong for the family" can be exposed as misguided time after time. And yet it reasserts itself time after time. We say we need to know what leaders stand for, but we secretly look for signs that they stand up. Something in us wants to be tucked in.

THERE IS A lesson here for both Livni and Obama, and it is not to try to compete with their rivals on how to sound like a military commander-in-chief. What both have to prove, actually, is their wrath in the face of militant simplifiers, their brass to fire commanders-in-chief, if necessary, to get to larger peace agreements. We need to feel their indignation, their power to answer the logic of naked power.

"Does he think we're children?" Livni should be angrily denouncing Mofaz's posturing, as Obama should be denouncing McCain's. Their logic will work because we are not children, their anger will (ironically,) because we are.