"Did you read Gene Lyons?," asked a friend. Lyons' column, "The old Obama is back," (Herald, Sept. 10) seemed "right on the money," the friend said. So I found the Herald and read Lyons' piece. In "The old Obama ...," Lyons warns against unjustifiable certainty and habitual extremism in current political journalism. He briefly ridicules Fox News and Ann Coulter, for example, but he also notes extremism in the language of some political advocates from the left.
Of particular interest is his mention of a new book by Markos Moulitsas, "American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right." The book is so new, Lyons says, that it is yet unread by everybody, Lyons included. Lyons' criticism, therefore, is directed to the inappropriateness and wild inexactitude of its title. For Lyons sees the national political need for careful bipartisanship. As the president has said, "We're all in this together." This national togetherness, says Lyons, is "the big thing the GOP always wants voters to forget."
But there is another new book that raises questions about what we have been "all together" doing. That book is reviewed in "The American Scholar" for Autumn 2010, in an article by Michael Sherry, professor of History at Northwestern University. Sherry's review is entitled, "Our Madness for War: Must We Persist in Using the Military Option When it So Rarely Works?" Sherry critiques the new book by John W. Dower, "Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq."
"Cultures of War," says Sherry, blames "political and other elites and their responses to circumstances." For example: "the imperial presidency under George W. Bush was in certain critical respects more absolute, inviolate, impenetrable and arbitrary than the militaristic government that took imperial Japan to war."
"Why then," the reviewer asks, "did the United States persist at war, when so little was accomplished and so much horror inflicted? Its primary response to frustration and defeat in war has been, apart from a post-Vietnam pause, to double down — to try war again, usually invoking World War II, even as previous failures get swept aside. Now President Obama has done so in Afghanistan."
Let us hope that the "Old Obama," whom Gene Lyons rightly celebrates, holds within his brilliance an ability to avoid further long-term damage from habitual national militarism. In that respect, we need not the old but rather the new presidency and not the journalism of popularity and spectacle but one of careful and unbiased accuracy.