Monday, May 2, 2011

Heroes of the Republic

I've said this before, but while I have no problem at all with recognizing the heroism and bravery of those who risk their lives for the United States of America, the people who get underappreciated at times like these are the politicians, other political leaders and actors, and other government workers.

If you want a republic, you need these folks. You need Bob Gates, dragged out of retirement by George W. Bush and then retained by Barack Obama. You need Leon Panetta, who could have stayed in sunny California instead of taking on one more (and soon, yet another) job for his nation. You need Hillary Clinton and Condi Rice and Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright. You need the Members of the 9/11 Commission, who tried to figure out how that disaster happened and how to prevent a recurrence, and you need the Members of Congress who pushed to make that commission happen. You need Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, and a bunch of other cabinet secretaries dating back to the Clinton years, and three Vice Presidents, and various Congressional Committee Chairs of both parties, and then the White House and Congressional and Commission staff, and diplomats and others who work at the relevant need all those people. You need, too, the activists, pro- and anti-, who march and donate and petition and go door-to-door. You even need the losing candidates, from president on down.

No, most of them aren't risking their lives, and no, not all of them did things that I consider to be positive contributions. But all of them -- especially the ones you've heard of -- risk their reputations. All of them choose, for whatever reasons, selfish or otherwise, a form of public service. Even the worst of the lot. Without them, no democracy. No republic. No freedom and liberty, as we think of them, including both public and private liberty.

We do a lot of honoring "the troops" in present-day USA, and as I said, I'm all for that, and proud to do so. But they're not the only heroes of the republic. Don't forget to honor the rest of them. And don't forget that you, too, can be one.


  1. Bravo. It's so easy to get caught up in the dialectic that we lose sight of the bigger picture: that we are supposedly in charge of the whole works, that the machine does our bidding. Its blemishes are our blemishes.

    Thinking on these jobs--President, Congressperson, Ambassador, etc.--I can find absolutely nothing attractive about any of them. So I'm very lucky that someone wants to do them.

  2. Is it OK if I only honor most of them? There are a few that, while it might be my bias, I can't stomach the idea of thinking anything positive about.

  3. I’ll agree that there’s far too little respect paid to public servants in general. But when everyone becomes “a hero,” the word is cheapened and becomes meaningless.

    The highest reward of being a nameless and faceless SEAL participating in covert ops is that you know, in the eyes of most Americans, you are a hero of unparalleled merit. Yes, I’m sure that thousands of people, whether they know it or not, had some small role in this operation. And yes, I’d be ok with calling Obama and the key planners brave… maybe even heroic, for risking their careers and reputations on this operation. But let’s not pretend that they demonstrated the same heroism as the men who dropped off those choppers Sunday night.

  4. Couves,

    No, it's not "the same heroism." It's a different heroism. I don't want to get into a which is more thing, because I in no way intend to take anything away from the active military, but I do disagree that "hero" is cheapened and becomes meaningless when there are (potentially) so many heroes. One of the big ideas of a democracy/republic is that being a hero becomes accessible to every citizen.

  5. Thank you for this! It's such an important point. And I might add that it's not just those on the right who are happy to rip asunder the contributions and sacrificed involved in "public service.". Those who care at all about the tools without which we will be unable to address our collective challenges need to understand that nastiness even towards those they revile ideologically can come at a cost to the advances they purport to advocate. Is sending drones into Pakistan and cleaning up the mess at the CIA really so much fun compared to relaxing in Monterey? Not to many if not most. Thanks again!

  6. “One of the big ideas of a democracy/republic is that being a hero becomes accessible to every citizen.”

    Yes, I agree! But one must do _something_ of real value and merit to earn our highest praise. It doesn't make any sense to say that everyone in public service is "a hero." Someone is heroic through individual accomplishment, not group membership.

    I agree that public service is itself inherently and uniquely valuable to society. But so are many pursuits that don’t get you automatic hero status.

  7. Speaking of heroes, wondering if I'm the only one that perceived a bit of that "soft bigotry of low expectations" that is often lamented wrt black folks, coupled with a sense of birtherism, at least insofar as a man named Barack Hussein Obama can't be as patriotic as your run-of-the-mill John Smith.

    Two ubiquitous memes may illustrate the point. First: "I can't believe Obama kept this quiet!" He's a politician. That's his job. Obama's opponent in the 2008 election was a guy that is, by any estimation, several orders of magnitude less smooth than Obama, a guy who ran as a war hero in spite of longstanding and widespread whispers that his war record wasn't what he said it was, and who nevertheless didn't acknowledge, much less address, such whispers. If McCain was up to that, surely Obama can tell a joke at a WH Correspondents dinner while this operation is ongoing.

    Second: "What a gutsy call to send in the SEALs!" I'm not a SEAL, but I gotta believe that for that elite unit, this was the operation of a lifetime, as such they were surely fully aligned with the operation as planned (i.e. not bombing). Further, even the most daft anti-science Republican must recognize the value of forensic evidence where the killing of Bin Laden is concerned.

    Finally, even though senior Pakistani leaders must have known who was in that compound, their total must have been relatively few, as such several commanders with operational authority likely didn't know who was in that house. Randomly bombing a house up the street from a nation's major military installation must risk any number of other assets you have deployed in the country.

    I don't get that "soft bigotry of low expectations" feeling often with Obama, but I admit I sort of did with the capture and killing of Bin Laden. Unfortunate. Wonder if anyone else did?


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