S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Sharing the obits

Occasionally time plays a trick and there is a strange convergence of events. We saw the juxtaposition of several stories of noteworthy men dying in this week's news. A few days ago the deaths of famous men, James Brown, President Ford and Saddam Hussein occurred and I posted about it. In that same post I discussed the rising death toll of U.S. military personnel in the war in Iraq. Reuters today carries the story about nearing the 3000 mark.
Death is a fact of life. I am at the age where I read the obituaries in our local paper. And I have been struck by the irony posed by the current news stories about the lives of these three very different men, and the contrast of how people will feel about their deaths. With death comes suffering. And each family's experience is incredibly different. Each man's reputation is radically different. And yet the coincidence of timing is forcing the stories of their passing to share the same news space.
Writers struggle to find the meaning of the execution of the former Iraqi dictator: Reed Jarrar at The Huffington Post, Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, "mcjoan" at DailyKos (400+ comments), Steve Clemons at the Washington Note, and Michael J.W. Stickings at The Reaction, for example. Jeff Zeleny, writing for the New York Times, analyzed the execution of Saddam Hussein as it pertains to the White House in a very interesting way. His is probably the most muted of all these linked items. To quote from his piece headlined, "Joy of Capture Muted at the End ,"
The capture of Saddam Hussein three years ago was a jubilant moment for the White House, hailed by President Bush in a televised address from the Cabinet Room. The execution of Mr. Hussein, though, seemed hardly to inspire the same sentiment.
Before the hanging was carried out in Baghdad, Mr. Bush went to sleep here at his ranch and was not roused when the news came. In a statement written in advance, the president said the execution would not end the violence in Iraq.
. . . Two years after the Persian Gulf war, Mr. Hussein ordered an assassination attempt on the elder Bush, an act of spite that the 43rd president would never forget.
“There’s no doubt his hatred is mainly directed at us,” the current president said, speaking to a Republican fund-raising crowd in Houston on Sept. 26, 2002. “This is the man who tried to kill my dad.”
. . . When Mr. Hussein was captured, the president said: “Good riddance, the world is better off without you.” But he dismissed suggestions that a family grudge played a role in shaping his Iraq policy or influenced his decision to go to war. “My personal views,” he said, “aren’t important in this matter.”
. . . A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy, also acknowledged that the challenges in Iraq contributed to the president’s decision to simply issue the statement. The White House concluded that even a development as dramatic as Mr. Hussein’s hanging could not be used to renew support for the war.
Connection then divergence - New York Times article on the connection between the Ford White House and the current White House. Headlined "Recent Flexing of Presidential Powers Had Personal Roots in Ford White House," writer Scott Shane discussed the fact that VP Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld worked for former President Ford, and carried forward his efforts to strengthen the powers of the Executive branch of government. To quote,
Since taking office as part of the Bush administration in 2001, both Vice President Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld, who stepped down as defense secretary this month, have consciously sought to restore what they see as the constitutional powers of the presidency, which they believe were severely eroded under President Richard M. Nixon and President Ford. Some of their colleagues from three decades ago — evidently including Mr. Ford — have wondered if they have gone too far.
. . . Mr. Ford, a 25-year veteran of Congress, fought back, despite his conciliatory personal style . . . Ringside seats for this constitutional combat went to Mr. Rumsfeld, a former Illinois congressman whom Mr. Ford chose as chief of staff in 1974 at age 42, and Mr. Cheney, a former political science graduate student who served as his deputy. When Mr. Rumsfeld was named defense secretary the next year, Mr. Cheney, just 34, took the top White House job.
“Ford treated Cheney and Rumsfeld in effect as his students, eager young men willing to learn the art of government at his side,” Mr. Greene said.
. . . But a private disillusionment appears to have been taking shape. In a 2004 interview with Bob Woodward, reported for the first time in The Washington Post this week, Mr. Ford singled out Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Cheney by name and sharply criticized the decision to go to war in Iraq.
“I don’t think I would have gone to war,” Mr. Ford said.

In a bizarre way Iraq is what connects the two former heads of state. As Gerald Ford was rising to power in the mid 1970's, Saddam Hussein was rising to second in command (the "strongman" in power in 1976) in Iraq, according to Wikipedia. At around the time Ford was Vice-President, "The godfather of soul," James Brown, according to Douglas Wolk's review, was winding up his early period of hits. To quote, "There's a school of thought that says that Brown's funk mastery really ended in 1973-'74, with "The Payback" and "Papa Don't Take No Mess" as his final triumphs."
Ironically, Brown's story is somewhat as dramatic in death as were his performances in life. A funeral will be held in Augusta today for singer James Brown, according to, the Post Chronicle and others. His widow will be in attendance at all of the various memorial events, despite her being locked out of their home by Brown's attorneys since Brown's death on Christmas day.
It remains to be seen whether there will be increased suffering for Baghdad as a result of the conviction of Saddam Hussein. The former dictator was executed in Baghdad. With utmost security in mind, Iraqi officials, a doctor and a cleric were among those present, according to an article in the LA Times. Saddam Hussein's family is out of the country, fugitives from Iraq. His defense lawyer was not present. No survivors from Dujayl, the location of the crime of which Saddam Hussein was convicted, attended the hanging as witnesses.
The family and friends of former President Gerald Ford will be suffering as they mourn their very personal losses. The nation will mark the passing of a former president in a time-tested set of events that honor his life and voice the high respect we always give former presidents. I have always had a great deal of respect for Mr. Ford's leadership at the time when we needed just what he brought to the table. I also admired the deep friendship he and President Jimmy Carter shared. What I said in my previous post bears repeating. He was a good man.
What meaning do I ascribe to all of this? I was born almost exactly a month after Saddam Hussein. I find a good bit of sad irony in the fact that three such different men had to share the obits pages of this week. I am not the only writer to make connections between the men and to try to figure out what it all means. The "philosophical stance" of my S/SW blog is included in the column to the right of this page. It says, "My views are grounded in the classical existential questions of finding meaning in suffering, maintaining purpose in life, and defending sanity in an occasionally insane world." For the living left behind, it is all just a bit too sad and crazy to take in.

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