Monday, January 31, 2005

Who Put the Dumb in Dumb-o-crat?

Images of Iraqis joyously embracing democracy this weekend swept across the globe like a tsunami of holy water, wiping the screen through which Americans view Iraq squeaky clean. Knocking the obsolete old media parrots off their cushy perches. Washing away the dung flung at President Bush by filthy demagogues exposed as cheerleaders of doom. Leaving the dumb Democrat leadership of the new millennium stranded on a shrinking desert island of its own choosing.

There are many patriotic Democrats who celebrate the birth of Iraqi democracy. And yet the leftwing fundraising organization that controls the Democratic Party neither promotes nor celebrates democracy. How ironic. How sad.

The buoyant but not clairvoyant Senator Kennedy is famously familiar with murky depths, although this time he drove his party’s bandwagon off a rhetorical bridge too far. His speech presuming disastrous results on the eve of the election in Iraq might have been the final opportunity for Bush’s opponents to define our commitment there as a quagmire. Now that we have seen the Iraqi people as lovers of freedom, as we are, and haters of terrorism, as we are, it’s too late to argue that our mission was illegitimate and our soldiers died in vain.

Democrats insulting Condoleezza Rice looked like sore losers. Democrats minimizing the monumental triumph of the Iraqi people look like sore losers. Because they are.

My wise and witty husband Luis says that no one ever does anything smart when they are angry. The Dumb-o-crats keep proving his point.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Vote or Die Then and Now

As a schoolgirl, History was one of my favorite subjects. Important events seemed to belong to a remote past or mysterious places far from the camera’s eye, such as Tudor England (one of my favorite eras to study) or Communist Russia. At campaign stops I had shaken hands with Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, which at the time seemed pretty special but not as momentous as appearing in the onstage audience for the forgettable TV show Get It Together, hosted by Sam Riddle and Mama Cass Elliot.

By the time I reached high school, my perspective and priorities matured, thank God. On the day he left office after resigning, President Nixon landed at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, where my brother Richard and I were among a loyal crowd welcoming him home en route to the Western White House in San Clemente. There I truly felt like a witness to living history. Thirty years later, the closed MCAS El Toro, now destined to become a park, is one of five American polling sites for Iraqis who want to vote in the first free election ever held in their homeland this historic weekend.

In our 2004 election, Vote or Die was an irresponsibly deceptive slogan intended to scare draft-aged Americans all the way to ballot box. In the last Iraqi election, Vote or Die summarized the only real options available. Consequently Saddam Hussein was re-elected unanimously with nearly 100% voter turnout.

Americans have grown complacent and apathetic about democracy, resulting in depressed voter turnout. An embarrassingly large percentage cannot be bothered to read the voter guides mailed to their homes, drive to their neighborhood polling place or request an absentee ballot. Meanwhile, millions in Afghanistan and Iraq who never experienced self-government bravely confront threats delivered via bombs and grenades, guns and knives, by terrorists sending an unmistakable message: Vote and Die.

Tomorrow a new Iraq will be born and already the cynical, the arrogant and the frivolous among the pundit class are prepared to renounce it as the bastard child of George W. Bush. Many of these same pseudo-experts are chronically on the wrong side of history. Like major league baseball players, their batting averages should be posted onscreen under their names.

When the Berlin Wall fell, Americans immediately recognized the historic significance and for a time were united in our common response. When the World Trade Center fell, Americans immediately recognized the historic significance and for a time were united in our common response. Before the fall of Hanoi, generations of Americans were known for their steely resolve.

History textbooks will record the names of the Fathers of Iraqi Freedom: Bush, Allawi, Blair, Franks, Bremer, et al. I hope, I pray, that the first National Assembly of Iraq is populated by patriots blessed with a determination and love of country that surpasses all national, regional and personal obstacles.

History textbooks will note the numbers but not the names of all the Angels of Freedom who made the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of liberty at home and the spread of liberty abroad. I hope, I pray, that their spirit lives long in the hearts of the Iraqi Soldiers of Freedom who march tomorrow into the future of their own making.

Let freedom ring.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Proud to Be an American

This past week, I was blessed and privileged to witness a once-in-a-lifetime event of historic significance. The ceremony was solemn from the oath through President Bush’s inspiring speech. The patriotic music filled me with so much national pride that it spilled out of my tear ducts. Speaking strictly for my family, we were profoundly stirred and transformed.

The day after the presidential inauguration, my husband became a U. S. citizen.

Along with 899 other immigrants on Friday afternoon in Los Angeles County, California, Luis exchanged his green card for the golden promise of the red, white and blue. They came from eighty different countries, we were told, of which the top five were:

5. Taiwan
4. Tie: Iran and Vietnam
3. Korea
2. The Philippines
1. Mexico

His naturalization took nearly four years, during which the INS became part of the new Department of Homeland Security. The extended delay after 9/11 cost Luis the opportunity to vote in the 2004 elections, a grave disappointment which he never belabored.

The location was a private country club, but the production was obviously a government affair. We were instructed to arrive no later than 1:00pm, although the ceremony began well after 2:00pm. Luis stood in a line that wound down the hill while we queued up on the hilltop with the other guests. I disdain cell phones, but I was thankful for his and mine throughout that interminable wait under the hot sun. Some nice folks behind us had done this before and I was able to relay their helpful information to Luis. I warned him that there was a Democrat Party voter registration booth placed prominently opposite the building’s entrance but none for the Republicans.

Applicants were seated first and the remaining chairs were claimed quickly by guests at the head of our line. We were routed to a small standing-room-only area in the aisle along one side of the enormous hall. I scanned the crowd, mentally willing Luis to make eye contact, when my son Chris said, "He’s right here." By the most marvelous coincidence, we were standing next to his row and he was seated second from our aisle. We were able to talk and take pictures before the ceremony commenced with the Pledge of Allegiance. He showed me his new citizenship kit, containing a small American flag, which he received from the INS coordinator for his group.

The officiating judge shared the story of his grandparents’ difficult immigration from Ireland. One speaker encouraged the applicants to fill out and submit the voter registration form to their group coordinator (take that, Democrats). Another speaker introduced one of the applicants, a young man who was given a seat of honor and grateful applause for his service in the U. S. Army in Afghanistan. The judge administered the oath of citizenship en masse to enthusiastic cheering, clapping, and waving of flags.

Then we watched a brief prerecorded welcome and congratulations from President Bush, followed by a picturesque video to the Lee Greenwood song, I’m Proud to Be an American, which elicited more cheers, applause and flag-waving. I looked around to see that many others were moved to tears as I was. Some among the crowd wore the expressionless look of a DMV customer. A young woman with a lovely voice sang an a cappella rendition of The Star Spangled Banner and the ceremony was adjourned.

Guests were excused and in due course a jubilant Luis joined us outside. He, who cannot abide crowds or long waits, proclaimed, "It was great, it was worth everything." The Luis I have known for five years is always reserved and circumspect in public, although normally a riotously funny chatterbox in private. Maybe that was the green card effect. Newly liberated, he was quick to indulge his right to free speech.

As we passed the Democrat booth, which had no traffic that I could detect, the workers called to Luis like carnival barkers on a slow day. "Hey, where are the Republicans?" he shouted back. "The Republicans should be here, too. That’s messed up!" He told us that, as they waited their turn to leave the hall, he complained about this inequity to his INS coordinator and fellow group members, including one whom he admonished for disparaging the ceremony. As we drove away, Luis joked that he wants to get a portable police light to slap on the top of his SUV so he can make spontaneous citizens’ arrests. What a kidder.

On Saturday we feted Luis with dinner and a cake, but the most poignant part of the celebration came shortly after the ceremony when he savored the full measure of the day with those who most appreciate how far he has traveled: his parents.

Bravo, my love! The best is yet to be.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

It Needed to Be Said

Barbara Boxer spent the past two days insulting Condoleezza Rice from the safety of her Senate seat, which she proved was not won by intellect, class or moral superiority. You could say Boxer was all over the Secretary of State nominee like white on rice.

Frustration at season three of American Idol was the impetus that led me to begin blogging. Honestly I didn't know if I would ever tune in again. Well, I just finished the first three hours of season four divided between two evenings and saw pretty much what I expected. The regulars (host Ryan Seacrest and panelists Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson) bore the demeanor of the contractually obligated. The "lowlights" shows were increasingly stale and uninspired. The losers are more depressingly sad and populated by obvious graduates of self-esteem programs run amok. Will I continue to watch? Probably, but I am too conscious of the show's inherent machinations and manipulations to become invested in the results.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Walking Lightly on Shattered Glass

Everybody wants the same thing
Everybody wants the same thing
To see another birthday

"Edible Flowers" by Neil and Tim Finn
(Everyone Is Here, The Finn Brothers, 2004)

For decades of my life, I took seriously the annual tradition of New Year’s resolutions, which combined two of my favorite pastimes: critical self-analysis and deferred gratification. I wasted precious years preparing for and against eventualities that never materialized. I harbored an overly idealized vision of the future until my mother’s death smashed my illusions into a million rose-colored shards. My subsequent melancholia gave new emphasis to the phrase hopeless romantic.

Marrying Luis, who is considerably younger, made me a hopeful optimist forced to live in the moment. The future became an unpredictable variable in our relationship that I cannot control. Having cancer made me a grateful realist with fresh appreciation for every moment. The future dangles like a tantalizing prize that I cannot assume is mine.

The countdown to another year is a reminder of the duality of cancer. Even as you are genuinely thankful for surviving the old year, you begin the new one wondering if you will finish. After a long dry spell, I finally made a new New Year’s resolution, sort of. To be precise, I decided to implement some changes after absorbing bad news that arrived coincidentally as my wall calendar expired. As depressing as the tsunami disaster has been to watch from a distance, nothing gets your attention as effectively as a giant wave that washes ashore on your beach.

Jan and Edie are the co-workers closest to me physically and emotionally. After being considered cancer-free for more than five years, Edie had twenty-four lymph nodes surgically removed, sixteen of which were cancerous, and has since learned that she will have to undergo chemotherapy again after radiation treatments. Jan’s husband, a non-smoker who successfully battled prostate cancer, was diagnosed with lung cancer and already began chemotherapy in preparation for a complex operation. Together we three form a Bermuda Triangle of medical doom.

Immediately after my doctor confirmed I had breast cancer in 2002, I cried pretty hard as my husband Luis drove us home. I knew I had to compose myself to walk in our front door and tell my son Chris, which I did in short order and I haven’t indulged in much self-pity in the nearly two years since. Sure, I leaked woe-is-me tears whenever I would hear a tragic song that sounded appropriate for my funeral, such as Edible Flowers. But, infomaniac that I am, I read every last fact-based bit I could find online about breast cancer, which helped me understand my pathology report, treatment options, recurrence rates, mortality figures and beyond.

I thought I understood cancer. I thought I found a happy way to live with cancer on my terms. I didn’t know how devastated I would be when someone close to me who has been the most conscientious patient ever got her cancer back. I didn’t know how helpless I could feel when someone who has been my friend and confidante throughout my cancer odyssey embarks on her own. I guess I conveniently forgot that cancer never compromises or negotiates terms.

Dealing with cancer in your life is a multi-staged process a lot like mourning. Perhaps, if I had spent more time in the beginning wallowing in the emotional phase instead of rushing into rationality, I would not have spent the past few weeks walking barefoot on shattered rose-colored glass. I would not have given my loving, sensitive husband weeks of nightmares after whispering into the darkness, "I think I’m going to die and I’m scared," weeks during which my own fog of fear finally began to lift. Maybe, as long as I live, I will always feel this way when I witness at close range the damage cancer does to one’s life, family, dreams.

After my mother died, I stored many of her belongings that I could not bear to discard. They filled a whole bedroom and made our home seem like a cramped furniture warehouse and storage unit. Since we moved to take in my brother fifteen months ago, our garage has been a storage project that I have tackled little by little when I felt well enough for the task, which leads me to my New Year’s resolution:

1. Travel lightly.

This means no excess baggage, actual or psychic. No unnecessary clutter, mental or physical. If I cannot plan for an uncertain future, I can sure as heck get organized in preparation for certain death, whenever it may come, so that I am not leaving any baggage or clutter behind for my loved ones. While I live and for however long, I will try not to create any baggage or clutter to weigh down my loved ones, which leads to my new resolution:

2. Find another pair of rose-colored glasses. Pronto.