Bill and HillaryThanks to the silliness of the mainstream media, we’ve had to suffer through talk show hosts asking whether Barack Obama is “black” enough (so they ask white people?), whether Edwards is too handsome (yes, so?), whether Kucinich is big enough (it appears only an “every way big guy” can satisfy the embarrassing Chris Matthews), whether Biden can be brief enough when appropriate (“yes”), and whether Hillary Clinton is “warm” or “soft” enough (!!!), or alternatively “tough” enough to be Commander in Chief (sure, but it’s a question whose presumed relevance is disproved every day in the age of Bush).

You’ll note that not one of these questions that continue to preoccupy our irresponsible media has any bearing on the wisdom, intelligence, competence, courage, or leadership capabilities of these people to be President of the United States. With the country now suffering through the seventh year of perhaps the worst, most corrupt, incompetent, reckless, lawless, and dishonest administrations in our history, you would think that the media would be probing every Presidential candidate to determine how different they might be from the flawed individuals who now occupy the White House and hold the national government and its Constitution by the throat. We might even ask whether the candidate could actually lead the party by stiffening the spines of the 16 Senators and 41 Representatives who betrayed that Constitution last week by mindlessly handing unchecked spying authority to Alberto Gonzales and Dick Cheney.

Despite the media, rather than because of it, we are getting at least part of a national debate on the important question of how a President should respond to the hypothetical opportunity to invade another country in order to kill a prominent member of al Qaeda. So far, that debate is incomplete, because it is being waged by two factions on the same side — the side that assumes without question that the correct US policy is to make every effort to kill the terrorists even if it means violating the sovereignty of another nation, undermining its government, and likely killing innocent civilians. The main difference between the two factions is whether we should be honest or disingenuous about the same policy that both factions support. The Pakistanis are not confused by this subtle distinction, even if Americans are.

Senator Obama, having committed a Beltway sin (I think the diplomatic term is “unhelpful”) of saying out loud what he thinks (or what he wants us to believe he thinks because he’s unwilling to admit it was a mistake), asserts it’s in the public interest to discuss openly that he would violate Pakistan’s sovereignty if necessary to kill OBL. Senator Clinton contends that Presidents sometimes have to keep to themselves their willingness to violate international law, while being oh so discrete in not ruling out nuking another nation. Of course, given the fear that Hillary Clinton may be only a notch or two less belligerent than the neocons she seeks to replace, such a statement only increases those suspicions.

What’s missing, of course, is any of the front runners standing for the principle that U.S. policy (and prospects for justice and stability in the region) might actually be better off if we categorically renounce aggressive war (which we once declared to be a war crime), respected the sovereignty of other nations and figured out how to confront the murderers of 9/11 and the threat they’ve spawned without unilateral military invasions. That missing side of the debate might note, for example, that killing even al Qaeda’s top officials is not likely to eliminate the threat posed by radical extremists who, spurred in part by US interventions in the Middle East, are springing up everywhere — a whole new generation of peoples convinced that killing the occupying Americans is fully justified. The reasons for the extremists’ resurgence in recent years are many, but even our own intelligence community concedes unilateral US militarism that seeks to impose American hegemony in that region is a significant factor.

The search for the 9/11 murderers can be justified as a matter of criminal justice. But it does not follow that a rise in radical anti-American extremism is dependent on whether OBL is dead or alive. It is time our foreign policy debate grappled with that fact and starting thinking more clearly about cause and effect. There is little or no evidence that increasing anti-American extremism is spawned by US efforts focused on capturing the perpetrators of 9/11; rather, it is more likely spawned in large part by our military interventions in Islamic lands under the false claim that they are connected to 9/11. People in Islamic lands are not as easily fooled as the gullible viewers of Fox News

A broader debate might consider the proposition that it is no more acceptable to drop a bomb on a Pakistani or Afghani school hoping to kill an al Qaeda leader but knowing it would result in the deaths of innocent civilians than it would be to drop a bomb on a Chicago or NYC school under the same circumstances. If it were Chicago or New York City, police and rescue forces would presumably take every conceivable precaution to protect the lives of innocents — that’s what security forces are for — notwithstanding the heinousness of the intended targets inside. I’d like to hear the candidates explain why the policy, announced or otherwise, should be any different in Pakistan, Iraq or Afghanistan, but so far, no one seems to be addressing that question.

We’ve had six and half years of phony “tough men” in the Bush/Cheney regime, people who actually believe that the best way for America to gain it’s supposedly lost manhood was to beat the crap out of some hapless Middle East dictator just to prove we could — so they did. But these insecure juvenile morons have run the country into the ground while destroying the almost universal goodwill towards America that existed immediately after 9/11. Their reckless belligerence and indifference to human suffering have destroyed Iraq and created refugee conditions that usually accompany genocide. Being “tough” means they sponsored the CIA’s “black sites,” winked at Abu Ghraib and left us with Guantanamo. These same “tough” guys watched with indifference as New Orleans drowned, and they now want to impose a “misery strategy” against highly vulnerable undocumented immigrants.

I don’t think it’s enough to suggest, as the TimesSheryl Gay Stolberg did last week, that George H.W. Bush’ disappointment with Bush 43′s regime stems from people being too harsh on his son, and it’s even sillier to portray this as a father feeling empathy for his Little League son striking out. The horrors of the Bush 43 Presidency are not a result of the father failing to teach his failed son not to swing at a pitch in the dirt or over his head but more likely the result of a mother failing to teach empathy to a son who liked to blow up frogs. There is no evidence that that child feels much more for the tens of thousands of humans whose lives he has destroyed.

Someone needs to stand up and say that being “tough” and “manly” the way the media and this regime define those terms has been a catastrophic failure and a human calamity. It has made us less safe and led to tens of thousands of deaths; it’s dragging the country’s reputation through the mud and made us hated as bullies and torturers. We’ve had enough of cruelty masquerading as policy and service-evading presidents in flight suits pretending to be warriors. We’re in desperate need of genuine adults who possess wisdom, understanding, respect for law, and courage based on humane principles.

Our next President will need a more mature grasp of adulthood than displayed by our adolescent President and his war-fear-mongering Vice President, a man so insane he can’t wait to start the next war. But our media need to stop asking whether these candidates are “tough” or “manly” enough; surely adult men possess more humane qualities than what the media obsesses over, and we could benefit greatly from more “feminine” and/or motherly sensibilities in the mix.

CNN’s Suzanne Malveau recently asked Hillary if she was “black enough” (to keep Bill’s support among Afro-American voters), but maybe we should start asking whether anyone has the courage to be “woman enough” to be our next President.

AP Photo via CBS news.