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Fathers and the Fog of War

Strict-father politics -- 'compassionate conservatism' -- is alive and well.
 
 
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Being a father is related to, but distinct from, the concept of fatherhood. And to speak of fatherhood is to make a cultural, economic and political statement, both about how the world has shaped your view of fatherhood and how your views on fatherhood help shape the world.

Yes, our individual philosophies of fatherhood (and family) -- to the extent that fatherhood has long been used to frame political discourse and decision-making -- do shape the world; or at least U.S. politics, which disproportionately influences the world.

Professor George Lakoff, a linguist, observes that the ideological split between ''liberals'' and ''conservatives'' can be seen as an argument over family values. ''We all have a metaphor for the nation as a family. We have founding fathers. The Daughters and Sons of the American Revolution,'' and so on.

Within this nation-family metaphor, we can locate a major fault line dividing the country. ''Conservatives'' generally adhere to a ''strict father model'' while ''liberals'' operate from a ''nurturing parent'' framework.

And now that Karl ''Bush's Brain'' Rove escaped criminal prosecution for the Plame affair, he's back with a strict fatherly vengeance, making it clear in New Hampshire last week that it's time to dust off the ol' GOP-strict, protective father playbook.

Strict-father politics -- ''compassionate conservatism'' -- is alive and well. Take, new White House domestic policy chief Karl Zinsmeister, for example. He's referred to the mainstream media as being little more than ''left-wing, cynical, wise guy Ivy League types, with a high prima donna quotient.''

In March 2003, the former American Enterprise Institute egghead wrote that ''a significant number (of 'embedded' journalists) are whiny and appallingly soft,'' adding, ''typical reporters know little about a fighting life. Precious few could ever be referred to as fighting men themselves.''

We're not supposed to notice that Zinsmeister himself is an ''Ivy League type'' who graduated from Yale University or that his bosses never saw a day of combat in their life.

As the son of an ex-boxer and Marine combat veteran, I know tough guys don't talk like Zinsmeister.

With all this ''fatherly'' talk, especially around Father's Day, I've been thinking about fathers -- America's founding fathers; particularly our second president, John Adams.

Adams penned his mature thoughts on war and revolution in letters to friends. When he heard that Major General Wilkinson's history of the American Revolution began with the battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, Adams wrote that Wilkinson was confusing the Revolutionary War with the Revolution.

''A history of the war of the United States is a very different thing from a history of the first American revolution,'' Adams wrote. The ''war that followed the Revolution'' was an effect of it, and was supported by the American citizens in defense of it against an invasion of it by the government of Great Britain and "her allies.''

To Thomas Jefferson, he wrote: ''What do we mean by revolution? The war? That was no part of the revolution; it was only an effect and consequence of it. The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760 to 1775, in the course of fifteen years, before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington.''

Even if unwittingly, Adams was making the case for the effectiveness of nonviolent tactics, very similar to the kind Gandhi espoused and practiced. Kinda motherly, don't you think?

In any case, what was plain to Adams is clouded by the fog of war today, as evidenced by the myriad of misleading comparisons being made between the long, hard, bottom-up road to democracy in America, then, with the imposition of stay-the-course, top-down democracy on Iraq now.

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff reporter and a syndicated columnist.