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Before sitting down to watch the Republican and Democratic national
conventions this year, we ought to rethink the way we look at the two
parties. What ideas do they believe in? What sort of leadership are they
offering, and how should we judge their candidates for national office?

In answering the first question, we should acknowledge that ideology
divides our country; and the two major political parties reflect this
division. In general, the Republican Party is identified with the
political right, with traditional values and free market advocacy, while
the Democrats are identified with the political left. This means that
the two parties increasingly represent diametrically opposing
philosophies.

Intense philosophical disagreement between the two parties has not
always been in evidence. In 1896 the British social historian, William
Lecky, noted that Republicans and Democrats were essentially the same.
There was no deep philosophical dividing line. Both were then motivated,
he said, by purely selfish considerations.

Lecky believed this state of affairs existed because America did not
face any great questions, having “few serious relations with other
nations.” Of course, everything in that regard has changed. While
America’s political parties continue to be motivated by selfish
considerations, the United States is now compelled to deal with
momentous questions of war and peace. Despite euphoria over the end of
the Cold War, we yet live with the possibility of nuclear conflagration
– by calculation or miscalculation.

Today there is one country that can effectively demolish the United
States in an hour. That country is Russia. It is a land overrun by
criminals and corrupt government officials. The main investigative tool
of the Russian police is said to be torture. Russia’s national
leadership is dominated by a clique of former KGB and Communist Party
officials whose immediate goal is to build up Russia’s military power.
Over the past year they have unleashed a barrage of destruction on a
small breakaway province called Chechnya, slaughtering thousands and
displacing hundreds of thousands of people.

Throughout this episode the Russian security services launched
numerous provocations. It is entirely probable, given credible reports
from Russia itself, that the Kremlin was behind the bombings that rocked
Moscow and other cities — bombings that were blamed on the Chechens.
Meanwhile, these
troubles (including Russia’s economic woes) are subtly blamed on
America. Yes, we are the villains in this epic drama because American
capitalism has supposedly raped Russia. Instead of realizing that the
KGB stands behind the Russian Mafia and the Kremlin thieves, it has been
alleged that the CIA and America are behind it all. Given this sort of
anti-American rhetoric, no serious person — but only a clown — could
imagine that Russia is not a threat.

But Russia is not the only threat. During the last two weeks Iraq and
Iran have conducted missile tests. They are also attempting to build
nuclear weapons. At the same time the rabidly anti-American government
of North Korea has continued to develop its nuclear missile potential.
Even more
dangerous, the people’s Republic of China is slowly becoming a major
nuclear power, step by step.

The truly frightening thing about China, however, is the general
poverty and desperation of that country. With 1.3 billion people and the
world’s largest urban proletariat, China could be seriously affected by
global economic fluctuations. The possibility of a Chinese social
explosion is very
real. Because of this, the Chinese leaders must increasingly focus their
people’s attention on external enemies. Even if communist ideology did
not motivate them to conspire against Western capitalism, domestic
factors would nonetheless suggest an increasingly militarism.

On Friday I interviewed an American businessman who recently traveled
to China. We are all accustomed to hearing reports of China’s economic
wonders, of the fantastic growth and progress of the country. But this
particular traveler saw another side of China.

“I visited the new economic zone,” said the American businessman. “I
expected poverty, but what I found was poverty beyond anything I’ve ever
seen. There were very few cars and trucks. People were beating their
laundry on rocks. The water in the river was so polluted there were dead
dogs and other animals floating past us. The people looked emaciated.
Child beggars accosted us. I was almost driven to tears by their plight.
I wanted to give them money, but I was warned against doing this. It was
heart-wrenching. I also noticed that the tour director and the other
Chinese guides were deathly afraid of the guards.”

China has come a long way, but it is still a land of heartbreak and
hardship which Americans can hardly imagine. The government of China,
dominated by a cruel communist hierarchy, has the largest labor camp
system in the world. According to Harry Wu, a leading Chinese dissident,
there are roughly 20 million people in China’s prison camps. These
unfortunate people live under conditions that would kill most Americans
within a few weeks or months.

Now consider how lucky we are, by comparison. Think of our shopping
malls and our freeways full of cars. Try and imagine how China’s leaders
view this prosperity, this unprecedented wealth and power. They know
about the backwardness of China’s countryside. They know about the
suffering.

Who do they blame for this? Do they blame themselves? Perhaps some
do. But personal admissions or confessions aside, China’s official
ideology blames America — the imperialist giant — for China’s
suffering. In fact, America-bashing was the mother’s milk of modern
China’s Maoist upbringing.

Do you suppose that such leaders, equipped with a massive nuclear
arsenal, are reliable partners and faithful friends?

In this context, Saddam Hussein was recently quoted by Shyam Bhatia
and Daniel McGrory, in their recent book “Brighter Than the Baghdad
Sun,” as making a statement which every American should meditate upon.
While urging his nuclear scientists to quickly assemble an atom bomb, he
said, “Give me the bomb and we will avenge the centuries of wrong.”

Here is a mentality that sees nuclear weapons as a way to alleviate
the pain of inferiority. Think of the inner demons, the inner rage of
this illegitimate son of an Iraqi prostitute (who was gang-raped as a
boy). Notice how one man’s personal story is projected onto
international politics.

The world is a dangerous and unhappy place, filled with desperate and
angry people. In this context, America’s blessed condition makes it a
special target — a scapegoat for every dictator and terrorist
psychopath. All such people denounce America. They all dream of our
destruction. “Give me the bomb and we will avenge the centuries of
wrong!”

As responsible citizens and voters, we should learn to judge our
leaders with all of this in mind. What we need to do, while watching the
political conventions and reading the party platforms, is ask which
party can better cope with emerging nuclear powers like China? Which
party will, in a moment of crisis, deal decisively with Saddam Hussein
or the Islamic fanatics of Iran? Which leader is more likely to thwart
the Kremlin’s machinations?

In this political year of decision, think about this wonderful
country of ours. Think about how to preserve it for the benefit of our
children and our grandchildren. Pray for wisdom.

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