Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Reading

The Last One to Fall — J. Freedom duLac of the Washington Post tells of the last American soldier to die in Iraq.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — To find Army Spec. David Emanuel Hickman on the morning after his unit returned to Fort Bragg from Iraq, you had to drive 100 miles north, to his home town. Up Highway 29, less than two clicks from the northeast Greensboro cul-de-sac where he grew up, Hickman was in Lot 54 in the Garden of Peace at Lakeview Memorial Park Cemetery.

Freshly turned red soil covered his coffin, which went into the ground two weeks and a day before he was due home. There were two shriveled carnations on the damp dirt. There was no marker yet, no indication that this was a soldier’s grave.

He was the 4,474th member of the U.S. military to die in the war, according to the Pentagon.

And he may have been the last.

With the final U.S. combat troops crossing out of Iraq into Kuwait, those who held Hickman dear are struggling to come to terms with the particular poignancy of his fate. As the unpopular war that claimed his life quietly rumbles to a close, you can hear within his inner circle echoes of John F. Kerry’s famous 1971 congressional testimony on Vietnam:

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

“Thank God if David is the last one to die, because that means nobody else will have to go through this,” said Logan Trainum, one of Hickman’s closest friends. “But it’s crazy that he died. No matter your position on this war — if you’re for or against it — I think everybody thinks we shouldn’t have been over there anymore.”

U.S. combat operations in Iraq officially ended months before Hickman’s unit shipped out from Fort Bragg in May. His platoon spent most of its deployment on “presence patrols,” walking through Iraqi neighborhoods to remind insurgents that the U.S. military was still there, said Spec. Zack Zornes, who served in Hickman’s platoon.

The Republicans and Gay Rights — David Remmick of The New Yorker on the depressing statements of the candidates.

In terms of civil rights, in terms of the progress of human decency, one of the clearest political victories of 2011—a long and cruelly delayed victory—is the triumph, last June, of marriage equality in the State of New York. This is a victory that will, if we are lucky, spread to many more states and has already enriched the lives of countless gay and lesbian couples. That the remaining Republican candidates (except, notably, Ron Paul) have found so many ways to deride this right, so long in coming, is appalling. History should not forget that at this late date Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and, most recently, Newt Gingrich—politicians who propose to inspire and lead—have pandered to fear and much worse by pledging their support for a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.


In Sioux City, Mitt Romney wriggled on the issue. He is a coin of many sides. Asked about gay rights, in general, he said, “I do not believe in discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation. Some people do.” He said that when he was governor of Massachusetts, he had a gay member of his administration and would never ask potential judges their sexual orientation. When Rick Santorum said that Romney, despite his opposition to gay marriage, had signed gay-marriage licenses, Romney said, well, he had no choice, because the Massachusetts Supreme Court had ruled gay marriage legal: “I fought it every way I possibly could.”

Newt Gingrich’s Plus-Size Ego — Frank Bruni on the former Speaker’s biggest asset… and problem.

Marveling over a presidential candidate’s arrogance is like noting that a hockey player wears skates. It states not just the obvious but the necessary. You can’t zip across the ice in Crocs, and you can’t thrash your way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if your confidence doesn’t bleed into something gaudier. Arrogance is the grist, and arrogance is the given.

But what flavor? And what measure?

That’s where candidates — and the presidents that some of them become — differ, in ways that shape the sorts of messes they’re likely to make. And that’s where Newt Gingrich provokes real concern. You have to take another politician’s ego, double it, and add cheese and a side of fries to get to Gingrich. An especially heaping, unhealthy diet of self-regard slogs through his veins.


Yes, we live in a grotesquely partisan moment, the main reason for gridlock, brinkmanship and super-committee ignominy on Capitol Hill. But would Clinton have stood at so far a remove from that committee? Isn’t it possible that a glad-hander more aggressive and warmer than Obama would be making a smidgen of headway?

Gingrich isn’t the answer: he’s hot-headed and truculent. And while Obama sees himself (with justification) as historic, Gingrich sees himself as epic. If Obama is The One, Gingrich is The Plus-Size One.

Lately he has been on less bloated behavior, and by lately I mean the few weeks since he emerged as the Republican frontrunner du jour. If you watched the debate Thursday, you could sense, from the clench of his jaw, that he wasn’t merely biting his tongue but making an unhappy meal of it.

Still, Gingrich the Grandiloquent sneaked through. Asked about his stated resolve to rein in federal courts, he said that “just like Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and F.D.R., I would be prepared to take on the judiciary.” The company he keeps!


Romney has utter, exaggerated faith in his managerial know-how, his technocratic mettle. That’s the flavor of his arrogance.

Gingrich’s is sourer — and scarier. People who have worked with him say that he can’t do justice to any one initiative because he can’t hold any one thought. There are too many others rushing along, and he must pay each proper reverence, because no matter how eccentric it is, it’s his.

That self-adoration made him an infuriating House speaker. It would make him a dangerous president.

And it would make him a dictator.

Doonesbury — Hands down on sexual harassment.