Military issues and politics were the themes of a talk by MSNBC host, author and activist Rachel Maddow April 13 at the Tivoli Theater in Downers Grove. The event was hosted by Anderson's Bookshop, located in Downers Grove and Naperville.
A New York Times bestselling author, Maddow is also the host of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. Maddow is also a Rhodes Scholar, having earned her doctorate of philosophy in political science from Oxford University in England. She previously co-hosted a show on the Air America Radio Network and worked as an HIV/AIDS activist with ACT UP and the AIDS Legal Referral Panel.
After an introduction by Becky Anderson, co-owner of Anderson's Bookshop, Maddow spoke to a packed house of 1,000 people about political issues and her book Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power.
Maddow noted that she isn't an expert on war or the military and that she has never served in the military. "I wrote the book as a civilian for civilians," she said, adding that the book is about the politics of military power.
Talking about her recent birthday (she turned 40) she spoke about her zodiac (Aries) and Chinese (ox) signs. Taking that idea a step further, Maddow said that we all have a birth presidentwhich, for her, was Richard Nixon. This realization, Maddow noted, made her feel really old.
Then Maddow read from her book. In the excerpt she talked about the manpower and money$8 trillionit takes for the upkeep of nuclear warheads as a part of the military's stockpile life extension program. Maddow noted that the military is interested in cutting costs, however, Congress is fighting to keep the money flowing to military programs. "The tasks we assign our service members are hard enough without asking them to get their work done inside the world's largest organization dragging around decade's worth of clattering battle rattle in the form of defunct and deathless programs," said Maddow.
"I am not a pacifist but I have a lot respect for pacifism," said Maddow. "Although I respect the view of pacifists, I don't share the belief that war is the single worst option. That war is never ever necessary and because of that I respect the decisions of our country to maintain a robust military. At the same time we aren't doing the military any favors by insulating them from a competition for resources with the other things our country wants to do other than maintain the military."
The idea for this book, Maddow noted, was to explain how in the last 40 years both political parties have changed how and what the military spends money on and how the United States decides where and for how long to deploy military personnel. An example of this, Maddow noted, was when President Ronald Reagan went to war in Grenada without informing Congress.
Maddow said that another way to wage war is to pretend that it is free by omitting the costs from the national budget. Using a goldfish analogy (where the goldfish keeps swimming around and around and noticing the castle over and over again), Maddow explained that during the George W. Bush administration the costs for the war would be put into an emergency (surprise) supplement every year that didn't get factored into the budget.
Maddow also talked about the outsourcing of military operations to private contractors that then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney (under President George H. W. Bush) pioneered during the first Gulf War. This outsourcing continued in Bosnia during President Bill Clinton's administration, according to Maddow.
"I don't think either of them were trying to undermine the constitutional and temperamental thresholds to the American public being willing to wage war. I think they were actually trying to wage war in a way that was less annoying to them ... It did have the effect of undermining some of the constitutional and temperamental impediments to war," said Maddow.
Another way to get around telling the public is to go to war in secret, said Maddow. "As wars get easier for the civilian population, wars tend to get longer and we tend to be a country that is way more at war than we are at peace," said Maddow.
While researching the book Maddow talked to veterans about their experiences. She noted that the gap between the experiences of military families and civilian families is huge. Less than one percent of the American population is in the military, Maddow remarked. Maddow also mentioned the "Chicago Welcomes Home the Heroes Parade "and the two people (civilians) who organized the event.
During the Q&A, Maddow discussed the Proposition 8 and DOMA cases in the Supreme Court, saying she is unsure of what the justices will decide except that the outcome will afford some areas of the country full marriage equality, including California, while other areas of the country will still have to fight for same-sex marriage. "As Evan Wolfson (founder and president of Freedom to Marry) says, you will have civil rights that will fade in and out like cellphone service," said Maddow.
Maddow added that sometimes elected officials say what they think the audience of the moment wants to hear and disregards that they will be fact-checked. Also, Maddow mentioned the bifurcated world of the political and media right and everyone else. "The thing about having Internet-driven media rather than having voice of god driven media is that we get to follow our own links and paths and we can chose to listen to people who are telling us what we want to hear," she said. "That is OK if you are a sophomore and you are trying to figure out if you are a libertarian but if you are a member of Congress, shame on you."
In addition, she noted that there is a reason they do corrections on her show: "I don't want to be like the right and Fox News. ... Our internal motto on the show is to increase the amount of useful information in the world."
Maddow said that background checks and gun trafficking will probably pass Congress and get signed into law. As for term limits, Maddow is against the idea as well as a permanent elected body. Of her radio days, Maddow noted that she misses wearing what she wants and not wearing makeup while she is on air. Concluding, Maddow told a story about her unsuccessful attempt at interviewing Cheney at the Conservative Political Action Committee Convention a few years ago. (She has yet to interview him, she added.)
Each member of the audience received a signed copy of Maddow's book that served as his or her ticket for admission.
See www.rachelmaddow.com and www.andersonsbookshop.com for more information.