The Global War on Morris (Simon & Schuster, 2014) is a political satire written by Congressman Steve Israel, Democrat New York. My first thought when beginning Morris was how a 13-year Congressman has time to write a novel, particularly a representative who headed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. On second thought, maybe the debacle of the last congressional elections for Democrats can be credited to Congressman Israel focusing on his novel rather than elections. The current deadlock in Congress has probably given all 435 Representatives and 50 Senators tremendous time on their hands to engage in creative writing, playing cards, hunting with Supreme Court Justices or other hobbies, since it is clear they are not engaging in the art of politics . The act of political civility as I understand it requires endless conversations in the arena of ideas with the goal of identifying compromise solutions. With no willingness to collaborate, there is plenty of time for personal ventures at the public expense.
But I digress, Mr. Israel’s book is a work of fiction crafted by taking headlines of the War on Terror during the the Bush/Cheney administration and loosely linking these actual stories into an amusing narrative. All of your favorite Republican henchmen during the period, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, Tom Ridge are alive and well in the story line. Vice President Dick Cheney is hunkered in an underground bunker, a Machiavellian puppeteer controlling American’s views on terror. The ultimate goal is not to protect the country from would-be terrorists but to beat Candidate John Kerry in the 2004 election.
I read the book because New York Mayor Bill deBlasio recommended it in the Wall Street Journal’s, Books of 2015 “Who Read What”. I realized once I started reading that the WSJ endorsement was probably a shameless plug from deBlasio for his Democratic friend, Israel, from upper New York. The recommendation also provided an easy way for the Democratic leadership to spoon feed readers in a humorous forum fundamental constitutional issues of privacy and civil right bludgeoned by the War on Terror.
Morris, of the title, is an unassuming, nondescript Jewish pharmaceutical salesman living a routine existence with his overbearing wife Rona, a clinical social worker. These two conventional, average, liberal New Yorkers become mistaken as American terrorists by Cheney and his crew through a series of bizarre and comical mistakes and poor life choices. As is true of many things in life, the real villains manage to escape while Morris becomes embroiled in an endless round of red tape and bureaucratic nonsense. Rob Reiner & Andrew Lenchewski are adapting the Israel book into a cable comedy series. If you don’t enjoy reading, you may soon be able to see the plot on television.
While Israel is writing in the theater of the absurd, two real-life points jumped out at me. First, I know Vice President Cheney personally.
He is from my home stomping grounds of Wyoming. When he first ran for Congress, he was young and unknown. I remember receiving a phone call asking me to host a house party for Cheney at my rented bungalow on the fringe of gentrified Cheyenne, Wyoming. The caller said, “We are having trouble identifying people to support a younger, unknown candidate.” Cheney, of course, went on to win the election. In my executive job, I remember visiting him in Washington where he always had time to see Wyoming constituents, particularly those who had helped him get elected. I also remember running up steps of the stadium at the University of Wyoming football game as Representative Cheney was coming down them. He called out, “Hello, Julie.” So what do we learn from these little tidbits from my past. First, everyone starts somewhere. It is still possible in this country to start out as an unknown candidate and over a long, successful career end up as a Secretary of Defense, corporate titan, and Vice President of the United States.
We also learn that people change. I have turned into a liberal as I age and see the haves becoming wealthier and have not’s becoming a permanent underclass. My Democratic friends in Wyoming tease me mercilessly about my support of Cheney but then my sister and I were also Goldwater Girls back in the day. The same can be said of Cheney. The man, who was gracious at a rental house party, saw and knew his constituents by name and rose to power in an unlikely manner, seemed to move to the dark side as his career jettisoned. The lesson here is not that I moved towards the light and he moved towards the dark but rather in life there are many opportunities to change. I heard a wonderful presentation on homelessness a few weeks ago and one of the featured speakers when queried about the potential of the homeless to improve said quite clearly, “My approach to homelessness is based on my belief in redemption. No matter how many drugs a person has used or how long they have been homeless, redemption is possible.” Now in my 65th year, I see where every day there are opportunities to choose the light or dark and we each must define and build our own personal trajectory.
Second, we learn from the tyrannical vision of the unfettered Federal government, that as Americans we do have some very real concerns about the balance between protection of privacy and the need to know to keep us safe. I have to admit that I have not been in favor of Apple’s opposition to providing the FBI with information about how to unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s cell phone. These people are known killers who willfully shot their co-workers in a planned attack. The haunting question remains are there others out there waiting their time to strike? If so, is that information contained in the cell phone data? The Global War on Morris reinforces Apple’s position. A government with complete access to our personal information and without any oversight body could quickly germinate into an authoritarian regime seeking out anyone who disagrees with it. I am not sure what the correct answer to the balance of personal privacy versus terrorist among us is. But after reading the book, I do agree with Apple CEO Tim Cook that this decision must not to be taken lightly.