Voting for Hope
After years of relentlessly bad news, is it possible that something has gone right in Afghanistan? The land of Taliban attacks and air strikes on wedding parties managed on April 4 to conduct a nationwide election blessedly free of any Taliban-concocted mayhem. The world should pause a moment to acknowledge the fortitude of the Afghan people. U.S. voters may face legislated obstacles to participation, occasionally long lines and antiquated equipment, but no one has to queue up amid fear of an ambush or car bomb attack. Afghan voters understood that the act of voting could prove fatal; but 7.5 million came out anyway—representing the same percentage of eligible voters (58 percent) as voted in the U.S. presidential race of 2012.
Taliban attacks on sites frequented by foreign nationals before the election had the desired effect of driving down the number of outside election observers, and so far thousands of complaints have been received about voting irregularities. That is surely cause for concern, but Afghan election authorities have assured the Afghan people that they will protect the integrity of the vote. For now, they should be given the benefit of the doubt. The fact that Taliban forces were unable to launch any large-scale assault to disrupt the vote is an encouraging sign of the improved capacity of the Afghan police and military.
Whatever the outcome of this pivotal vote, this successful exercise in democratic expression offers a welcome sign of hope. In upcoming elections more participation among Afghanistan’s women and voters in Taliban-wary rural communities would surely be welcome. Most welcome of all, of course, would be an election someday that includes a disarmed Taliban, willing to pursue its political interests and ambitions peacefully.
Not Good for America
In 1952 Charles E. Wilson, former head of General Motors and later secretary of defense, told a Senate subcommittee, “I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors and vice versa.” Al Capp, creator of the comic strip “Li’l Abner,” seized on this and created the character General Bullmoose, a ruthless capitalist whose motto was, “What’s good for General Bullmoose is good for the U.S.A.”
Over the years General Motors has had its prosperous ups and bankrupt downs. Recently G.M. disclosed that in 2001 technicians detected a fault in the ignition switch that could unexpectedly turn off the car’s engine and disable its air bags. For over 10 years, amid a series of warnings, complaints and fatal crashes, G.M. rejected proposals to fix the problem. It sent notices to dealers, but did not follow up until February of this year, when it recalled a total of 2.6 million cars. G.M. faces responsibility for 31 crashes and 13 deaths. Floyd Norris wrote in The New York Times (3/28) that individual G.M. personnel may consider themselves ethical, “yet, collectively, they acted in a way that is absolutely stunning in its callousness.”
On April 8 federal safety regulators announced that G.M. is being fined $7,000 a day until the company provides answers, under oath, to all their requests for information in the case. In the meantime, G.M. must replace every ignition switch, and the victims and their families must be justly compensated. Otherwise all Americans of conscience should collectively demand that no one purchase any G.M. product.
On April 3, just 10 days after being promoted to chief executive officer of the software company Mozilla, Brendan Eich resigned because of outrage over a $1,000 donation he made in 2008 in support of California’s Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. At the announcement of his promotion, Mozilla employees took to Twitter to protest, and the online dating site OkCupid boycotted Mozilla’s popular Firefox Internet browser. Many of those who cheer the office coup consider defending a traditional view of marriage to be the moral equivalent of opposing interracial marriage. But Andrew Sullivan, who is Catholic, gay and in favor of same-sex marriage, wrote that the campaign against Mr. Eich “should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society.”
The swift and strident reaction among gay rights activists to a donation made six years ago reveals just how drastically the terms of the marriage debate have shifted in that very short period. In 2008, 52 percent of California voters supported Prop 8 and a definition of marriage that has been accepted across cultures for millennia. Today same-sex marriage is legally recognized in 17 states, and a growing segment of the population views opposition to same-sex marriage not as a political position that can be legitimately debated, but as evidence of bigotry that can only be shamed out of enlightened circles.
That is unfair. Our society is clearly in a time of rapid social upheaval. As such, both courage of conscience and humility are called for on all sides. The quick denunciations and absolutist stance of Mr. Eich’s detractors evinced little of the latter and effectively shut down civil engagement when we need it most.