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Post Partisan
Posted at 11:48 AM ET, 03/28/2011

To rescue or not to rescue?

              
Walking along the beach, I hear a cry of help. I look into the ocean and spy a woman thrashing about in the rough surf. I shuck my shoes and toss my sunglasses and dash toward the water. Suddenly, I hear a voice: “Do you have an exit strategy?”

Good point. It stops me in my tracks. I know how to get into the ocean, but not necessarily how to get out. There might be a rip tide or, for all I know, Portuguese Man of War jelly fish. What if I step on a horseshoe crab which, to be perfectly frank, is something I think about every time I go into the ocean. I envision that rapier-like tail. I pause.

Help! Help!”

But an innocent life is in danger, and I can help. I have to do something. This is my fellow man — or, in this case, woman. I steel myself and take off toward the surf when I hear the voice again: “You don’t even know who this woman is.” It’s true. I pause again.

Yes, who is this person I am risking my life for? Is she a liberal or a member of the Tea Party? Maybe I am rescuing the one person who will throw the election to someone who opposes the teaching of evolution in school. Why would I want to rescue such a person? After all, this was a rescue of choice.

“Help! Help!”

Still, a fellow human being was in trouble. I could do something about it. I could help. I started toward the surf again, and again I heard the voice: “Are you going to proceed unilaterally?” OMG. I had not thought of that. (More and more, this was beginning to sound like Newt Gingrich.) Did I have the right to proceed on my own? Did I need authorization — from the U.N., from the AARP, from the mighty Israel lobby or from George Soros? The world has changed. I knew I could not been seen to lead. I had to pretend not to lead. I had to wait for others.

“Help! Help!”

But I could not wait. The situation was perilous. A life was at risk. Something had to be done. I started toward the surf again and again I heard the voice: “Are you going to rescue everyone who needs rescuing?”

Another good point. People needed rescuing all over the world. Newt Gingrich himself has mentioned Zimbabwe. What was I going to do about Zimbabwe and all the people the people there who needed rescuing? How could I rescue this one woman in the surf before me and not rescue all the people all over the world who needed rescuing? It was better, apparently, to let everyone drown than rescue a single person. I paused again.

“Help! Help!”

Surf slapped me in the face. I caught myself: What was I thinking? A life was at stake. I head off into the surf again. This time the voice was much louder than before: “What about the cost? How much will this cost you?”

That stopped me cold. I could rip my bathing suit. True, I had bought it at Target in Boulder for something under $20, but these were tough times, and we had to make choices — hard choices, or so the cliché went, If I replaced the bathing suit, I might not be able to contribute to my favorite charity and some poor American kid would suffer in some way I didn’t dare to imagine. I had to be a realist. Yes, that was the term — realist. I could not save everyone. I had to act in concert with others. I had to consider the cost. I had to know who I was rescuing.

I stood, knee deep in the roiling surf, mulling all these considerations — unilateralism, no exit strategy, the precedent of having to rescue everyone, the sheer cost of it all and, of course, not knowing who I was rescuing — when the cries for help got dimmer and dimmer. “Help, help” and then, inevitably and feebly, “Glurb! Glurb !”

I turned back to the beach.What a relief. The crisis was over.

By  |  11:48 AM ET, 03/28/2011

 
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