It was an odd dream: The Bush twins were ten feet tall and peering in my window. They were snickering. “We had a hamster too…” they were saying, as though it were the merriest of threats. They were too close, too manic, too happy. “Let’s just say that ours didn’t make it,” they concluded.

I woke up frightened, the sound of their ominous giggling trailing in my head.

This is a silly dream, I know. And in writing about it here, I have no wish to impute to the daughters my apprehensions about the father. But since the entire presidential campaign seems to be operating at the level of psychic symbols rather than material issues, I want to analyze it anyway. The dream captured precisely my fear of our iconic cowboy Commander in Chief, this Daddy Dearest who’s too much of a he-man to do more for a hamster than consider its fur-to-red-meat ratio before taking decisive action to put it out of its pain.

These past several weeks have left me worried about the status of all us herbivores–“salad-eaters,” we were called during the Republican National Convention. They have been so packed with horror that I am left giddy with raw anxiety about the future. The attack on the children in Beslan, Russia, embodied the extreme ideological intransigence that governs so much of the world: the barbarous Pied Pipers who rounded up all the children of that town and entombed them, on the one hand, and, on the other, the rigid, reckless determination of Russian authorities to attack rather than talk or “show weakness,” even when there were hundreds of little ones’ lives on the line.

Within the same few weeks, Mark Thatcher (Margaret’s son), and Simon Mann, founder of the band of corporate mercenary soldiers called Executive Outcomes, were indicted for trying to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea. Meanwhile, newspapers in the European Union noted that US troops were being pulled out of Germany and many of them redeployed to Africa–with no publicity, it was observed. I have searched in vain for some corroboration of this in American newspapers.If true, it worries me, because so many of the world’s wars seem to be most heated along the path of hoped-for oil pipelines, and months ago, long before Colin Powell declared the war in Sudan to be genocide, there were news reports that Chad and Sudan would be the site of new pipelines designed to skirt the better-known hot spots in the Middle East.

Recently we memorialized the sad milestone of a thousand American soldiers killed in Iraq. Less remarked were the more quickly accumulating deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis, the uptick in beheadings and the revelation of more abuses in Guantánamo Bay. More prominent were the crazy-making contradictions flowing from the White House: A vote for Kerry means that the terrorists will strike again. Vote for Bush because the terrorists are going to strike again anyway. A vote for Kerry means that the danger will increase. Vote for Bush because the danger is increasing all the time. Oh and by the way, we’ve never been safer.

I’m also worried because I don’t see anything on the horizon likely to engender a laying down of arms anytime soon, domestically or globally. The increasing mayhem merely reinforces the idea that “they” hate us–whoever “they” are. The hyped inevitability of round-the-clock terror seems to have muted criticism of Congress’s failure to renew the assault weapons ban. One hears lots about how we won the cold war, even as more and more of our citizens have gleefully taken to Soviet-style practices like spying on neighbors and embracing a police state as long as they get to be the police. Meanwhile, there is no excuse I can think of other than partisanship–New York is too close to France?–for Congress’s refusal to allocate Homeland Security dollars according to actual risk of attack.

In the media there are discussions of not merely fingerprinting all comers to the United States but requiring DNA samples as well, an idea that will surely become a domestic issue in short order. Indeed, in Britain the police are already pushing the possibilities to new and greater extremes. A few months ago, the Guardian reported that in pursuing a serial rapist in South London, a senior detective sent a letter urging black men in the area to submit to DNA testing. “Consider that the suspect is likely to refuse to provide a voluntary sample; catching him will be far easier if he is the only one…. I will be reviewing the circumstances surrounding your refusal and will notify you of my decision. In the meantime I would ask you to reconsider the request.” The Guardian went on to note that in investigating the case, police “identified 21,000 ‘persons of interest.’ Around 1,400 are believed to have been specifically targeted.”

I don’t know if the battles we are fighting are primarily motivated by the quest for oil, for land, for religion or for high moral ground. But oil is surely implicated to some degree, and our dependence on it ought not to remain a driving force behind our social policy, our morality, our wars. Releasing ourselves from this dependence is worth the effort, even if it will require a massive reordering of the way we conduct our lives; even if it will require a massive infusion of resources into the technologies of renewable energy; even if it will require a generation of enhanced public education and science training. This won’t be easy, but it is certainly more attainable and less flammable a proposition, less corrosive of our global standing and global order, than setting a match to the Middle East, Africa and broad swaths of Asia in the pursuit of more pipelines.

We have just endured the heartwrenching anniversary of September 11. As I listened to the parents of the victims list the names of their loved ones, I prayed fervently that we do not use their memory to fuel an endless blood feud. We need restraint in our leadership, as well as bravery. We need concern for all who are in danger, not just our own children. On all sides, the sad litany is the same: “And my son… And my son… And my son… My beautiful daughter… My child… We love you, we miss you.”

We need leaders who promise us not the “endlessness” of this madness but a path toward resolution.