Heavy Ammo For the Water Cooler Wars
An End to a Sad and Empty Story:
Perhaps many of us have watched, horrified, as an acquaintance advanced through the dark and unstoppable journey of alcoholism or drug addiction. Day by day, even when it seemed that matters could not careen any farther into the abyss, they did. At the end of the story, in the best of cases, all those around the sufferer pushed and pleaded until a glimmer of hope was restored and what remained of our friend was dispatched to a treatment center or hospital. In the worst of cases, the addiction seemed to be easily able to simply consume what had once been our friend or relative.
After treatment, sometimes, hope and optimism seemed to re-emerge, only to later be lost in yet another return to the old destruction. In the cases of those who are not so closely loved, the stricken seems, perhaps, to have a few difficulties with the law or with his health as he plummets deeper into a stoic poverty. Somewhere along the line, he disappears. The next we hear, he has died – or been killed – in some far away place. His family, our friends, grieve briefly at some quiet, small, embarrassing funeral. We send flowers, think of our own good fortune, then collect what we need at the office and head for work.
A disturbingly similar fate has taken the old Republican Party. Such a lament is made so blandly today that its meaning may have secretly faded away just as the forlorn addict in our story. Yet, we owe the Republicans one last, sincere consideration – a final visit made more even more sentimental when explained, a bit, by history. That, of course, means not a secret history. It won't be another banal revelation of some diabolical conspiracy or an episode of hate mongering, some recently dispensed fact or opinion, or even an academic, grand view of history from the fall of the Roman Empire to the present.
There have been Republicans, great men and great, patriotic leaders in our recent past. They have charted our nation's course through the terrors of the Cold War. They have managed our affairs into periods of unbridled prosperity. Let's look at the Presidents we have elected during the last few decades.
The History of Presidents
33rd Harry Truman (D, no VP), then Alben Barkley 1945-1953
34th President Dwight Eisenhower (R) and Vice President Richard Nixon 1953-1961
35th President John Kennedy (D) and Vice President Lyndon Johnson 8 years 1961-1963
36th President Lyndon Johnson (D, no VP), then Vice President Hubert Humphrey 1963 -1969
37th President Richard Nixon (R) and Vice Presidents Spiro Agnew and Gerald Ford 1969-1974
38th President Gerald Ford (R) and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller 1974-1977
39th President James Carter (D) and Vice President Walter Mondale 1977 -1981
40th President Ronald Reagan (R) and Vice President George Bush (Sr) 1981-1989
41st President George H. W. Bush (R) and Vice President Dan Quayle 1989-1993
42nd President Bill Clinton (D) and Vice President Al Gore 1993 – 2001
43rd President George W. Bush (R)and Vice President Richard Cheney 2001 – 2008
44th President Barack Obama (D) and Vice President Joseph Biden 2008 to present
These are the American Presidents who have served in the lifetime of MeanMesa. In fact, MeanMesa was a strong Republican who voted along party lines in every election until Bill Clinton ran against Bush Sr. in 1998. Now, today, as is the case with roughly 70% of all American voters, MeanMesa wouldn't send a Republican down the block for a gallon of milk, let alone allow them around the children playing in the courtyard of these apartments.
The Question: What happened?
How could matters have changed so much since the prosperous, secure days of Dwight Eisenhower? His seasoned leadership – and his amazing history of service even before the Presidency – satisfied Republican and Democratic Americans alike. Oh sure, all those who voted against him complained – as usual, but none of them suffered through a troubled night's sleep, day after day, desperately wondering if our Democracy was collapsing. During even the darkest of those days we might have worried about the Russians, but we never doubted that our U.S. Government was unmistakably on our side.
There was agitated rhetoric from the politicians of the time. There were speeches filled with hyperbola and exaggeration from statesmen on both sides of the aisle in our Congress. Citizens were inspired, agitated, confused and, rather frequently, profoundly pissed off when we heard these things, but we never questioned the loyalty of those who spoke. We may have questioned everything else, but never their loyalty.
We're slowly and painfully approaching the relevance of the story of the alcoholic and the addict.
Looking back through all of this in a way available only to a geezer in New Mexico, that painful question, “What happened?” seems to perch too heavily to be simply disregarded in favor of another geriatric afternoon nap. That question perches on one's chest as if betraying some dreadful creature with an ambition to stifle one's breath, one's judgement. A dark presence indeed.
The young ones suspect – sickeningly – that what they see all around themselves now is no better or worse than what they might have seen a few decades ago. They have no access to a metric which might quantify a comparison made possible only by the faltering engine of age. Their carefully groomed cynicism blinds them from a true, well seasoned vision of either great possibilities or great danger.
During the administrations of Eisenhower, and even Nixon, (remember, we are discussing Republicans here …) the GOP claimed a fairly well deserved reputation as the masters of foreign policy and economics. Actually, without delving too deeply beyond a general appraisal of the performance of the parties, Republicans really did perform well in these areas. The Democrats, as least in the eyes of the mass of Americans, seemed to do better with domestic issues. Neither of these claims departed noticeably from either the observations or the expectations of the voters. Back in those days we were happy and satisfied with this, perhaps, overly simplified model.
Now, Nixon has become a bit of a villain for breaking into the Democratic party headquarters in the Watergate and getting caught at it. Eliminating that minor faux pas from his record, the rest of his term went well enough – he established relations with the Peoples Republic of China and didn't leave too much lasting damage to the economy. However, something dark emerged. It may have emerged before, but under Nixon it lept into the light and permanently set the stage for much worse events to follow.
The History of Division
It was during the Nixon White House that the GOP discovered the vast utility of dividing the country. His Vice President, Spiro Agnew (later indicted for defrauding his state government of transportation money), set out on a mission to divide the country. The people hadn't heard such things from anyone in the government before this. Yes, Spiro's flamboyant vocabulary (“nattering nabobs of negativity”) amused the newspaper reading demographic, but his toxic message slowly and effectively began to penetrate. The underlying foundation of such divisive constructions such as Jerry Falwell's “Moral Majority” (ca. 1979) found a warm home base among Americans who, regardless of the facts, found it pleasing to assume the role of the pious and the patriotic as they ascended over their less righteous peers.
This accomplishment was not lost on the Republicans. They had discovered an easy, inexpensive way to present themselves to Americans as not only war making and foreign policy experts with an almost religious obsession for smaller government, but also as the snake oil promoters of a carefully crafted but undefined promise of lower taxes and greater freedoms. Information challenged voters spent a few years advancing a cyclical, divinely inspired “ranting and chanting” tantrum centered on how poorly – and sinfully – they were being treated by “tax and spend Democrats.”
Thoughts become material when they are thought.
When the greatest fraud of all, Mr. Ronald Reagan, entered the scene, the stage was set for an even more outrageous deception. The “small government,” “lower taxes” and “strong military” message flew in the face of actual events. The intensity of the rhetoric was increased while the actual facts plummeted to almost perfectly the opposite. Taxes were raised and deficits soared while the Reagan government criminally scandalized American foreign policy with Iran-Contra policies.
MeanMesa voted for Ronald Reagan twice and contributed to his campaign coffers.
Ignore the Man Behind the Curtain
Thirty-five years later we are paying over $200,000,000 annually for the interest on the money he spent. Of course, this is not news to MeanMesa visitors. A previously posted MeanMesa chart showing the growth of the national debt – and the responsible parties – and the responsible Party! – is included below.
(A temporary note from MeanMesa. The chart intended to appear right here is, uh, encountering technical difficulties, birds flew into the engines, cob webs have shorted out the switch gear, there are terminal software glitches, etc. You can see the chart more clearly by linking to the blog post provided below. Apologies, MeanMesa. )
The U. S. National Debt
(From “A Chit Chat With Republicans About the Stimulus,” a post on this blog... http://meanmesa.blogspot.com/2009/03/chit-chat-with-republicans-about.html )
However, what began with Nixon's cautious adventure grew legs under Reagan. He – and his Republican Party – found that fraudulently vilifying the opposition was far easier than actually performing the leadership and management roles it would have taken to convert such hypocritical claims into actual, observable accomplishments. Reagan, and his servant, George Bush Sr. could have brought spending under control, but it was clearly easier for them to blame everything on “those people” they had spent so much effort vilifying!
After they had incited the ideological issues to a fever pitch, facts meant nothing. Now, even this calamitous treachery could have been survived in fairly good order. We did, after all, stumble along until Clinton once again began to make sense out of the incredible explosion of the Reagan deficit. The damage of the Reagan years – including a gigantic tax cut for the richest and an equally gigantic tax increase for the rest of us – still, yet today, haunts the Treasury like the ghost of Christmas past.
However, this post is not about economic corruption so much as it is about divisiveness. That is the ghoul which is now sucking the life out of the country. We used to think that money meant everything. Now we know that crazy, ideological hate mongering can actually amount to more of a death-knell threat than simply running out of money. Although Reagan absolutely laid out the foundation for our present day economic collapse, it was the growing appetite for a violent division of the country into warring opponents which may signal the end of the Republic.
Even after the lackluster drift of the Bush Sr. administration, post Reagan remnants could still manage to spend $60,000,000 tax dollars on the sex investigations of Bill Clinton, rendered by their favorite, psychopathic, post Moral Majority, breathless dirty shirt preacher masquerading as a judge. The prize was division. Division had to be nurtured at any cost. There were no validating successes left for the Republicans to claim. Their obsessive hate had become the currency of the day, the nation be damned!
The bigots and the hillbillies would handle the ground war while wealthier Republican toadies, under the cover of the Senate, would take control of the media. Finally, after the million dollar birth pains of an already failing corporation, FOX reinvented itself as the “Savior of All That is GOOD” and prepared us for what it and its masters hoped would be the final gasp of American Democracy. The fall of the Republic was far closer than any of us thought. The United States had been hurled into a “sausage grinder” where all the little people would spew out their bile from two grisly throats, having no other choice but to emerge to wage a puppet war against each other.
Wait! Did the neo-cons create the hill billies? Not really. During the 1950's U.S. literacy rates peaked (under Eisenhower -- who told all school children that they needed to be smart to fight the Russians) then began a continuous decline until the autocracy (Bush W. told everyone that it was okay to be illiterate and uninformed, "No preblemmo ef'n ya'll wanna be neo-cons... heh, heh") Obama will probably correct this if he has time.
There would be no holds barred. The chart of the National Deficit shows the grim image of what came next. The looting began. The animosity grew more and more violent. It had to grow more and more violent – the carefully sponsored conflict, now raging out of control, had to provide the distraction for the emptying of the Treasury. The disgrace and the outrage knew no limits. Anything goes … at least, anything went.
There is somewhere between $5 and $7 Tn dollars missing.
A Promising Interlude!
Smack dab in the middle of this MeanMesa posting, President Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize. If you pray, pray for the President. Everyone else, support him as if your life depended on it.
(The last Republican President to win the Nobel Peace Prize was Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 for his effort to end the war between Japan and Russia. In the election of 1912, Teddy Roosevelt, because of the level of corruption in his Republican Party, moved to the Progressive Party, making a third party run for the Presidency and forcing the Democratic Party into a new, populist phase.) Now, back to this posting.
Grumble, grumble, grubs again ...
The degree of the national division became the ultimate measurement of the success of the Republican Party under the unelected Bush (“W”) autocracy. The goals of U.S. foreign policy changed priorities from the good of the nation to that of creating more and more calcified domestic division. The degree of polarization which could be induced between the main groups of voters became the foremost measure of political success. The country staggered under the onslaught of this reckless, paranoid, explosive, destructive dualism. The rift between Americans, carefully groomed under this cheap new scheme of the neo-cons, grew more and more precipitous. The chasm had many dimensions, each one carefully exploited by the guileless public relations pragmatists in the White House (Rove, Atwater, Cheney, Rumsfeldt, etc.).
The distribution of wealth between the rich and the poor erupted into a near economic class war state. Gaseous patriotism, offered up at the hands of functionally illiterate neo-cons, (McCain, Pallin, Limbaugh, Hannity, etc.) became the test of ideological legitimacy for every decision. Scarcely disguised, violent war mongering, lubricated with the most despicable sorts of corruption, false religion and looting, overwhelmed every competing – even possibly valid – national interest, domestic or foreign.
Now to connect the story of the Republicans to the story of the addict.
The Republicans, unable to promote much in terms of social, economic or cultural advances, became addicted to the empty possibilities of their scheme to divide the country into manageable parts – one to be constantly incited to more and more vacuous Republican “ideology” and the other to ridiculed as the fallen remnant of “failed” progressive ideas (refer to the chart above). What had been a few Molotov cocktails in the Nixon administration became a leaking, full sized gasoline tanker under the “W.”
The Republican addiction to a greater and greater division between Americans advanced relentlessly. Had any neo-cons been blessed with even a moment of personal peace in this destructive rampage, they would have envied the hopeless, slow shaking of a heroin addict approaching his death. But for them there was no respite. The more outrageous they became, the more, even more, outrageous they wanted to become.
Every possible inhibition and embarrassment fell away as if it were composed of nothing more than the old, foolish old ideas such as the clean underwear and fingernails of the heroin soaked wretch now consumed in his frenzied, full time job of finding more heroin. Like the junkie, there existed not a single coherent moment where the neo-cons might reflect, not even a single, momentary reflection based solely on pragmatism, let alone one based on even so much as a faltering scintilla of interest in the nation itself, about the self-immolation they pursued so impulsively.
Still Trying to Learn Something from the Romans?
Now, a bit more history.
The Romans maintained a Republic until the time of Julius Caesar. However, based on a suspiciously similar exploitation of the existing political divisions in Rome, an man named Sulla, for a brief time, became dictator of what had previously been the Republic. After his death, the Republic idea temporarily returned, albeit shaken and, ultimately, doomed. After Julius Caesar the entire remainder of Roman history was to be marked as an Empire, not a Republic.
Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix (Latin: L•CORNELIVS•L•F•P•N•SVLLA•FELIX) (c. 138 BC – 78 BC), or simply Sulla, was a Roman general and politician, holding the office of consul twice as well as the dictatorship.
Sulla's dictatorship came during a high point in the struggle between optimates and populares, the former seeking to maintain the power of the oligarchy in the form of the Senate while the latter resorted in many cases to naked populism, culminating in Caesar's dictatorship. Sulla was a gifted and effective general. His rival, Gnaeus Papirius Carbo, described Sulla as having the cunning of a fox and the courage of a lion - but that it was the former attribute that was by far the most dangerous. This mixture was later referred to by Machiavelli in his description of the ideal characteristics of a ruler. 
Sulla used his armies to march on Rome twice, and after the second he revived the office of dictator, which had not been used since the Second Punic War over a century before. He used his powers to enact a series of reforms to the Roman constitution, meant to restore the balance of power between the Senate and the Tribunes.
If you find this troubling tale uncomfortably similar to events unfolding in our own Republic, you and MeanMesa are watching from the same bench.
An Unlikely Task is Added to Obama's “To-Do” List
As Americans, we are traditionally quite convinced that a two party system holds essential advantages for the operation of our social politics. However, our understanding of such a structure implies that it will function in an environment of national unity, hosting opposing views with common aims. The current division of the country, an awful price exacted for the temporary political benefit of the reactionary elements among us, may be our undoing.
Recalling the long term impact of Sulla's ambitions in ancient Rome, America has plunged to a very similar low point in our unity and commonality. A rift so serious as to threaten the continued existence – or at least, the prospects for a continued prosperity – of our own Republic. This historic threat is not to be entirely foisted on the Republicans, either. In acts of political self-defense, the progressives and Democrats have, far too frequently, fallen to the same levels. Too frequently they have copied the "low rent" behavior of their Republican counterparts.
Further, if one party has become determined to follow its addiction to violent division all the way to its own demise, where will that leave the counter balancing “two party” system we have grown to respect so much? It may well not be the Republicans, not withstanding all their present outrageous theatrics, which will ascend to imperial status, but the Democrats!
It may not be crazy, ambitious George W. who plays the role of Sulla. That script may be foisted upon an unwilling and reluctant Barack Obama, although remaining above such avarice of power, when he is still left stranded without an opposition after the Republican suicide becomes a fait accompli.
What further task has been added to Obama's list of Herculean reconstruction chores? He may well be faced with the task of creating a new, coherent opposition party!
We live in strange times, indeed.