As We See Them
Presidential Elections and other Stories in the Meat Market
Bits and Pieces after the Crowds Roar
"The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment,
which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent-that of
total separation of Church and State...The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgement. The offices of the Government are open alike to all...
The body may be oppressed and manacled and yet survive; but if the mind of man be fettered, its energies and faculties perish, and what remains is of the earth, earthly. Mind should be free as the light or as the air."
---John Tyler, President of the United States, in a letter July 10, 1843
Every religion has its ravening wolf. It is one of the most perilous animals to appear in the
guise of religious faith; and they appear in all religions, at all times. The framers of the
great Constitution could see this and separated the necessary madness of faith from the cold, calculating
methodology of governance. One takes over the other at great peril.
Are we in this peril now? It's hard to say. Conflict exists as long as it is advantageous to both sides of
the conflict so the trumpeted "cultural wars," are really nothing more than the organization of cults to do battle in politics and beyond.
Have the great religions declined? That's too monstrous a question to address. What are religions building? What are
religions destroying? Faith can reduce the paralysis of fear, no question. But, once fear is out of the way
a person is just as apt to destroy as create. This can be determined by the governors of the cult or, spontaneously,
by the people in the cult. And there is no doubt in my mind that the "wars" between red and blue are essentially the
battle of cults, not "cultures." A culture is one that produces magnanimous people, tolerant people, open people; open to new
ideas, new experiences, new people, always checking against abuse, growing and evolving, pushing the envelope of self, laughing merrily, but quick to size up the threats to his generous spirit.
A nation divided into cults, political, religious, cultural would produce very narrow people, with violence right below the surface, ignorant,
selfish for the goods they have attained, fearful of other people, without resource, slipping inside the cult when things get threatening.
A good culture takes from the cults it produces and leaves all of its arrogance in the dust. A culture
feeds on itself as in a fine restaurant, not as starving cannibals. The starving cannibals eventually come face to face with their
own ignorance and either give up the practice or perish.
If an obscure president, in an obscure period of time, a harsher time for most, can give eloquence to his thoughts
quoted above, what about the people who follow? What ravening wolf has devoured their
December 19, 2004
Back to Sunoasis Opinions
The brilliant framers of the Constitution gave over to the American people as perfect a myth
as a people deserve. It is not popular mythology in the sense of Bush folkism or anything of that nature. No,
this is a profound founding myth that animates a great deal of American thought and action. Good thought and action
we might add. When America falls deep and back into itself, into its primal self, look out. It will become the rogue
that the Earth fears. Thank goodness for "checks and balances."
The mythology was so bold and stark. "Create the world anew; new history, new beginnings, new forms, make
it new." This was the profound moment that a group of very smart, knowledgeable types grasped in the latter stages of the
18th century. "Make it new but know all that has taken place previously!" That is the second part of the profound myth.
They knew that the urge to make things new again was or could be a barbaric one; a kind of revenge against
the past so that the resources of the past are mute. And the poor unfortunate group caught in the vortex of nothing
then are fragments of what has happened previously. Finally, a breakage of the dark clouds occurs and they are
dismissed from history with contempt. They knew this. They understand this as well as any generation in American
Make it new but know all that has happened previously. And that includes not simply ones own history but the history of everything else.
On the one hand we face the future as new people, as one's who have never lived before. And on the back end of
that fully open to all that has happened before. One implicates the other. One shapes the other.
And it is very interesting that both the left and right don't get this. That both the left and right are in thrall to the destruction of this myth and can't stand it.
And that is why when one sees everything dominated by either one of the wings he shakes his head and goes, "it is too late now. The old habits have won out."
December 10, 2004
There are three basic flaws in the American character that need to be rectified for us to maintain
a liberal democracy. One of these is "instant gratification," a second is a distrust and resentment of intelligence,
and a third is the "big easy."
Modern capitalism and its driver, advertising, has turned the American people from farmers into
instant gratifiers. Not only must one have it now, "it" must successfully consume everything in the past
to bring the gratified power and success. Or, at least, the sense that one is fully powerful in relation to all of
history. This is a trick of course and has nothing to do with reality. And it converts the American people from builders into
consumers; i.e.. people manipulated along every step of life.
It is more than modern capitalism though; it is technology. The pressure of a modern technological society has
re-barbarized things around the world. Modern technology does two things that replicates the conditions of
the "dark ages." It makes life utterly chaotic and beyond the reach of understanding for most people. And yet
it prevents any real, authentic change from coming into being, except more technology, more gadgets, more gizmo's, more of
everything but those qualities needed to make a decent society and culture. It's been said before. In my own youth there was a turning
away from technology for these very reasons and a re-investment back into the "senses." But all this did was generate huge
amounts of addiction and stupidity. The best way to deal with the barbarization is a re-investment back into knowledge
The problem for a liberal democracy is this: Where is the orientation that permits a free citizen to know where
things stand at any given time? How far up does he look? How wide does he look? How deeply does he look? The majority of
free citizens are reduced to look as far as their bank account, their personal position, their household. One of the key factors
for this fact is that intelligence is never taught to take on the big ticket items and think through them. It is taught to trust armies of experts
to do this for him or her and to pay attention to his or her little universe. Therefore, one can make the casual observation that
most of the time, most of the people are ignorant of the world they operate in. It is a necessity. How could anything
work if people were orientating themselves to the larger forms of life?
For anything to be built there must be the "deferral of gratification,"
for the purpose of putting the nose to the grindstone and building something that is seeded in nothing, at times, but hope.
Modern society and its economy has forced this "instant gratification" on the people as assuredly as an imperial army forces its will on a captured people.
It is impossible to gain the values of "deferral of gratification," unless one tries mightily and hard for it. What is given are the values of
instant gratification. Those are the values the modern-treads ride on. Popular culture is the sign and symbol of this. On the dark side are addictions and on the lighter side are the prancing
about of good-looking people who believe that they are immortal. We laugh but this attitude is intractable and goes deep into the political culture.
Witness where the political culture and entertainment culture commingle. The Entertainer is the prototype for the modern politician. The next Hitler will do a song and dance for the people. Hussein wrote novels for the entertainment of his people.
It indicates a world fully disconnected from the past but not connected to the future. A world fully imbued in an illusion many centuries old and leading one to the pessimistic view
that we live in the dark ages and not some enlightened era.
Fine, the man says, let us outline and depict this dark age and put out seeds for the future.
The second flaw is a total distrust, anger, and resentment over intelligence. The people are so paranoid of intelligence
gaining control over everything that they have successfully taught intelligence to back down to a very basic level.
It would be better if the people were given a mark to take their
intelligence to and then motivate them to that mark.
Intelligence is always related to the two most despised types in modern
society: the Intellectuals and the Scientists. "Ah," the people say, "look at what these two have done! Totalitarianism and
nukes! They can't be trusted." And there is some sympathy for that point of view. The awful fact remains that the more unintelligent the people are the more apt they are of being manipulated and controlled.
At that point they lose their potentials and join the armies of the defeated and the damned. Not too appealing an army in the middle
of the liberal democracy.
The third attribute is simply a result of the success of the modern society. Everything is too easy. If things are too easy
then what prevents the mind and spirit from descending into a kind of laziness that corrodes a liberal democracy?
It must devise difficult aspirations it can attain to.
January 6, 2005
One of the more fascinating things to study is the nature of the radical. Forty years
ago the radical emerged from the liberal left, on and off campus, and was the catalyst
for many changes. The body politic did not accept the radical ideas so much as they
were filtered and absorbed slowly and over time. One thinks of environmentalism or women's rights; two radical ideas that have now been absorbed into the mainstream. As that happens
however, the other side strengthens itself and begins to stamp out the fires the radicals have started. And at the end of the process there is a full and complete exhaustion among the political types. This cycle has fully played itself out so now how can we characterize things?
For one, the radicals are now in the right wing. They are the catalyst who stirs the space between the polarities to create the electrical energy in the body politic. They must be
isolated and filtered by the larger society. What is their main message? "Faith is the ultimate test of infallible nature. God knows, you do not." But the framers were very clear not to trust
any group that said that they knew God better than anyone else, therefore they should rule. The issues are merely a pretext to gain and hold onto power. They are the ravening wolves.
The radicals as we have known them in the past are old and meaningless these days. They try
and pump the charges up but it is useless to do. All the energy is on the right wing at this point. The old radicals will be turned, eventually, into one of these filtering aspects that is the next necessary phase of development. On top of this natural process is the reality that the terrorist threat is going to be around for a long-time. There are too many madmen, too much dangerous material, too many agendas not to worry about terrorism. It may and will be used as an excuse to maintain power but the argument against there being a threat of terrorism had better be very persuasive.
Until this threat is gone no new movement or idea can sweep through and take the nation in a different direction. That is the perfect opportunity then, for those who want a different direction to think, imagine, write, respond, and believe that the future will be there.
Soon enough, the society will do to the right what they did to the left. Isolate it, take whatever vitality it has and use it, unhook from the source of the vitality, and move on.
The liberal democrats will have to put out some fires of their own. And perhaps, in 25 years
or so, a new radicalism will emerge from that side to stir the pot again.
And what is the "radical?" Long ago I was told that a radical "got to the root cause of
things and tried to change them there." Therefore, the root cause of crime was poverty so you
focus on poverty rather than crime. Crime is simply victims attacking victims and the system itself is the victimizer. And, of course, this is working furiously in the right-wing radicals who have reduced life to their interpretation of God or Christ; an interpretation so barren, so devoid of spirit that it can only come from utter fright. Christ was the great liberator; freeing men and women of their fright. In any case, the good citizen needs to reject these forms of radicalism and return to a much more real version of what-we-are-in.
One thing these radicals can not stand and that is the constructive principles that are built out from freedom to ensure more freedom. Not only do they decry these forms, like science, but they seek to destroy them. And at that point the person of a liberal democracy must say, "do we live in a modern world or not? Are we not orientated to what is around us in the form of structure?"
The right-wing radical is the active agent today and the one the society must be very wary of. And that pattern discussed before will kick in; divesting the radical of any unique value, taking whatever vitality he brings to society, and then cutting them loose. Something profoundly healthy in American culture does this and it must do it with the right-wing radicals.
November 21, 2004
The fortunate family is one that has moved through all the tortured and fabulous history in America; that has lived in
its different regions. That is the family rich in lore and experience; it possesses a kind of
wisdom of the land. And in those families there is a mixture of red and blue. And a citizen
born into one of those families fights two tendencies in the larger population. One of
them is the strictly ideological where thought or a series of thoughts are fixated on problems and their supposed solutions. And where the thought is a belief itself and motivates whole eras in a variety of ways. The other is strictly limited by faith or inexperience and
results in the type of voters appearing in the rural areas. Voters that, on the one hand, are pitiful but on the other are irresponsible. And they lock everything out to make sure no one can tell them these things. And they hold grudges for decades.
The red in America must struggle with this and free themselves. If they think they've been
attacked and made fun of in the past, they haven't seen anything yet. It will serve little purpose but to harden the blue as they attempt to shift the weight of power from the middle to the coasts.
* * * *
The first thing I thought about when I heard the Bush voters
explaining themselves were the Christian generations after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, around 300A.D. Many priests and other officials of the church fanned out throughout the Empire to convert non-believers. They were successful up to a point. But in very isolated pockets they were driven away by angry people who wanted to hold onto their old beliefs. I truly recommend my Christian brothers and sisters to read a full history of the Christian religion. And they must ask themselves very pointedly whether they represent a real decline of a great religion. What they should worry about is it that, unlike Christianity of the past that produced great thinkers, great leaders, great artists, greatness all up and down the line, it is producing very low levels of intelligence, and high levels of intolerance, bigotry, and fanaticism. And these qualities were shunned even during the ancient world. But because the fundamentalists have been able to close themselves off, isolate and keep away, shut off, and only let what they want into their domain, they are more representative of the Neolithic peoples who lived in isolated mountain valleys.
For anyone who loves the religion it is not a happy time.
This long article traces the history of Roman religion and the slow acceptance of Christianity until it was the dominant belief. Within two hundred years the barbarians had ended Rome as it knew itself and started the medieval period.
It's very interesting to me that 50 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, the Roman
Emperor was conscious of the religion enough to send a party to Galilee to try and find
Jesus' family or followers. "They found some poor smallholders, including the great-nephew of Jesus, interrogated them and then released them without charge."
* * * *
Is fundamentalism at war with the modern
world? If so, it's the third wave of attack. The first was fascism and the second was communism. It is a direct attack on technology, science, capital, the
complexity of the modern world, it's urbanization, it's universal education, it's equity between the genders and so on.
* * * *
Out in my area, the bluest of the blue, there is a lot of anger and "soul-searching." What is needed is a wholesale reappraisal of the Democratic party. The "left" has to transform itself
somehow in ways that are imaginative and almost impossible to conceive of. The old issues, concepts, language are simply thread-bare and that side, in my estimation, hasn't changed. They are like the rural idiots. Nothing new or profound has moved through them in the last thirty years.
One lesson does emerge: You can get so fixed in ideas that they make you ignorant. Both extremes are very skeptical, if not hateful, towards the "modern world." But, the "modern world" is going to move merrily on. It's the left, the putative "smart ones," that need to gain a new perspective on the "modern world." And that means a reassessment of bureaucracy, science, technology, capital, justice, equity, among other things.
November 8, 2004
The election cycle interests us in a variety of ways. We still hold out for the great
promise of a liberal, democratic society. "Liberal," not in the political sense of
left-wing but liberal in that tolerance is at the center and core of it. And after
forty years of some experience in it we come to some conclusions. For instance,
the politics of the past four decades has worked at pulling down the citizen in a
wicked display of self-destruction. The left attacked the pursuit of truth and
committed the egregious sin of politicization and the right went after science,
common sense, even common decency in some ways. They both latched their fangs on the
educational system and the media. Since they were both highly successful in their vampirism,
they are held responsible for the mess: A dumbed-down, idiot culture that is frighteningly
near its end as a democracy.
In some ways it appears the culture or huge chunks of it simply abdicated any
responsibility for upholding a liberal, democratic culture and returned everything to
the prime materia which is where the madmen stir. In other ways it seems to muddle through
with just enough earnestness to make it to the next cycle before falling in exhaustion and
throwing the baton out to the next group. It suffered through many years of an inner
cannibalism that could only be ascribed to people who don't know themselves very well,
don't know others well, don't know their own history, literature, thought, systems or
anything else. In its stead we have a frightening display of practically illiterate,
superstitious, fanatical, addicted, addled people carrying this huge beast on their back.
A beast that the rest of the world is suspicious of and will war against one of these
days. If the demise of the Soviet Union proved anything it's that a people can not hide
behind the bigness and power of its own country. It has to continually do those things
that made the country great and then some.
What we have produced is a soft, lazy, decadent culture not equipped to transmit anything
to the future; building nothing, thinking nothing, dreaming nothing. A culture blinking
idly at the television screen or listening to the rants of the very people who have gotten
us in this mess. The left started it; the right has finished it. As we remarked
earlier, we are at the end of a tired era.
President Bush is the most inferior president in my memory. President Clinton is
not far behind that. President Reagan was not a Lincoln or Roosevelt. We have
produced this mediocrity primarily because the culture was so eviscerated by the
Vietnam and Watergate period of time. It never recovered. Something started at that
time, Lord knows what, and now we are here eyeball deep in self-hatred and the hatred
of the rest of the world. We lost the future. We lost our ability to sacrifice and to
build. We lost our ability to think. We lost a good deal of common sense. We lost some
ground of reality. We lost common decency. The very idea of progress came to a grinding
halt, and not without its reasons. But once progress was thrown off what came into the vacuum
but very suspect philosophies of pleasure, "get-it-all-now," a suburban kind of Eden
not worth spit, tired re-treaded spirituality from the East? A people, then, fantasizing
their own perfection and believing it to be ipso facto so. Therefore, no new dreams, no new
aspirations, no authentic creative movements, nothing but vanity and emptiness able to
hire PR types to sell people fake dramas; a disgrace.
That is a dilemma that will not be solved by the presidential election.
It may start to be solved when the people stop hiding behind power; whether it is
the powerful ideas of men and women or CIA's, or elected officials, or vast sums of
money. Come out and see yourselves as you are! Stop being the playthings for strong
forces in this world. Put a premium on language, on knowledge, on creative imagination,
on experience, and quit acting like peasants who happened upon a hidden treasure chest.
In fact, the few brave ones will try and get outside the framework of the "conservatives"
and "liberals" as they articulate themselves in public, through candidates and minions.
The machinery of politics is dead without new dreams. New aspirations and dreams do not
emerge in old politics. We are walking a tightrope into the 21st century.
The Bush Administration made a classic mistake of being secretive and suspicious.
It's appropriate behavior in the tyranny of corporate life no doubt. But, in a free
society like this you need to be as open and as trusting as you can. Once a citizen
can doubt the sincerity of the president venturing into Iraq, no argument can win him back.
And Iraq was falsely sold even though one assumes the inner circle had its own reasons for
the deed; mainly to create a staging area in a very strategic region and re-structure the
whole of the middle-east in an effort that will take decades. But it was sold as, "getting
rid of WMD and "democracy for Iraq." So the fair-minded, sober-minded citizen has to ask
some very pointed questions about the leadership qualities of those in power.
October 24, 2004
The modern political animal is made from a gory process. Innocent, naive consciousness
is thrown against the steel thighs of power and the splatter determines a good deal
of what that political animal will do and think in his life.
Before him is power
and its arrangements and rationalizations and nothing he thinks or does can penetrate it.
It is other than himself and, yet, all he possesses is himself. One can say that until the
political animal is splattered on the walls of power he knows nothing, an empty image he cultivated in front of TV and movies.
It can alternately become a vast womb of safe keeping's or a vast conspiracy determined
to rub out the political animal and all he believes in. It is rarely something comprehensible and therefore under the relative powers of the animal. It can't be owned by the
political animal; he may only react when the time is appropriate. And in the entrails of the
splatter are the secrets of his reaction.
Since the process is violent and traumatic to the individual he rarely becomes a
rational animal. Stunned by the power of the irrational he is terrified that he will end up in prison or an insane asylum if he can't do anything about it. So, he throws his irrationality onto a group either in support of something
or in opposition. The group is prepared for him and has learned the sublime ways and means of power much more
deftly than the simple, wounded political animal.
The trauma of experiencing the absolute hugeness of governmental power drives many
of the citizens daft. They end up the parodies of a democratic person and resemble the
very worst of the ancient mobs. And when the self is finally convinced that it is true;
power is real and the self has little of it, then the political animal comes into being
in the modern way. The self is belittled, reduced, made mute while either great love or
great hatred is levied against the monstrous power that looms over everything.
"Your love is my hatred; your hatred is what I most love." And so the thing fights
with itself until another era is wrung out, preparing for a renewal so hidden by
the darkness of the cannibalism.
Of course, in a sense the system was designed this way for several reasons. Conflict is as natural as breathing. To say you will end conflict in a free society
is saying you will end the necessity to breathe one day. And that day will make even American politics superfluous. Once I step forward with an
idea, new ideas will be born full of hatred for my idea. The framers knew this from
personal experience and from their knowledge-base in political philosophy. Build, then,
an infrastructure that allows the natural conflicts to occur without destroying the
freedoms that justify the whole thing to begin with. So, the hot emotions are tempered
by the due process and due diligence built into the system.
And here is a moral point: Does one trust any idea or party or leader or want-to-be-leader who seeks to weaken that infrastructure and so empty America back into
the predictable cycles of history? Can the wounded political animal, now braying like
donkeys and elephants, now strutting, now roaring in egotism, now wailing for some lost paradise, now made mute in exhaustion; can this pitiful animal do what is necessary to ensure that the infrastructure is still strong and able to sustain even the foulest of the animals?
If they are all fighting in the hogwash at the center of the barnyard, who makes
sure the fences are strong? One says proudly, "all the tax money that flows into the coffers!" But then, what about the drama, purely psychological, that sustains or destroys the foundations for a liberal, democratic culture? For instance, when the citizens can not see themselves in those they despise? William James set forward two major criteria that must be in place to sustain a democratic culture:
He may have thought of this in a more genteel, Victorian period of time but we, at
least, get to see the fruits of the breakdown of this creed.
- Opponents must have mutual respect.
- No one can violate the law.
Thinking people must go one step further and examine the implications of this.
July 9, 2004
In politics, truth-seeking is a dangerous game. The easiest one played and the one
played all the time is propaganda. It is the lasting legacy of both the left and right
of our era that they produced such perfect representations in the art of propaganda.
And propaganda is full of bluff, full of an egotism that believes, from the start,
that it knows the truth. It is never on a path of knowing but always fixated on a belief
that it possesses the truth. And we know that presents the most dangerous scenario all
down history. American genius undermines a lot of the danger since one piece of propaganda
can knock out another.
Propaganda is much more a matter of faith than truth is. So, for instance, when Rush
Limbaugh was clowning it up in the 80's one either had faith in him or did not. This is
very familiar to anyone who has listened to talk radio. The most informed, balanced,
fair-minded talk show host is yanked after a few years and replaced by the loud-mouthed,
sloppy character who hangs up on people who disagree with him.
And it makes sense that propaganda would be the art of choice in a culture dominated
by entertainment values, rather than civic values of a liberal, democratic culture.
The essence of entertainment value is polarity; it must generate conflict as all sophomore
literature and drama students are taught. The essence of a civic culture is to find
transcendence and commonality and apply the art of thinking in pursuing that course.
We, in a cruel way, exist in a kind of political dark age where the few truth-seeking monks
while the world rages in its stubborn inanities, outside.
Truth says we must be humble and discover things through due diligence. Propaganda
is the devil on the shoulder scorning the truth and urging that all can be reduced
to your own hatreds.
Truth for the propagandist is a simple phrase learned after the first few battles
with reality. Ah, I will take the simple phrase and make it into a splendid construction
of my own power!
And, always, along the path of truth-seeking there is a spur that moves into a
shining city where propaganda will take one to wealth and power.
America does not have a problem with repression. It is not an old culture mired down
in traditions and customs that cut off potential. That belongs to the world outside of it.
America has a problem with nihilism and hatred since the nihilistic and hateful are not
repressed either. And this is a very tricky thing to maneuver through when young. It is when nihilism and hatred gain the upperhand and form their own credibility that a culture gets in
And a lot of American politics is a kind of shined up hatred adroitly used by political
consultants to get that small percentage of votes necessary to win elections. They employ
legions of propagandists to do the dirty work.
When politics descends to this level it is impossible to ask of it, then, "solve the
problems!" It can't solve its own dilemma, how can it solve anything in the real world?
We live through a time reminiscent of the post-Civil War era, through TR. The Civil
War and Reconstruction had exhausted American political life and the emphasis was shifted
to private capital, the infamous Gilded Age. The infamous 60's of our era exhausted the political life of America in like fashion and has given us another sort of Gilded Age, just
now bubbling up into an interesting conundrum. Beginning with Teddy Roosevelt, America
experienced two decades of vital leadership. It became a much more activist government
beginning with the Roosevelt reforms against trusts. Following W.W.I, the people again turned
toward the private sector and partied to the very end of the Roaring 20's. Does this point to something useful for us today?
There's no question that the next two decades of American politics will be more interesting than the last two; primarily because of the "war on terrorism," and the gigantic
shifts happening in the geo-political realm, post-cold war.
June 23, 2004
David Brooks of the New York Times had an interesting article yesterday. He sees Iraq
in terms of a basic pattern in American life; one that does seem true enough. The great
American optimism initiates something that proves more difficult than first thought and
so the reality begins. That appears to be true of nearly every American I have known,
as well as huge public events. We aren't particularly good at a Machiavellian calculation,
especially when some great cause is at hand.
For grand cultural experiences like the gold rush or settling of the west, this is a
very positive attribute. If the people knew the truth before hand they would simply
sit on their hands and let nature grow wild over lost opportunity. And there is certainly
a strain in American experience that wants that nature to grow wild over the opportunity
since the opportunity appears foul after awhile.
It is this way however and will only change through painful experiences like Iraq.
We are not a frontier nation any longer. We are the center of world power, at the
center of world history and our time will pass too. And this should begin to produce
the types of prudence and wisdom that Americans seems incapable of handling; are even
In the same edition of the NY Times, on the editorial page was a quick analysis of
why the right-wing is much more powerful than the left-wing in America. The left can be
clobbered any number of ways and good riddance to them. However, one should distinguish
between the left as it emerged from the 60's and classical liberalism that the radicals
despised. Until there is a return to that classical liberalism, there will be no chance
for gaining the loyalty of the middle-class. And that is the whole key. In the 60's and
70's the middle-class had loyalty to the public sector; the children of the depression
and world war. But Vietnam, Watergate, high-interest rates, oil shortages, and other
factors brought an end to that loyalty. Reagan and the Republicans convinced the middle-class
their loyalty should shift to the private sector and it has to this day.
It will not return for a long-time I don't believe. But, then, events move at the speed
of light. Those who pine for a 60's type period of reform don't appreciate how rare they
are. They happen once or twice in a century and, in the long analysis, are very healthy for
a liberal, democratic nation-state. What the next one looks like is anyone's guess. And what
precipitates it is totally locked up in the darkness before us.
May 19, 2004
Experience teaches that the history one lives through has certain stages of development.
The baby-boom generation has lived through three such cycles, once they emerged from
childhood. The first of these included Vietnam, space adventure, civil rights, assassinations,
cold war, counter-culture, mass culture and were experienced as vast emotions, first. Then,
analysis tried to sort a few things out. Then the events were converted to memory. And from
memory came depictions of the events either in books or movies or TV. That era was succeeded
by one that began with the oil crisis and hostages in the middle-east. It went up through
the Reagan years and included the computer revolution, Shuttle disaster, Gorbachev and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the boom yuppie years, Iran-Contra and S&L scandals, up through the first Gulf War and the election of 1992. Emotions, analysis, memory, depiction.
And now we are in a third era that was initiated by the first bombing of the Twin Towers
in 1993, the Clinton years, Internet, Oklahoma bombing, end of cold war, Yugoslavia,
terrorist attacks in 2001, controversial election in 2000, another shuttle loss, economy
down-turn. It's not quite memory but the more it is analyzed, the more it does become memory.
Of course these events happen whether we want them to or not. They pass through us as public events and we have a relation to them. It fixes us to a particular time and place.
After all, we don't live in a depression or through a world war, a revolution or civil war.
We live through this, whatever it may be.
And, there are two other contexts to think about. One exists as nature; now the background,
now the foreground. And nature tells us our views of time are out of whack. The mountain is
a million years old and will exist for a million more. That is more than 54, for instance.
And if we connect beyond this to the natural universe the perspectives get mind-expanding; it's a secular sort of mysticism. Or, a mysticism made more real by our adventure into space
and how we know now, the immensity. "Oh, fine fellow, you talk of 40 years but here we have
a billion years. How do you size that up?"
Certainly, the last context is the person him or herself. The stages of development,
the expectations, frustrations, willfulness, desires, catastrophe's, imaginings, thoughts,
and feelings that we have to deal with all of this context.
A Short and Sweet Summary of the Happy Political Animal:
It was told to me from someone who worked under Kennedy that an electric charge
went through the whole of the public sector when JFK took office. And Kennedy had a
remarkable vision because he wanted to energize the public sector on behalf of the
people but he also wanted to energize the people themselves to take as much responsibility
as they could for the world they lived in. Whether that spirit died on November 22, 1963 is
an academic question. Vietnam and the "Great Society" followed. Then you had what could
be termed a bar-b-que of the ideals. The public sector was burnt beyond recognition because
of the loss in Vietnam and resignation of Nixon. Once the establishment lost its credibility
all hell broke loose, especially in the universities where the classic liberalism of JFK
was zapped in favor of a more radical blend of Maoist and Frankfurt Schoolism. The tale of
that time ended in the late 70's when an awkward Jimmy Carter made strange gestures on
national TV trying to rally the people. Watching that as a young man I shook my head. "The
poor man doesn't know how awful things really are."
Something, then, went on between the election of Kennedy in 1960 and the end of Carter
in 1980. It was the startling events of that time; the consciousness of the nuclear dilemma,
the voyage to the moon, the assassinations of great liberal leaders, the agony over Vietnam, the disgrace of Watergate, the oil crisis, civil rights, women's rights, environmental awareness, the decline of the robust 60's economy in the mid-late 70's. This country was not governable in that space of time and it's the prime reason that Reagan came riding into town on his white horse.
Reagan had vision too, like Kennedy, but it was far more connected to the American
past that always distrusts big government and always favors the private sector. Reagan's significance
is that he convinced the majority of people to change their loyalty from the public to private sector. And it was a remarkable shift that didn't start appearing as cultural energy until the '84 election. Then there was just a burst of economic activity, spurred on by the high-tech boom. Reagan very successfully transformed the country and put the 60's and 70's behind us.
In the 90's Clinton got up on the stage. He was the first baby-boom President and many had a lot of expectations. However, Clinton soon realized that he could not buck the trend against big government and so adopted Republican polices to win huge support among the people. This proved that Clinton was more a political animal than a conscientious person and it proved out at the end of his administration.
Clinton rode the 90's bubble to the top of the polls. It felt much of what the decks of the Titanic must have felt like; people laughing and drinking, making love in the well-appointed state rooms, eating the fine foods and believing that, at this moment, life could not be better.
And now a good political animal, only concerned about the state of a nation, feels
like he is falling in the abyss of some cold night, thinking he was crossing the bridge
to the future. And he is doing cartwheels to the blackness below, looking up to see
the captain above him looking down. He is a boy! And he looks bored. And he is yelling down,
"Iceberg? I see no iceberg. It's a wonderful night for a party!"
March 25, 2004
I've been jotting down notes about election years since 1984. The notes were casual and
were written by a guy who is a political animal but believes that politics
is only one facet of life that determines whether it is good, bad, ugly, or indifferent.
There's no question that the election of 1980 was a very crucial one and it still casts
shadows today. Ronald Reagan successfully shifted the people's views from the public to
the private sector, listening to the tax-payer revolt more closely than other revolts
happening at that time. As a result of this shift old-time liberalism died, conservatism
gained a great deal of vitality, government became a mock-hero that everyone derided,
and the country became fractured in both alarming and interesting ways.
Anyone with political instinct can see that the majority of people who vote don't
want more government programs, higher taxes, welfare statism and the rest of it. And
this will dominate the political scene until the next great economic crisis where the
government saves the day.
The interesting thing is that now more than at any other time since the Vietnam days,
the status of American foreign policy is being debated. And it is a profound philosophical
debate on the very nature of "what America has become..." And in some ways it measures
the distance between democratic conscience and the ability to grasp the reality of world
power. That is where a decisive split occurs and it will take one, full political season
to shake it all out.
Looking over those casual notes can be a diversion from all the clap-trap in the Iowa
caucus. Does anyone remember when Pat Robertson got more votes than George Bush the elder in the Iowa caucus of 1988?
In 1984, Walter Mondale made two fatal mistakes. He told the people he was going
to raise taxes. That indicated that the mainstream democrats had lost connection with the
people who were busily deconstructing government or demanding that it take place. He
also went fishing for two weeks after a fairly successful convention in San Francisco.
The end of the convention is the moment of lift for a candidate. Why go fishing? There
was a picture of Mondale in a lake, fishing by himself. He looked like a guy who had
retired from life and had no business or reason to be in the White House. And when
he came back from the fishing trip, Geraldine Ferraro had to explain her taxes. This
humiliation took place in a public forum and was not a pretty picture even though she
defended herself very well. Mondale's great moment came in the first debate with President
Reagan when he caught Reagan asleep or in an acute senior moment. And Reagan's handlers
made sure he got his sleep and took his pills before the second debate. The truth of the matter
is that 1984 was the beginning of an excellent run that lasted up to 2000-2001. And it was
a robust period that had been predicted by futurists who looked at the huge baby-boom
generation moving through their most productive cycle. And if someone sits down and looks at
the financial markets they go off the charts during that period of time. The amount of capital moving through the period was rather astounding, even frightening.
The domestic issue was always the budget deficit created in large part by Reagan himself
as he ramped up the defense budget. The foreign policy issue was the dramatic change in
the cold war and precarious status of the Soviet Union. A change we've hardly started to understand.
The election of 1992 was one of the more exciting with such odd-ball characters as
Jerry Brown, Ross Perot, and the Admiral showing up. Clinton nearly came to blows with
Brown when the ex-governor suggested there was impropriety with his wife, her law
firm and a development called Whitewater. In the long view it's quite obvious that Bill Clinton had a peculiarly American
disease among the ambitious class. He felt he knew better and more than anyone else.
And that attitude landed him in disgrace. In fifty years the name Bill Clinton will be
associated with the stained dress. "Mommy, what's the stained dress?" The Clinton Years,
rather than decisive and epoch-making, were a vast disappointment to anyone who saw a bit
of the promise. It was all slickness and air.
In 1996 Clinton had no problem with Senator Dole. But, it left one indelible mark.
The heroic war veteran stomping around the stage like a mad prophet, "if you elect this
man President he'll be bogged down in legal problems for four years!"
The campaign of 2000 was one of the worst on record. It rivaled 1988 for stupidity and
obvious pandering to special voting niches. But, turned out to be one of the most important
in recent times. And now we get the fun task, the proper task in a democracy, to evaluate
those four years of Bush, the younger. And in this evaluation he is not protected by dad
or family or cronies in Texas. In this evaluation he is a reality cast against a backdrop
of profound memories of what has transpired. Two questions arise, "Does he know what he's
doing in Iraq?" And, "Can he lead America into a future where we are the prudent and wise
nation because we are the only one's who can afford to be prudent and wise?"