Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Elephants' Graveyard

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy...

I am no great fan of modern American journalism, its practitioners oft seem to have fallen to such a shameful state that it seems one could start stacking sins (venal and mortal, both) on their doorsteps. Slothful, proud, greedy, they have prostituted themselves and dragged a profession, once held in high regard, to the level of public esteem generally reserved for used car salesmen, IRS agents, divorce lawyers and politicians.

Thus it is with hesitation that I put much weight on the Washington Post's articles on the woes of the GOP in the Northeast and the Midwest. But I see signs of the same thing in other parts of the nation, as well as in other media. The Mountain West is restive; when Idaho Republicans (elected Republicans, too!) are out badmouthing the GOP incumbent in the 1st District there... there's blood in the water. The Democrats have been capturing governorships, state legislatures, house and senatorial seats in those states; the leave-us-alone little-"l" libertarians have started to abandon the GOP in a big way. When some of the most popular governors in the nation are in places like Montana and Kansas... the GOP's in trouble. When Kansan moderates have given up their marriage of convenience with the far right, and are leaving the GOP to run for office as Democrats... well, we're not in Oz anymore.

Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.

The GOP claims to stand for things like patriotism, states' rights, the Constitution, small government, fiscal conservatism, low taxes, and keeping the government out of people's lives. It's never made any secret of being cozy with big business, but the rest of that platform has real appeal to many, many Americans.

However, the long, promising fan dance seems to have failed. What was hinted at, promised teasingly... turns out to be a fraud. In every case, what the GOP has delivered has been--at best--a shoddy imitation of the real thing, a Wal-Mart version of some public good. All too often, it's been an outright fraud.

GOP patriotism has turned out to mean flag waving; as if to prove the bitter observation that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, the GOP's loudest voices in favor of asking Americans to make the ultimate sacrifice for their nation--to put their lives on the line and volunteer for military service during wartime--belong to a cadre of gutless cowards. Almost to a man (and woman) they've never served in the military; not even in peacetime. Young Republicans, the ones being groomed (and grooming themselves) for power, are studiously avoiding service. When called on it, their feeble excuses range from having more important things to do, to having families to support and raise, to being busy fighting the culture war. Those are stained banners, borne by small, craven men and women. Anyone who would ask, encourage and expect their countrymen to take up arms, and not be willing to do the same is simply yellow, despicable, and a disgrace.

States' rights turns out to have largely been a code phrase, a tip of the hat to the trailing edge of open racism that the GOP embraced in its "Southern Strategy." When put to the test, the GOP has been more than willing to blow hot and cold about states' rights, depending on no principle more substantial than convenience and opportunism. If it might buy votes, then states' rights was a cause to uphold. If it cost votes, it was to be ignored. Hypocrisy, pure and simple.

GOP support for the Constitution has been similarly marked with a lacksadaisical disregard. There's barely an amendment in the Bill of Rights that the current administration hasn't trampled, and the GOP Congress has not only ignored that, it's proposed laws to approve--ex post facto--the violations. The fundamental concept of our form of government, dividing power between branches consciously and willfully set somewhat at odds with each other, in order to impose limits and constraints on each other, has been assaulted. The presidency has claimed legislative powers with its signing states, the authority to ignore laws passed by Congress (on the grounds that the presidency has vast, inherent powers that the Congress may not infringe--and interpreting that in ways that might shame even a Caligula), and has generally abused the judiciary, essentially ignoring it when decisions were inconvenient and even running media campaigns to discredit judges and decisions not favorable to the administration.

Small government? The GOP doesn't believe in that. Under Reagan, it bloated. Under Bush II, it's ballooned.

The idea of fiscal conservatism is, I believe, dead. Or rather, it's been done to death, most foully. It's a phrase that's now mostly bitterly ironic; if someone talks about fiscal conservatism... grab your wallet and start actively protecting the well-being of your children... and grandchildren. The numbers simply don't lie; fiscal conservatism has meant the open plundering of the treasury for private gain, massive transfers of wealth to the already very rich, and running up debts at a rate that is simply staggering. It's hard to remember that only six years ago, the federal government was running a surplus and paying down the debt. Debt, deficit, credit spending and profligate borrowing turns out to be the definition of "fiscal conservatism." It's a phrase to avoid for future politicians. It sold the idea that conservatism was good and responsible... and reality has shown otherwise. Americans wanted fiscal responsibility, and got sold a bill of goods.

Low taxes. Ah, yes, low taxes. This is the best example of bait and switch in a long time. You see, taxes were lowered mostly on the very rich and the merely rich--and particularly on the staggeringly rich. For the middle class, a three-card monte game was played. The numbers were fudged to make it look like there were tax breaks--but what was given with one hand was taken by the other. Worst of all, since the idea of a balanced budget was being gleefully raped by the GOP at the same time, the reality is that taxes were merely delayed. We'll still have to pay them. But we'll pay later, with interest. And so will our children. Claims that the economy would magically improve from all the careful GOP tending have panned out with the weakest "recovery" in modern times. Wages for the average worker are flat after taking inflation into account, even while profits are up... and corporate executive salaries are up strongly. The idea that tax receipts would be made up by a booming economy turns out to have been nothing but the blandishments of snake-oil salesmen.

Talking about staying out of people's lives is bitterly ironic. Even without dipping into the repeated efforts to turn homosexuals into offically second class citizens, the hypocrisy of this claim is apparent. The administration, openly abetted by Congress, has violated the privacy of millions and millions of Americans, spying without warrants and without cause, blatantly violating the Constitution as well as FISA.

No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people

Still, much of the above seemed obvious to many of us before the 2004 elections. Were it not for watching GOP candidates, including incumbents who've lived in Bush's bed, running to get distance from his leaden polling numbers, I would doubt. Were it not that leading behind-the-scenes arch-'conservatives' like Richard Vigurie are counselling a retreat; retrenchment in their think tanks and bastions, hoping that somehow the people will turn back to the GOP after a few years (for what?), I'd worry even now.

It's a bitter thing to recognize that what one has put one's trust, faith, belief in is a lie--and that's kept many Repoublicans from looking at the performance of the administration and the GOP Congress and recognizing it for the disaster it is. WHen that faith shatters, the price paid by the GOP will be high, very high.

You were a stranger to sorrow: therefore Fate has cursed you.

The GOP has played politics ruthlessly and with only one objective--power. To a degree, that's the nature of politics; it's not a gentle sport, nor a genteel one. But it does have certain fundamental rules, the foremost of which is that it has to be practiced with the public good foremost in mind. Were the economy glorious and diplomatic success crowning the laurels of military adventure, the people would forgive, forget and ignore a lot--mulcting the public treasury, sex scandals, etc.

But the economy isn't good. Diplomacy appears to have been made a prostitute for military and political short term objectives, and military adventures are... well... just this side of disasterous--so far. All the evidence tends to suggest that the sacrifice of American lives (not to mention the long civilian casualty list in Iraq), treasure, and international stature will have been for nothing. In terms of history, this administration promises to be the Ozymandias Administration; nothing but vainglorious boasts inscribed... surrounded by vast wastelands.

And this will all have been done under the rubric of "compassionate conservatism," in an era where the GOP has had almost unfettered control of the entire apparatus of government.

Fate will not be kind to such incompetence and failure. It's that which leads me to think that the near future holds an elephant's graveyard. Better to fashion a new party, devoid of the baggage and evil-reputation staining the GOP, to forge new alliances, than to try to persuade people who remember just how bad conservative control of government can be.


kim said...

So, is it incompetance or malice?

ogre said...

Good question, kim.

"Never ascribe to malice, that which can be explained by incompetence." was Napoleon Bonaparte's advice.

It does take some doing to be able to see this as incompetence. I tend to view it as a combination of things.

But given the fact that we have such bizarre outlooks expressed as "we create our own reality," I have to grant a large helping of incompetence.

The key element of what is, I believe, truly hubris of Greek tragedy proportions, is ideological obsession. Their "truths" are truths, and they're fundamentalist about them--no matter what the results and reality reflect.

Unfettered (corporate) capitalism is simply "good." Don't bother us with the facts. The invasion of Iraq is successful. Don't bother us with the facts. And so on.

I think that the folks in charge believe themselves to be the new Optimates--the 'best of men', the brightest, cleverst... the natural aristocrats, bearing the blessings of the gods (sorry, history geek knowledge assumed--this is one of the long term factions of the Roman Republic... hostile to the popular assemblies and the power of the people).

I ramble. Bottom line?

I think it's both. Malicious incompetence.

I think they are actively hostile to a democratic republic, to a government of limits, checks, and balances. But their results prove that there's a serious level of incompetence. When it looks like Hezbollah has better plans for rebuilding southern Lebanon than the federal government does for rebuilding southern Louisiana...

The real question is thus, will they succeed in destroying it, along with themselves... and take the rest of us with them? Tragedy often depicts lots of relatively innocent victims being destroyed by the hubris of others, particularly their leaders.

Many towered Ilium was laid waste, its people destroyed, enslaved, scattered--but the sin that led to this was that of one royal... backed by his kin.

If we're to save ourselves, it's not just a matter of letting the elephants rush, lemming-like, off the cliff.

Zachary Drake said...

Nice blog Ogre. You take the time to explicate a lot of things that the rest of us in the blogosphere just assume or gloss over.

Always nice to connect with other UUs, too.

The Emerson Avenger said...

I am no great fan of modern American U*Uism, its practitioners oft seem to have fallen to such a shameful state that it seems one could start stacking sins (venal and mortal, both) on their doorsteps. Hypocritical, proud, abusive, they have tarnished their own image and dragged a religion, once held in high regard, to the level of public esteem generally reserved for used car salesmen, IRS agents, divorce lawyers and politicians.

kim said...

You have heard, of course, that Bush has bought 98,000 acres in Paraguay, next to an American military base, and that Paraguay just signed an agreement guaranteeing immunity from prosecution for American war criminals?