I began this blog entry a month ago, but old sports superstition, you don’t queer the championship game with premature celebrations or speculations. (e.g. don’t plan the victory parade until AFTER the you’ve won the victory. cf. Dewey v. Truman, 1948).
- October 16, 2008
I woke up this morning with a thought I hadn’t thought before.
By all indications, Democrats will control the Presidency and both houses of Congress this January.
Assuming that there’s anything left, and floating the hypothesis, my thought was rooted in the memory of the six years out of the last two score that Democrats controlled all three elective chambers. And it was important to remember those six years, because another such six could sink us — not merely the Democrats, but everyone. And that’s too important not to share this thought with you.
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
- November 17, 2008
Back to the present. It seems that President-Elect Obama is following Lincoln’s prescription for healing and bridging factions, and I never did have any doubts about him.
No: it is the Democratic Congress that I worry about, and about which make my unease known here.
For four years, the Democratic majorities that piled up in the wake of Watergate had a blank check to pass the rest of the progressive agenda of the New Deal. Instead, they decided to fight over turf with a Democratic president, and Jimmy Carter’s term was doomed as much by Democratic intransigence as by his own fatal flaw of micromanagement and allowing decisions to pile up, even as he wanted to make each one carefully.
It was understandable, of course. There was a grave Constitutional problem, and a need to retake congressional prerogatives in the wake of an imperial, imperious and criminal presidency (Nixon). But, there was more interest in Congress as an INSTITUTION fighting it out with the Presidency as an INSTITUTION, and the road was paved for Ronnie Ray-gun and his felonious finks.
They thought that Democratic Nirvana in the congress would last forever, did nothing, and then watched power leech from them until 1994, when the Republicans took the House outright, and began to take control of the Senate.
By 2005, the Republicans finally had taken all three branches of government, and squandered their long rise from minority status (from since the Eisenhower years in the late 50s) on a series of insane, vicious and vindictive absurdities that ended their reign in congress by 2006, and further lost ground in the most recent election.
For two years, Bill Clinton had a Democratic congress, and they stymied him at every turn. Worse: Clinton actually managed to get more accomplished with a hostile, Republican congress (you know, the guys who impeached him) than he had with the purportedly “friendly” Democratic congress of his first two years.
No: the enemy here isn’t Republican mulishness, but, rather, Democratic intransigence, as the various factions peel off to “freelance” their own micro-concerns and petty grievances.
In 1903, George Bernard Shaw inadvertently described the state of the congress, and, indeed, Washington, D.C. in the years since Watergate in his magnificent quartet for four voices, the play-within-a-play, Don Juan In Hell (act iii, Man and Superman):
DON JUAN: Yes, it is mere talk. But why is it mere talk? Because, my friend, beauty, purity, respectability, religion, morality, art, patriotism, bravery, and the rest are nothing but words which I or anyone else can turn inside out like a glove. Were they realities, you would have to plead guilty to my indictment; but fortunately for your self-respect, my diabolical friend, they are not realities. As you say, they are mere words, useful for duping barbarians into adopting civilization, or the civilized poor into submitting to be robbed and enslaved. That is the family secret of the governing caste; and if we who are of that caste aimed at more Life for the world instead of at more power and luxury for our miserable selves, that secret would make us great. Now, since I, being a nobleman, am in the secret too, think how tedious to me must be your unending cant about all these moralistic figments, and how squalidly disastrous your sacrifice of your lives to them! If you even believed in your moral game enough to play it fairly, it would be interesting to watch; but you don’t: you cheat at every trick; and if your opponent outcheats you, you upset the table and try to murder him.
The “change” in politics requires not merely that we have elected a chief executive who is willing to pursue the difficult, humiliating path of making peace — since any idiot can prosecute a war, as Messrs Bush and Cheney have amply demonstrated — and rebuilding that which was allowed to fall into disrepair while we bickered.
No: we have to stop this bickering for the SAKE of bickering.
There is a moment in the musical “1776” by Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards, where John Adams and the future Northern states have come a cropper, with the entire Southern delegation to the Continental Congress walking out over the question of the abolition of slavery. Benjamin Franklin confronts John Adams, and reminds him that he, Franklin, founded the first anti-slavery organization in North America, but then lays out the fundamental agreement that our form of government requires:
John, the issue here is independence! Maybe you have forgotten that fact, but I have not! These men, no matter how much we may disagree with them, they are not ribbon clerks to be ordered about – they are proud, accomplished men, the cream of their colonies. And whether you like them or not, they and the people they represent will be part of this new nation that YOU hope to create. Now, either learn how to live with them, or pack up and go home! In any case, stop acting like a Boston fishwife. [emphasis added]
We accept that agreement to disagree without being disagreeable as the PRICE of liberty, the price of freedom. Nowhere is the concept of utter personal selfishness enshrined. Citizens must, ultimately, band together, or we go back to rule by a tyrant. Civility is the price of liberty, but, really, who is going to strenuously defend INcivility as the proper way to get things done?
This is every bit as true for Democrats as Republicans, but, as the song goes, let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me. Democratic presidents have been in office for twelve years out of the past forty. Of those twelve years, SIX were squandered by Democratic congresses refusing, mulishly, to cooperate in the elephantine task of national governance.
We have squandered our peace and prosperity because we thought that in a time of ease, we should ignore the future problems and focus on trivial issues of dogma and ideology.
Whether we realize it or not (because the recession deepens by the day) the days of plenty have passed away for a time. And we sit in this limbo of war-that-is-not-war, dangerously extended and building up murderous hostility each day. Shouting names at one another, or throwing a hissy-fit because our priorities are not shared by all is a luxury we can ill afford.
John McCain met with Barack Obama today, (and Obama is reportedly offering the Secretary of State slot to Hillary Clinton) and it can either be a sad grace-note at the beginning of another vicious season of polly ticks, or it can be the harbinger of what we might become.
If we can remember the better angels of our nature.