Take a look at a video
of George W. Bush speaking to the nation five or six years ago.
Like a pop single from
1962 (or 2002, for that matter), it didn't age very well.
It's astonishing that
this transparently frightened man was the leader of the free world for
eight years, and was given so much license to commit so much destruction.
But, then, nothing seems
to define our era quite so much as license.
We give ourselves license
to incur fantastic levels of national debt, and hand the bill to the
We give ourselves license
to invade other countries on the most patently bogus of pretexts, bringing
disaster upon them and us.
Or at least some of us,
that is, because we also give ourselves license to allow a tiny fraction
of the population to carry the entire national security burden for all
the rest of us.
We give ourselves license
to spend half again as much as any other country in the world on healthcare,
only to be ranked 37th 'best' by the World Health Organization,
just so we don't have to do the simple work of writing corporate predators
out of the parasitic cash cow booty feeding troughs in which they're
Meanwhile, a bullet is
heading toward the heart of the body politic in the form of global warming,
and we give ourselves license to pretend that the threat isn't even
clearly defined, lest we should have to relinquish our precious Hummers.
The list goes on and
on. I regret to say that history will not judge us, here and now,
a serious people. Nor should it. I certainly don't either.
Indeed, even when we
get serious, we don't. Barack Obama was supposed to be the antidote
to the excesses and negligences of the Bush years. In fact, nearly
a year of his term has now gone by and he has almost nothing to show
for it. Which means that neither do we. When Saturday Night
Live parodies you by having your character claim "jack" and "squat"
as your administration's two greatest achievements - well, that's
never a good sign.
Nor does Obama appear
to have a lot of intent at accomplishing much, either. At least
anything that requires the ruffling of a feather or two - which of
course includes just about anything that matters. For any given
question put before this president, it seems that his position can safely
be estimated to fall square in the middle of the road, right there alongside
Jim Hightower's proverbial yellow stripes and dead armadillos.
In reality, though, that's actually an unfortunately generous estimate.
Obama's politics, if you actually look at them - rather than at
most people's false impression of them - turn out to be remarkably
similar to George Bush's on everything from the fiscal stimulus to
big corporate healthcare initiatives to escalating war policies to eroded
civil liberties to unequal treatment for gays.
And yet this milquestoastiest
of presidents generates the most outrageous volumes of the most egregious
vitriol in our public discourse, as if he were wrecking the country
through disastrous wars based on lies, unprecedented constitutional
shredding, or massive fiscal hemorrhaging. Oh, wait - that was
the last guy. Never mind. Somehow those travesties didn't
precipitate much noise from the cave-dwelling set - unless you count
deafness-inducing cheers of approval, or enough slurpy mass salivation
to befuddle and alarm Dr. Pavlov.
One of the most astonishing
things about the right in America is the degree and frequency with which
they turn out to be precisely the opposite of what they claim to be.
It's quite Orwellian, actually, in a charming sort of war-equals-peace
kinda way. They adore dressing up like they're the big military
tough guys, but they all had to go to Woodstock or something during
Vietnam. They like to lecture us incessantly about the virtues
of their particular brand of sexual morality, and then it always turns
out that they're the ones who love to dress up in leather and Vaseline
and gang-bang packs of small furry rodents. They can't wait
to pontificate on the virtues of itsy-bitsy, low taxing, low spending
government, but then whenever they get their hands on the damn thing
they drive up the national debt like Yahweh himself told them it was
their personal holy crusader's mission to party hearty at the public's
expense ("I command you to choose a hockey mom from amongst your number,
and cause her to buildeth a bridge to nowhere!").
I could keep going forever,
and it would actually be pretty entertaining, if only the real world
effects weren't so bloody destructive. One of my favorites,
though, I have to say, is the riff on responsibility. You know,
as in, they're the ones who have it. Remember when the Bush
crew came to power, literally saying "The grown-ups are back in charge"?
I can think of a lot of things I would call George W. Bush, but "grown-up"
is more or less last on my list, right there after "brave", "articulate",
"compassionate" and "thoughtful". In any case, these guys
always fancy themselves the mature, reliable, responsible stewards of
American government. That's more than a little scary, isn't
it - to think that these are the nation's best and the brightest?
To imagine that Bush and Cheney and Rove represent the crowning achievement
of six or ten millennia of civilizational development, topping off millions
of years of genetic refinement?
lurching twitch you just felt was a serious shudder going down your
spine, your body's involuntary reaction to perceptions of sheer horror.
But, meanwhile, did I mention that the real story of responsibility
is slightly different than the regressive version?
Start with global warming.
I'm not a climatologist and I don't even play one on Fox TV.
Which is why I rely on the people with the PhDs in the field and their
masses of data, elaborate models and giant supercomputers to tell me
what is happening on that question. Like most people, I wouldn't
even have the foggiest sense of whether the Earth is spherical, flat,
or shaped like a bicycle-built-for-two, were it not for the geographers
and explorers who figured it out. There's almost no way to get
there on your own from daily experience. Hence, I take their word
for it, just like I take the word of astronomers that our little planet
is not, after all, at the center of the universe (which is good news
indeed for the universe).
Our happy regressive
friends do the same thing, of course. Except when they don't.
They reject evolution in favor of a 6,000 year-old Earth. Though
I notice that they're quite content to queue up for radiation therapy
when they're sick with cancer, even while rejecting the veracity of
radio-carbon dating of ancient fossils. Hmmm. Go figure.
They mostly have reconciled themselves nowadays to a heliocentric solar
system, though they did imprison Galileo for telling a but too much
truth on that one. Given the recent tenor of the religious right
in America, I'm waiting for even this bit to get tossed out with evolution,
any day now. You heard it here first, ladies and gentlemen.
Mark my words. The Earth will return to the center of the universe,
just like the good book says.
Meanwhile, the same people
who would happily burst through the doors of the National Archives,
yank the Constitution out of its case and run it through a $19.99 shredder
they just picked up on sale at Office Depot - all in the name of fighting
terrorism - are simultaneously working frantically to make sure we
don't do anything at all about the very real threat of global warming.
Udickuitous Cheney once said that we have to pull out all stops in case
there was even a one-percent chance of a terrorist attack that might
kill thousands. But a survey of the experts on climate change
suggests that there is a more than ninety-nine percent probability that
whole countries will be drowned and entire groups of species eradicated
in the coming decades. And that's just the easy part.
Still, the regressive prescription for this looming nightmare is to
continue to do nothing at all, lest we anger the supreme goddess Commerce.
I've always been a
little weird this way, but where I come from, that ain't exactly the
most responsible choice. Neither was invading Iraq. More
than 4000 dead Americans later, and George Bush is still looking under
his desk for the missing WMD (heh-heh, wasn't that a hilarious little
comedy routine he did on that?). As if that would have been a
valid excuse to invade a country that was neither attacking us nor threatening
us, anyhow. As if dozens of countries don't have WMD.
As if the Republican government of the United States didn't cover
for Saddam at home and at the UN at the time he was actually using chemical
weapons on his own people.
So perhaps a million
Iraqis are dead now, American finances are in the toilet, the country's
global reputation is too skanky to qualify for horizontal employment
in a makeshift basement brothel in Tijuana, and our national security
- supposedly the purpose of the whole exercise - has been radically
diminished by the decimation of an army that even Colin Powell described
as "broken". This is what you get from the "responsible"
ideology, ladies and gentlemen.
But wait! There's
more! How about a crushing national debt. Hey, why not borrow
money recklessly to pay for these fun wars based on lies? And
how about those super-rich folks out there? Don't they deserve
additional tax cuts? I'm sure our children won't mind paying
for the loans to finance those giveaways, plus interest, in the future.
Why would those crazy kids want to actually bring home the fruits of
their labor in a paycheck anyhow? They won't mind working long
hours to finance the 'responsibility' of unparalleled deficit spending
by regressives, will they?
Well, actually, that
question is likely to be a moot issue now anyhow. That's because
the upshot from the 'responsible' economic policy provided by our
nice regressive friends increasingly means that the youngins won't
have any jobs at all. That certainly solves the problem of spending
a lifetime paying taxes to finance their parents' spending sprees,
doesn't it? Pretty clever, is it not? No regulation, no
economy; no economy, no jobs; no jobs, no income;
no income, no taxes; no taxes, no worries! Damn! I
wonder if the good folks on the right had this all figured out from
Ho-ho, eh? Not
so funny, though, if you're on the butt end of the joke. Which
we all are, not least the younger generation. There is an era
of bad feeling in America, long in the making, but hardly at its nadir.
The United States has been on a southward glide path for three decades
now, an act of political physics as natural and inevitable as gravity
itself, but also deeply exacerbated by the predatory political movement
pioneered by Reagan and Thatcher, and continued by Bushes, Blairs, Clintons
and Obamas alike.
It was bad enough that
we lived for as long as we did at a greedy and unsustainable level,
stealing from other peoples, from our environment, from brown and female
workers, and even from our own children. But now it's getting
much, much worse.
In twenty years those
children are all too likely to be living poor, on a hostile planet,
working long hours to pay down the sins of their fathers.
And they might well be
enraged, too, as they should be.
A decade or two from
now, if they confront their right-wing elders - gazing in anger and
astonishment at the bottomless capacity of their parents' selfishness
- you can safely bet that their questions will be met with dissembling
Twenty years from now,
regressives will lie to their children.
We know this because
those regressives are already lying today, covering their execrable
crimes the only way possible.